WASHINGTON—Three retired senior military men have spoken up in defense of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after half a dozen went public with criticism of his conduct of the Iraq war and other mistakes. President Bush has declared that Rummy has done a heckuva job and he is keeping him on the job.
The debate rages out of sight on military discussion groups and in private e-mails between active-duty and retired military officers, even as editorial writers and op-ed authors take up the issue.
Rumsfeld himself says it's much ado about nothing much, just a few retired general officers out of "thousands and thousands" of them.
Well, it matters a great deal. Among the half-dozen who think Rumsfeld should resign or be fired are those who are well respected in the military world for the quality of their intellect and scholarship. They include Marine Gen. Tony Zinni, former commander of U.S. Central Command; Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who was the operations chief on the Joint Staff; Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training Iraqi Army units; and Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded a division in Iraq and turned down a third star and retired in disgust instead.
There are those who say the retired generals should not speak out on policy issues while we are at war. There are others who say they should have spoken up while they were still on active duty and then resigned in protest.
They are, of course, entitled to the same right of freedom of speech as any ordinary American once they have taken off the stars and the uniform. Given their experience in military matters, their opinions carry a heavier weight.
As to when they should have spoken up and dissented, I dare say that some like Gen. Newbold did question the kind of planning directions given by Rumsfeld and his civilian minions who had never heard a shot fired in anger and had never buried the results of mistakes made in wartime.
The current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, was swift in his defense of how hard Rumsfeld works and Rumsfeld's concern for the enlisted troops and junior officers of the services. Pace has worked for Rumsfeld for five years, and his reaction was expected.
That defense was joined by the former chairman, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers.
Then there's the former CentCom commander Army Gen. Tommy Ray Franks, who pulled his pins and retired a few months after Baghdad fell. Franks let his civilian boss, Rumsfeld, hobble the operations in Afghanistan by putting a cap on U.S. forces at 7,000 during the fight to topple the Taliban and pursue al-Qaeda leaders, and let him forbid bringing artillery to the fight on the ground that the Air Force would provide all the fire support the ground pounders needed.
When it came to planning for Iraq, Franks and his staff were ground down by literally thousands of questions from Rumsfeld and his aides.
The CentCom war plan for Iraq was a couple of years old when Rumsfeld first asked about it. It called for any invasion force to number approximately 350,000. That was skinned back to just in excess of 200,000 by the time the U.S. forces invaded Iraq. And Franks, again pressured by the Pentagon, canceled the vital follow-on forces that might have permitted our ground commanders to suppress and control the rioting and looting and burning of the infrastructure of a nation's capital.
For a whole generation of military officers there is a book, a novel actually, that they swear by: "Once an Eagle" by Anton Meyrer. It's the story of two officers, one good, one evil. Sam Damon is a simple, honest, straightforward warrior most at home when in the company of soldiers. The other is Courtney Massengale, whose rise to the top is aided by scheming and brown-nosing and politicking.
This generation of officers sift their fellows and classify them instantly as either a Damon or a Massengale.
Suffice it to say that Gens. Zinni and Newbold and Batiste and Eaton are Sam Damons.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young