‘Rumsfeld Made Me Do
U.S. Needs Military Leaders Who Make Waves
Iraq is disintegrating to the point where the Bush administration can no
longer conceal the truth that American ground forces are islands of
impotence in a sea of sectarian violence and civil war.
In fact, the climate of hatred against Americans cultivated by Lt. Gen.
Ricardo Sanchez and his division commanders, generals who transformed a
minor insurgency in the summer of 2003 into an Arab rebellion against the
American military presence in April 2004, has now spread to the Shiite
How did this happen? In his book, “Fiasco,” Tom Ricks explains that
generals steeped in a military culture that exalts masses of men and
firepower used a meat cleaver when a scalpel was needed — a strategic
catastrophe from which American policy in Iraq has never recovered.
At the center of this tragedy stands Gen. John Abizaid, presented three
years ago to the American public as the general fluent in Arabic with the
perfect military resume.
Years of sterling service in the light infantry of the peacetime garrison
Army earned Abizaid universal approval from the influential community of
retired four stars, the men who selected all of the generals commanding in
Iraq since the war began. For the Bush defense team, he seemed like the
Yet, when Abizaid took command in the summer of 2003, he did nothing to
change the destructive pattern of raids, checkpoints and intrusive
patrols, actions that created far more enemies among the Arabs than they
killed or incarcerated. His response to the shameful revelation of Abu
Ghraib was tepid. Sanchez and his generals escaped accountability.
When Fallujah exploded in April of 2004, providing Abizaid with a
tailor-made opportunity to dominate the enemy psychologically, Abizaid
Then, in the summer of 2004, in an unprecedented move, another four-star
general, George Casey, was assigned to command in Iraq, effectively giving
Abizaid political cover. Still in overall command, Abizaid could either
deny responsibility or claim credit, depending on changing conditions.
To date, other than holding seminars on Arab culture for visiting members
of Congress and the administration, it’s hard to know what decisive
action Abizaid has taken. Insisting that Americans allegedly win all the
battles despite the daily U.S. death toll, and, in 2006, that Iraq is on
the verge of civil war are patronizing statements of the obvious.
What can be said of Abizaid is that he is an intelligent, hard-working
person, anxious not to offend anyone, especially his superiors. And
therein lies the problem.
Frustrated with generals who were unable to win a single battle in the
first years of World War II, Britain’s Winston Churchill wrote angrily
to the chief of the Imperial General Staff, “We must not confine
appointments to high command to men whose careers have excited no hostile
Churchill knew his defeated generals were amiable men who made no waves.
Eventually, he axed most of them and Britain’s situation changed.
Unfortunately, during the Vietnam War, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara did not embrace Churchill’s
philosophy. Taking the generals provided by the military’s system of
cronyism, Johnson and McNamara simply elevated the most sycophantic
officers to four-stars, men willing to be media props for their civilian
masters in return for further promotion and reward in lucrative civilian
jobs after retirement.
Sadly, President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
chose the path of Johnson and McNamara, and that has made all the
Tactical blunders have strategic consequences and the generals have
blundered badly in Iraq. In war, military strategy is supposed to reduce
the probability of armed conflict, to persuade those who might fight not
to fight, and when necessary, to win at the least cost in lives and
treasure. In Iraq, the top generals achieved the opposite outcome.
Democrats, celebrating their control of Congress, should be thorough and
judicious in their investigations of why the military occupation of Iraq
has gone so terribly wrong.
They should question the accepted wisdom of the retired and active four
stars that flooding Muslim Arab Iraq with hundreds of thousands of
Christian Europeans in U.S. and U.K. uniform would somehow have salvaged
the disastrous decision to govern Iraq with American soldiers and Marines.
And they should embrace the critical need for military reform to establish
a professional system of general officer selection that rewards character,
competence and intelligence, not just compliance with bad ideas in return
But whatever the Democrats do, they should reject the current schoolboy
excuse we hear from active and retired generals that “Rumsfeld made me
do it.” •
By Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel, decorated combat
veteran and author of books on military reform. He writes for the Straus
Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, Washington.