Rumsfeld's Enemies and the White Flag of Surrender

There is a story that in the early days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general with the eyepatch, who is regarded as the father of the IDF and who was then Defense Minister, offered his resignation to Golda Meir because he was stricken with a sense of guilt at having put the country in such a calamity.  The story goes that she refused the resignation and later said to her aide 'Moshe Dayan resign?  That would be running up the white flag, no?'

The current campaign of criticism of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by senior retired officers has to be seen in the same light.  They obviously feel strongly, although it is unclear to a civilian exactly what it is they feel strongly about.  But the bottom line of the criticism is that Rumsfeld must go. 

It is entirely appropriate for citizens — retired military or other — to criticize the government and call for resignations.  But they also cannot ignore the consequences of their prescribed course of action.  A resignation by Rumsfeld would be taken — correctly —  by our enemies and friends as a running up of the white flag.  What charter would his successor have? None other than to liquidate the Iraq venture in the same way that Clark Clifford's charter after replacing McNamara in 1968 was to liquidate the Vietnam venture (which he did not get a chance to do) 

So, given that the consequences of this criticism would be so titanic — to liquidate a venture to which more than 2300 men and women have given their lives and many more their bodies — we want to understand what, exactly, is the criticism.  What case is being made by the critics? 

And let us accept the ground rule that just as the Secretary can be criticized, so also it is not unpatriotic or disrespectful to criticize senior military officers whose life work is to sustain the high adventure and noble purpose of the American experiment.  We are indebted to their courage and their service.  But that does not mean they are above criticism.

In last week's Time, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold wrote an article titled 'Why Iraq Was A Mistake.'  What does Gen. Newbold think was a mistake?  So far as I can tell, it is six things:

(1) Iraq had nothing to do with al—Qaeda, our true enemy;

(2) the failure of pre—war intelligence;

(3) the dispersal of the Iraqi military so that it could not help 'quell civil disorder' (reflecting a touching faith in a force debased by obedience to Saddaam for decades, and in any case a Sunni force);

(4) the misidentification of the insurgency in its early days;

(5) the 'alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq' (which makes one wonder what planet the Gen. Newbold has been living on);

(6) and the failure of other (U.S.) agencies to make commitments commensurate with that of the Department of Defense, which is a bit surprising as a criticism of Rumsfeld who has no influence over other agencies.

So, with these criticisms, what to do?  Gen. Newbold thinks 'we need fresh ideas and fresh faces.'  I can hear Ann Coulter asking 'could you be a bit more specific?'  And a little less charitably, if this is the best that a senior officer can do on the critical issue of our time when given the platform of one of our principal media institutions to reach the American public, then I have a lot of sympathy for what Rumsfeld has been dealing with in the Pentagon. 

Mr. Secretary, this plan won't work!

Oh, what do you suggest then, general?

Fresh ideas and fresh faces, Mr. Secretary.

Is anybody else as shocked as I am at the inability of the opposition to Rumsfeld to make any sort of coherent case in public?  If this is all they've got, this is nothing other than a political attack and should be treated as such. 

There is a story that in the early days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general with the eyepatch, who is regarded as the father of the IDF and who was then Defense Minister, offered his resignation to Golda Meir because he was stricken with a sense of guilt at having put the country in such a calamity.  The story goes that she refused the resignation and later said to her aide 'Moshe Dayan resign?  That would be running up the white flag, no?'

The current campaign of criticism of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by senior retired officers has to be seen in the same light.  They obviously feel strongly, although it is unclear to a civilian exactly what it is they feel strongly about.  But the bottom line of the criticism is that Rumsfeld must go. 

It is entirely appropriate for citizens — retired military or other — to criticize the government and call for resignations.  But they also cannot ignore the consequences of their prescribed course of action.  A resignation by Rumsfeld would be taken — correctly —  by our enemies and friends as a running up of the white flag.  What charter would his successor have? None other than to liquidate the Iraq venture in the same way that Clark Clifford's charter after replacing McNamara in 1968 was to liquidate the Vietnam venture (which he did not get a chance to do) 

So, given that the consequences of this criticism would be so titanic — to liquidate a venture to which more than 2300 men and women have given their lives and many more their bodies — we want to understand what, exactly, is the criticism.  What case is being made by the critics? 

And let us accept the ground rule that just as the Secretary can be criticized, so also it is not unpatriotic or disrespectful to criticize senior military officers whose life work is to sustain the high adventure and noble purpose of the American experiment.  We are indebted to their courage and their service.  But that does not mean they are above criticism.

In last week's Time, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold wrote an article titled 'Why Iraq Was A Mistake.'  What does Gen. Newbold think was a mistake?  So far as I can tell, it is six things:

(1) Iraq had nothing to do with al—Qaeda, our true enemy;

(2) the failure of pre—war intelligence;

(3) the dispersal of the Iraqi military so that it could not help 'quell civil disorder' (reflecting a touching faith in a force debased by obedience to Saddaam for decades, and in any case a Sunni force);

(4) the misidentification of the insurgency in its early days;

(5) the 'alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq' (which makes one wonder what planet the Gen. Newbold has been living on);

(6) and the failure of other (U.S.) agencies to make commitments commensurate with that of the Department of Defense, which is a bit surprising as a criticism of Rumsfeld who has no influence over other agencies.

So, with these criticisms, what to do?  Gen. Newbold thinks 'we need fresh ideas and fresh faces.'  I can hear Ann Coulter asking 'could you be a bit more specific?'  And a little less charitably, if this is the best that a senior officer can do on the critical issue of our time when given the platform of one of our principal media institutions to reach the American public, then I have a lot of sympathy for what Rumsfeld has been dealing with in the Pentagon. 

Mr. Secretary, this plan won't work!

Oh, what do you suggest then, general?

Fresh ideas and fresh faces, Mr. Secretary.

Is anybody else as shocked as I am at the inability of the opposition to Rumsfeld to make any sort of coherent case in public?  If this is all they've got, this is nothing other than a political attack and should be treated as such.