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Iraq War Plans

March 30, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Two stories in today’s Washington Post highlighted a debate that’s been building all week. The first began: “Current and former U.S. Military officers are blaming defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his aides for the inadequate troop strength on the ground in Iraq, saying the civilian leaders ‘micromanaged’ the deployment plan.”

The second piece said the tension between DOD’s civilian leadership and commanders in the field continues over what to do next. “The political and imperative of waging a short and decisive campaign is increasingly at odds with the military necessity of preparing for a protracted, more violent and costly war, according to senior military officials. Top Army offices in Iraq say they now believe that they effectively need to restart the war. Before launching a major ground attack on Iraq’s Republican Guard, they want to secure their supply lines and build up their own combat power. ” Today on ABC’s This Week Rumsfeld was asked if he had rejected his commanders’ original plans and demanded smaller forces.

DONALD RUMSFELD: That’s false, absolutely false. Tom Franks and the chairman and I, when the president asked us to prepare a plan, looked at the plan that was on the shelf, and to a person agreed it was inappropriate. It wasn’t me or the chairman or Tom Franks. Anyone who looked at it would have known it was not an appropriate plan. Franks then sat down and began planning. The plan we have is his. I would be delighted to take credit for it. It’s a good plan. It’s a creative and an innovative plan. And it’s going to work. And it is his plan, and it has been approved by the chiefs. Every one of the chiefs has said it’s executable, and they support it. It’s been looked at by all the combatant commanders. It’s gone through the National Security Council process. And what you’re seeing is fiction. You’re seeing second-guessers out there.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Just a minute, just a minute, just a minute. I have a feeling that if you ask Gen. Franks, which people did today, about the war plan, he would say that there is nothing he has asked for that he has not gotten.

MARGARET WARNER: Rumsfeld said there were diplomatic considerations involved in his decision to opt for a phased arrival of forces.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The logistics train was designed to be either everything went or nothing went. And in fact, the president wanted to support the diplomacy in the United Nations. So he wanted things to flow in over a period of time. But everything that they’ve asked for is in process. It’s all arriving. Their numbers of troops are arriving. They’re increasing by two or three thousand every day.

MARGARET WARNER: Asked if the assault on Baghdad would now be held up until southern cities like Najaf and Basra were secure, Rumsfeld responded:

DONALD RUMSFELD: Those are decisions that Gen. Franks makes. And he’s doing a superb job, he and his team, as well as the coalition forces, the folks from the U.K. and Australia. He will make a judgment on those types of things, and he’ll make a good judgment.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on the debate over civilian and military roles in war planning, we turn to retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, who was supreme allied commander of NATO forces from 1993 to 1997, when NATO went into Bosnia. Richard Kohn, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and co-editor of “Soldiers and Civilians: The Civil-Military Gap and American National Security.” And one of our regular Iraq war military analysts, retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, who teaches and writes about military planning. Welcome to you all.

Gen. Joulwan, you’ve been the top military commander at a time of conflict. What do you make of this very public criticism coming from retired and, according to some of the stories, even current army officers about secretary Rumsfeld’s role?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: First of all, it is not new. We’ve been through this before. It happens — what Secretary Rumsfeld is very hands-on secretary of defense. And I think that is evident in this process. And the process is one where the SYNC — now we call them the combatant commander, submits his plan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff review it, there is give and take on it, and it really confirms to the political task that we’re given by the president through the secretary of defense. And that is what is debated. He comes up with the plan of what he needs to do, what he needs to accomplish that, and then they provide the resources to do it. Now, how much of a heavy hand was in there in the political guidance, all that will come out in time. But right now, I think Tommy Franks is in the driver’s seat, he’s got to make sure there is no micromanagement and he gets on with the task of winning this war.

MARGARET WARNER: Col. Gardiner, if, as we saw from the tape, there is a big debate about whether or not Donald Rumsfeld did overrule his commanders and ask for smaller forces. But let’s say he did. Would there be anything wrong with that? He’s the secretary of defense.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well, I think there would be and I think we can see it. And I think if you listen carefully to the way he describe what is he, did it is what’s coming out in the reports, which is, he delayed the flow, which means there weren’t as many combat forces there as there would have been when the war started and that’s the point. It is not necessarily about the ultimate force levels, it is about how fast they went. Some of the articles say they were delayed by as much as 50 days — so that we were 50 days behind the time line.

MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying that’s not appropriate for secretary of defense?

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Yes. I’ll even go as far to say that the U.S. Army had set roadblocks after Vietnam that this wouldn’t happen. Two roadblocks they put in the way. One of them was, the idea of putting support into the guard and reserve so that there would have to be a conscious call of guard and reserve to go to war. The second one was the notion of overwhelming support. Both of those roadblocks got overcome here. We went to war with both of those bypassed.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Prof. Kohn in here. Professor Kohn, your view on the appropriateness of this role, if it is, as the critics have said it is.

RICHARD KOHN: I think it is obvious and I have to disagree with my friend Sam Gardiner that it is the secretary of defense’s role to join the political with the military. He can say that this is Gen. Franks’ plan and it is, in the sense that it came from Gen. Franks, but it is his responsibility to approve that plan, or to order changes. He’s the responsible official to the commander in chief. And it’s always been the case that the political goals and the military means are ultimately the responsibility of civilians in a system of civilian control of the military.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you want to jump in here?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: Yes. I really think that there is an issue here of the combatant commander. If Gen. Franks did not believe he had enough of a force structure for this operation, he should make that very well-known, and if he’s done that, and he was overruled, then he either has the decision of accepting that or resigning. That is our system, and I’m very much for civilian control. I’m not for micromanagement and we’ve had a little of both in my experience in 40 years, and I truly think that our military is very much engrained with civilian control, within our military. However, there has to be political accountability here as well as military accountability. And all that will come out in time.

MARGARET WARNER: I would like to look at the roots of this in the Rumsfeld case, and put up a quote from Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who led the 24th infantry division during the Gulf War and said that Rumsfeld essentially did reject this advice for sort of beefier forces and he said, “I think he thought these were U.S. Generals with their feet planted in World War II that didn’t understand the new way of warfare.” Prof. Kohn, are we essentially seeing played out very publicly what has been attention from the get go from Rumsfeld, who believed in transforming the military and certainly at least some army, some top army leadership?

RICHARD KOHN: Well, that’s been reported ever since the summer, Margaret. But I think that Gen. McCaffrey may be wrong. The seed may be planted in Vietnam which is an overhang, I think, for the military and for secretary Rumsfeld. So I think Gen. Joulwan is right. If Gen. Franks had objections, he made them known to Sec. Rumsfeld, I don’t agree the proper course is to resign. We have no tradition of resignation in the American military and resignation itself is a sense undermining of civilian control. We don’t have real evidence other than statements of anonymous people or Gen. McCaffrey that there really is a conflict going on here.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: I think it is very interesting thing. You have to ask yourself, why are these “officers in the middle talking? .” . I think it is a very interesting point. I think that there is a new generation of officers. And even in the two star and three-star ranks in the military — these are people who have learned the lesson of Vietnam. That’s not the immediate lesson of Vietnam. The immediate lesson of Vietnam was that it was civilians who were responsible. The lesson that this group, this generation of officers has comes from a book that most of them had to read in War College. It is called “Dereliction of Duty.” And that dereliction was to the American people. They, I think, believe that they have to speak out when they see a responsibility. It is not to the civilian leadership, that was the problem in Vietnam — but, to a larger thing of defending the American people.

RICHARD KOHN: I think that, Sam, I think that they are misreading that book because, it is a wonderful book. I directed it as a Ph.D. dissertation here at UNC Chapel Hill but I don’t think that book really says that they should speak out or do anything to go around their civilian superiors. I think that officers have misread that perhaps in thinking that that is the Vietnam lesson. But it isn’t the case.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: I think that we’re caught up here in a situation where regardless of the troop strength, things have gone wrong in the first week of this fight, that were unexpected. And we ought to stand up and say that. And to me, civilian control is not chastising the core commander on the ground, because he said, look, we didn’t expect to have all of this resistance. And the spin came on him and jumped. We should promote him. That’s the kind of officer that we want to stand up and be counted on such issues and that’s the sort of office I hope I developed in the military and we should applaud when that happens, not say try to figure out what he really meant to say. That’s nonsense.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, let’s talk about what lies ahead and how this plays out — because, according to all of these stories and there are all of these reporters out with these commands in field, they are saying that we don’t want to attack Baghdad until we beef up our own forces and secure the supply lines and take some of the southern cities, soften up the Republican Guard with air power. You heard Secretary Rumsfeld say Gen. Franks will make that decision. Sam Gardiner, will Gen. Franks make that decision? Is it just his to make?

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well, we heard today report that the president was involved in the decision to reaffirm going to Baghdad fairly early. So apparently, it is not his to make totally. And I think that, I just want to agree with that point about, that, in fact, much of this comes from the spin. And I think that people inside the Pentagon and inside the military are reacting to the spin also. And that is, when the leader go out and say, well, everything is on schedule and on plan, the general says, well, no, it’s not. I mean -

MARGARET WARNER: We wouldn’t be saying this. If things had all gone beautifully, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: We wouldn’t have this discussion, exactly.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get Prof. Kohn in here about who is the appropriate person now, or am I oversimplifying it to make the decision about how to proceed?

RICHARD KOHN: Well, I think that we are oversimplifying it. Gen. Franks has to make the decision integrating in this case, the political needs of his superiors. And he makes it but he doesn’t make it in isolation. He makes it in discussion with Secretary Rumsfeld and if necessary in discussion with the president who is, in truth, ultimately the responsible official and the person who is held accountable for the war.

MARGARET WARNER: But you didn’t mention the combatant commanders in the field.

RICHARD KOHN: The commanders in the field report to Gen. Franks. And their discussions are iterative with him.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: What is very interesting and I have done this several times, I used to go after one vote and that was the president of the United States. He’s the one that makes the decision. And every time I had an opportunity to talk to the president, I got a direct answer and a decision.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean instead of going to the secretary of defense?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: No, with the secretary and defense but that’s the commander in chief, the president. He’s the ultimate decision maker and that’s very important to remember. What is going to be very interesting now, is in this political guidance, what I call political clarity to the combatant commander on something like rules of engagement, we’re going to end up now looking at all of that, because there are very stringent rules of engagement probably rightfully so in this first week of war, how we proceed with that -

MARGARET WARNER: You are talking about protecting Iraqi civilians.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN: Yes. All of that is part of — religious shrines, churches, hospitals, all of that, and rightfully so. But, this whole fertile crescent is loaded with all of that and you have the enemy now using that to their advantage. How all that will change is going to be varying from and that will come from tonight of the United States.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: But, what’s happened in this discussion is, this has become Rumsfeld’s war — just the way Vietnam became McNamara’s war. Despite all of the discussion, I think that’s whose war we are now having in mind it is.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen, thank you all three very much.