Controversy Continues Around Secretary of Defense
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SPENCER MICHELS: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is taking fire from an unexpected quarter: His right flank.
Republicans on Capitol Hill and retired military officers are openly questioning his fitness for the job, and his recent comments at a town hall meeting with guardsmen in Kuwait only added fuel to the fire.
Specialist Thomas Wilson put Rumsfeld on the spot, asking him about lack of armor for Humvees.
DONALD RUMSFELD: It is essentially a matter of physics. It isn’t a matter of money, it isn’t a matter on the part of the army of desire; it is a matter of production and capability of doing it.
As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.
SPENCER MICHELS: Rumsfeld has been criticized for not deploying enough troops to Iraq, for poor planning of the occupation, for not preparing for what has become a full-scale insurgency, and for allowing the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib to happen on his watch.
All of these long-simmering critiques have turned into full- throated broadsides. Among the most vocal is Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel. He was on CBS yesterday.
SPOKESMAN: Should he leave?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: That’s up to the president. I think, though, what you’re seeing come out here is all of the accumulation of bad judgment.
REPORTER: Well, have you lost confidence in Rumsfeld?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I have no confidence in Rumsfeld’s leadership.
REPORTER: You have no confidence in Rumsfeld.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: It’s up to the president to make that decision.
SPENCER MICHELS: Hagel’s colleague, Arizona’s John McCain, has also said that he has “no confidence” in the secretary of defense. Nonetheless…
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I respect the president’s right to have his team, and I do not call for Secretary Rumsfeld to step down.
SPENCER MICHELS: Other Republicans have come close. Mississippi’s Trent Lott criticized Rumsfeld’s relationship with his senior officer corps. Minnesota’s Norm Coleman expressed grave doubts about the Pentagon’s handling of the armor issue.
And Susan Collins of Maine expressed a similar dismay in a letter to the defense chief. But over the weekend, several key Senate Republicans did come to Rumsfeld’s defense, including the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I assure you that in the three-plus years that I have worked with Secretary Rumsfeld, we’ve had our differences. We still have some.
But I have confidence in my ability and his ability to continue to work together as a team for the common goals of the men and women of the armed forces and to support the goals of the commander-in-chief.
SPENCER MICHELS: Some former senior military officers have also blasted Rumsfeld, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the architect of the first Gulf War.
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: I was angry about the words of the secretary of defense when he laid it all on the army. I mean, as if he as the secretary of defense didn’t have anything to do with the army, as if the army was over there doing it themselves, screwing up.
SPENCER MICHELS: William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and an influential thinker in conservative ranks, rounded out the chorus last week with an opinion page piece in the Washington Post.
Kristol wrote: “Actually, we have a pretty terrific Army. It’s performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has.” None of these criticisms has included the man who ultimately makes the decisions and who recently asked Rumsfeld to stay on at the Pentagon.
Today, the president said he has full confidence in his defense chief.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And I believe he’s doing a really fine job. The secretary of defense is a complex job. It’s complex in times of peace, and it’s complex even more so in times of war.
SPENCER MICHELS: It was recently revealed that Rumsfeld had not been personally signing the letters of condolence sent to the families of soldiers and Marines killed in action, delegating that solemn duty to a machine. Nonetheless, the president said, Rumsfeld is not a callous man.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I have seen the anguish in his… or heard the anguish in his voice and seen his eyes when we talk about, you know, the danger in Iraq and the fact that youngsters are over there in harm’s way.
And he is… he’s a good, decent man. He’s a caring fellow. You know, sometimes perhaps his demeanor is rough and gruff, but beneath that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply about the military and deeply about the grief that war causes.