Retired General Calls for New Leadership at Pentagon
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KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the principal architect of the Iraq war strategy, has found himself this week in an unusual spot: the object of fire from several of his former generals.
Their fire has been directed at Rumsfeld’s handling of the war, and it has been accompanied by calls for his resignation. Among the retired generals going public: Major General John Batiste, who commanded an Army division in Iraq before he retired and said in an interview yesterday that he thought the Defense Department needed “a fresh start.”
Army Major General Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi army troops in 2003 and 2004 before retiring, has been critical of Rumsfeld, as has Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, the former commander of CENTCOM, the Central Command.
GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI, Former Commander, U.S. Central Command: I believe the civilian leadership in the Pentagon ignored the advice. This advice was not just coming from me, these warnings, but other former commanders at U.S. Central Command.
KWAME HOLMAN: Also getting wide attention was the criticism by Retired Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold. He was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff for two years until shortly before the Iraq invasion.
In an opinion article in Time magazine this week, Newbold criticized Rumsfeld and other top officials for snuffing out dissenting voices, saying, quote, “The consequence of the military’s quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war.”
And it was Newbold’s critique that brought a public Pentagon response. On Tuesday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace said no officers were muzzled in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion.
GEN. PETER PACE, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman: We had then and have now every opportunity to speak our minds; and if we do not, shame on us, because the opportunity is there. It is elicited from us. And we’re expected to.
And the plan that was executed was developed by military officers, presented by military officers, questioned by civilians — as they should — revamped by military officers, and blessed by the senior military leadership. I wanted to tell you how I believe this system works, and I wanted to tell you how I have observed it working for five years, because the articles that are out there about folks not speaking up are just flat wrong.
KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary Rumsfeld had this to say.
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. Secretary of Defense: There’s nothing wrong with people having opinions, and I think one ought to expect that. When you’re involved in something that’s controversial, as certainly this war is, one ought to expect that. It’s historic. It’s always been the case, and I see nothing really very new or surprising about it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Military criticism of a civilian secretary of defense is not new, but in the past it usually has been voiced privately or off-the-record, even during the Vietnam War, not in public suggestions and coupled with calls for a secretary to resign or be fired.
Despite the criticism of the past few days, President Bush has stood by his defense secretary. And today, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president’s confidence remained strong.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, White House Press Secretary: The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation’s history. The secretary has led the Department of Defense during two wars, wars that resulted in the liberation of 25 million people in Afghanistan and 25 million people in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: McClellan, too, noted that debate and disagreement are to be expected when a nation is at war.
JIM LEHRER: And late today, two more retired Army generals called for Rumsfeld’s resignation. They are Charles Swannack, the former commander of the 82nd Airborne, and John Riggs, who had publicly tangled with Rumsfeld while he worked at the Pentagon.
And now to Retired Major General John Batiste. He’s a West Point graduate who retired last year after 31 years in the Army. He commanded the Army’s First Infantry Division, both in Iraq and in Kosovo. Before that, he was the senior military assistant to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. He’s now president of Klein Steel Services.
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE, U.S. Army, Retired: It’s good to be here. Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: General, what’s going on? What’s caused all of you to come out the way you have right now?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Well, I can speak for myself, Jim. I’m a private citizen and an old soldier, and I’m very disturbed with the past five years in the Department of Defense.
As I said yesterday morning on CNN, I think the military deserves leadership that understands teamwork and builds strong teams without resorting to intimidation. I think respect is a two-way street; the respect given from the military to the senior civilians ought to be reciprocated.
I think the current administration repeatedly ignored sound military advice and counsel with respect to the war plans. I think that the principles of war are fundamental, and we violate those at our own peril. And military leaders of all ranks, particularly the senior military, have an obligation in a democracy to say something about it.
JIM LEHRER: Now, General Pace, as we just played, said that you and other military officers had plenty of opportunity to speak out. Did you, in fact, speak out while you were on active duty?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Of course. We all do. Within the military, it’s a very special culture, and you stay within your chain of command.
There are times that you’re told to do things that you don’t agree with and you’re given an opportunity to rebut, to give reasons why it shouldn’t be that way. And at the end of the day, you either salute and execute or you make a decision to retire or resign; that’s the way it is. There’s always that dialogue.
JIM LEHRER: And you took the option to salute and go ahead, correct?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Up until a point. In November of 2005, I retired from the Army. I transitioned. By all accounts, I had a very promising career ahead of me, but I was not willing to compromise further the principles of war.
JIM LEHRER: Now, General Tommy Franks, Army general, was the man in charge of the plan and has taken, in fact, full responsibility for the military plan going into Iraq. Are you and your fellow generals saying that that’s not the case, that the civilians were actually running the whole thing?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I believe that’s the case, Jim. You know, we went to war with a plan to beat the Iraqis. That was the easy part. The tough part was to go to Iraq and build the peace.
As General Powell has said before: If you break it, you own it. And that’s exactly the case. We have enormous experience. I personally have experience in Bosnia and Kosovo; I understand, as many of us do, the complexities of the mission.
It is much harder than warfare, and you need to have sufficient troops on the ground to control the people, to secure the borders, to intimidate the insurgency, to own the ground in every respect. My area in Iraq was the size of the state of West Virginia, huge. And we were forced over time to conduct a series of movements to contact where we only controlled the ground for a moment in time; that’s not how you fight an insurgency.
JIM LEHRER: Did you ask for more troops?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: We always asked for more troops, within our chain of command.
JIM LEHRER: And what happened when you asked for more troops?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: We saluted and executed; I had to keep my soldiers alive and focused on the mission at hand.
JIM LEHRER: As you know, Secretary Rumsfeld has said from the beginning every time the military asked for more troops in Iraq, they were given what they wanted. Not true in your case?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I suspect, going way back five years to the beginning of this whole war, there were ample times when people said to him, as General Shinseki did, “We need more.” In the case of General Shinseki, he was retired early. And as I recall, the secretary didn’t even go to his retirement ceremony; I have never forgotten that.
JIM LEHRER: A lot of people have said none of you, none of you other generals spoke out in support of General Shinseki at the time. He was left out there by himself and, until recently, has been pretty much by himself. Why was that?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: General Shinseki has more support than he ever knows.
JIM LEHRER: I’m talking about public support, General, as you know.
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: At the time, I was active duty and I kept it within my culture.
JIM LEHRER: What do you say to those who say it’s all fine and well to say this now, talking about you and your other generals that we’ve just reported on. Why not earlier? Why when it could have made a real difference? We’re already there; things are happening. Well, you know the criticism you and others are drawing right now.
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Sure. As I explained, we all lived in a culture. From June of 2002 until August of 2005, I was focused on Kosovo, I was focused on Turkey, and I was focused on Iraq. I wasn’t concerned with the politics.
There comes a point in time where you speak out. In my case, it was after I chose to leave the Army.
JIM LEHRER: Did you…
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I do think that our military is incredibly resilient, unbelievably resilient. No organization, from the Department of Defense on down, depends on one person. That leader can be replaced tomorrow and the organization will continue. What I’m saying is that we have some issues of accountability here that need to be addressed.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have any basic problem with the civilian leadership of the military?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Not at all. Our democracy is wonderful, and we deserve it. The civilian leadership is powerful; that’s the way it should be. The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1974 is spot on.
As I said, we are a very resilient department and the services are resilient. One man doesn’t make a difference. If that person leaves tomorrow, the organization will continue to thrive.
JIM LEHRER: So where do you fit Don Rumsfeld into that then? He’s one person. Everybody wants him to — you guys want him to go. So what are you saying to me?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I think an honorable man would take account, be responsible for what he did, and step down.
JIM LEHRER: What would you say to a skeptic who would say, “Wait a minute, General. One secretary of defense is solely responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in Iraq, and there is nothing that any of you military leaders could do about it on the ground?”
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I didn’t say that. What I’m saying is that the strategic underpinnings of this war can be traced back in policy to the secretary of defense. He built it the way he wanted it.
JIM LEHRER: Do you expect Secretary Rumsfeld to do what you want him to do?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I have no idea.
JIM LEHRER: I mean, do you…
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: He’s his own man.
JIM LEHRER: Is that a bottom line for you? Have you talked to these other generals about this? Is this an organized effort?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: You know, surprisingly, it’s not, not at all. We haven’t talked; this is all spontaneous.
JIM LEHRER: Did you talk about it at the time when you were on active duty in private?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Sure. We were all disgruntled.
JIM LEHRER: Did you ever suggest, “Hey, wait a minute, maybe we should do something about this,” while you were still in a position of command?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: A two-star general in combat isn’t focused too much on that, is he?
JIM LEHRER: Yes. I want to make sure I understand what you believe that Rumsfeld is responsible for specifically. Is it the whole plan itself, the decision to go into Iraq, the way it was executed, overruling Tommy Franks and the other military? Give me the indictment.
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I think it goes back to the strategic underpinnings, the basic plan that we executed in Iraq. It goes back to decisions to disband the Iraqi military, which was a colossal mistake and was the bane of the existence of the divisions in combat for the entire time they were there.
Hundreds of thousands of now unemployed, disenfranchised Iraqis, with their gun and ammunition, they left their installations — which, by the way, were the best facilities in all of Iraq — and the Iraqi people immediately took them apart, cinderblock by cinderblock. When we got there, there was only the concrete slabs left on the ground.
So the work to reestablish this, to build a competent Iraqi security force, to garrison them, provide for their care, was an incredible effort; it didn’t have to be that way.
JIM LEHRER: If the leadership of the U.S. government had listened to you and your fellow military leaders, what would be the situation in Iraq today?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Well, first off, I think we have got to complete the mission in Iraq. We have no option; we need to be successful; we need to set the Iraqi people up for self-reliance.
With their form of representative government that takes into account tribal, religious and ethnic complexity that defines that country is nothing new. The Brits had a hell of a time with that in the ’10s and ’20s of the last century, nothing new at all. And we got to set them up for self-reliance so they can go on it on their own.
I think we’re going to be successful. There’s nothing this country can’t do, if we put our mind to it, but we need to do it right. We need to mobilize this country.
When I returned from Germany after three years, I was shocked to see that business was as usual. Other than an occasional family that was committed to the war because one of their soldiers was in the fight, or sadly too many families whose soldiers had been killed or wounded, who really understand what sacrifice is all about, the rest of America only makes a decision whether they’re going to put a yellow or red “Support Your Troops” sticker on the back of your car. And my question is: Why?
When we’re spending $6 to $9 billion a month, depending what you read, we’re mortgaging our future. And I believe Americans will stand up and do whatever they’re asked to do. It might be some form of rationing; I don’t know. We have experience in World War I, Korea, World War II on how to do this. This country is incredibly patriotic, and we would get up on our feet and support the president whatever he asked us to do.
JIM LEHRER: But that’s an indictment of the president, not of Secretary Rumsfeld, correct?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I’m not indicting the president one bit. I’m just saying that I came back from Germany to my country and I found that the people were not mobilized, not sacrificing for this incredible effort. If it’s the country’s main effort, let’s all get behind it.
JIM LEHRER: General, finally, is this a one-shot deal for you? Are you going to keep speaking out, as long as the situation remains what it is in Iraq?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I feel strongly about it, and I have never quit anything in my life.
JIM LEHRER: General, thank you very much.
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Thank you, Jim.