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paul van riper

What were the military's expectations at the beginning of the Bush administration?

You could look at the military between administrations, but I think the better thing to do is look at it between wars. After every major war, those in the military, as well as those interested in the military, step back and say: "What did we learn? What does this all mean?"... After World War II and up until Korea and Vietnam, we got it completely wrong, and of course we had two disasters on our hands. We were too focused on atomic weapons and what it would mean, focused on the scientific approach to war; in particular [Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson Robert] McNamara's systems engineering. That's what I was taught as a young lieutenant -- what a nuclear war would be like, and how do we [take] systems engineer[ing], not just for the acquisition of weapons systems, but how do we take systems engineering into the battlefield? And of course we saw the results in Vietnam.

 I really think that many in these key leadership positions on the defense side  they're in denial.

Coming out of Vietnam, the generation I represent went back and said: "We got it wrong. Why?" And the first thing we did, we went back to the study of history, went back to trying to understand war through the eyes of the classical theorists, in particular [Carl von] Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and I think that's the only case where the U.S. got it right, and the proof was in the results in Desert Shield, Desert Storm.

What I'm afraid of in this period you're talking about, and whether you talk about the Clinton administration or either one of the Bush administrations, it's not the administration. It's what's happening during that period. And my great fear is we're off to something very similar to what happened after World War II, that is getting it completely wrong again.

So what did we learn between Vietnam and Gulf War I?

After Vietnam, the generation I represented went back and said, "What did we do wrong?" Well, there were those who blamed it on things that weren't responsible -- the media, the politicians, the fact we didn't have trained troops. They had a lot of other excuses for what the real problems were. The real problems were we did not have a thorough understanding of war, an intellectual doctrine of foundation for Vietnam. So that's where we went back, and we began to make those kind of repairs. ...

The difficulty was we understood the tactics. We had the techniques; we had the equipment. What we didn't have was any sort of a campaign plan to pull all of those battles and engagements together into some meaningful whole. And so you fought all of these battles and engagements for nothing. They were simply single events. There was no campaign plan that said, "This is what we're aiming for."

photo of paul van riper

Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper (U.S. Marine Corps-Ret.) is a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm and currently a lecturer at the National Defense University. He spoke with FRONTLINE about the lessons learned from those past wars, his bitterness over what has happened in post-war Iraq, and the failures of the Pentagon's civilian leaders: "We don't have a leadership that's involved intellectually," he says. "They simply want to will their way to this transformation. They don't want to get involved themselves and help think the way through." Despite this, Van Riper, a scholar of warfare, is hopeful: "I see inside the United States Army the germs of a second intellectual renaissance that's approaching these problems. And they're not caught up in the sloganeering that most of the Joint community's caught up in. They really are studying." This interview was conducted on July 8, 2004.

The Powell Doctrine, or the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine -- what is its relevance to that?

The Powell Doctrine is a manifestation of the learning of this period between Vietnam and the first Gulf War. ... Students began to read. They started by reading through civics. They got a grounding in history, and from that this intellectual renaissance quickly spread through all the militaries. In a period of about five years, the war colleges had changed; the commanders in staff colleges had changed. And at the same time, the U.S. Army was looking very hard at what we now called operational art: the art of command, the art of war at the campaigning level. And they did some very interesting studies, wrote some powerful documents.

And so when you look at what took place in Desert Storm, sure, there were good troops; there was wonderful equipment; there was excellent training. But the real key between the two wars, Vietnam and Desert Storm, was this doctrinal foundation that was prepared during the late '70s and early '80s.

We heard a lot about the "hollow force." What does that mean?

In that period between Vietnam and Desert Storm, the military wasn't adequately funded. We had a mismatch between the missions that were required to be performed and the resources, and so what took place is units were stripped. And so you had units that weren't manned completely; the equipment was outdated; the maintenance wasn't up to where it should be. As a consequence, you had morale problems. At the same time, you had all the societal changes that were influencing the military: the drug culture, the questioning of authority. All of those just produced a terrible cauldron that really damaged our armed forces.

As I read history, one of the reasons Vietnam played out that way was because civilian management of bits and pieces of it was getting in the military's business. Am I misreading that?

This is clearly a society built on civilian control of the military. I don't know of anyone who's worn the uniform or wears the uniform today who would ever question that. But the difficulty is when you have civilian leadership who are professionally unschooled. You don't have to serve in the military to understand it, but if you haven't served, then you at least ought to school yourself. I don't believe either Mr. McNamara or Mr. [Donald] Rumsfeld are professionally schooled. They're ignorant of military operations, of strategy and policy. The effect is normally they're disdainful of those they lead. And then, as they begin to increase their power, they become arrogant, and they're unwilling to accept advice, even though they claim they are willing to accept the advice. But by their very actions, either relieving people or publicly humiliating people, you don't get the sort of push back you need to have the dialogue, the understanding, the debate out of which you will synthesize better ideas. As a consequence, at some point they reach where they think they're above the law, and so they begin to do things that even are unlawful. So you go from disdain of the people you're working around to an arrogance about the whole situation to where you think you're above it. And I believe in the case of Mr. Rumsfeld, we've reached that.

How?

He believed, one particular example, that a prisoner could be stashed in Iraq with no accountability for a year, just simply put him there. ... He was kind of on the rocks, if the media reports were to be believed, prior to 9/11. After 9/11 and the successes in Afghanistan, his relationship with the media, almost like a rock star, I think you could make the case that he began to believe his own press and believed he rose above the law of the land.

Going back to before Gulf War I, what was the effect of Goldwater-Nichols?

Goldwater-Nichols did a number of things. First of all, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now had sole authority, where before it was more of an agreement between all of the service chiefs. Now he truly was above those chiefs; he could make the decisions, inform the president, give instructions. All of the services were forced to put better officers, better service people into the Joint community. In the past, those who worked for Joint service generally were not the cream of the crop. As a consequence, the Joint community didn't perform well. Goldwater-Nichols began to force the services into a Joint mold. ... Anyone who's interested in reaching higher ranks, any service that wants to ensure that the best and brightest reach the high ranks during the course of their career, will ensure that they have Joint experience.

I've had people tell me that Colin Powell was so powerful as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he almost eclipsed Dick Cheney, who was secretary of defense.

I think what Gen. Powell brought was, first of all, the Vietnam experience and the disappointments that I've alluded to before. He also was a beneficiary of the professional schooling system, of this change of doctrine, of this new understanding of the relationship between policy and strategy and war fighting. And I believe, though I don't know for a certainty, that in a sense he actually educated the civilians that he worked for. ... He had the charisma, but more importantly he had this foundation of experience of knowledge, the intellect to bring it to bear. So to the degree that he did overshadow the secretary of defense at the time, I would say that's the reason. He brought more to the table than the secretary did.

What did you think when we didn't go get Saddam Hussein after Gulf War I?

I have no truck with those who say we made a mistake in not going after Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War. It was not the goal that President Bush laid out. It was not in the plan. It would have been what we call mission creep. We could have got ourselves in great difficulty, maybe difficulty similar to what we have now. ... To simply have turned northwest and attacked Baghdad would have been a huge mistake.

What many people do view as a great mistake was giving Saddam Hussein his helicopter gunships to fly over the Shia in the South, and not standing up with the Kurds. What do you think and what were you thinking at the time about those events?

The difficulty at the end of Operation Desert Storm was the actual quick end. We didn't understand what the situation was on the ground. We didn't really know where we were. How did that happen? Number one, we had the bombing of those units, those Iraqi units, coming out of Kuwait City, the so-called Mile of Death. I walked that ground. There was a lot of destruction, not much death, because what actually happened is the Iraqis abandoned the equipment and ran away. I walked the whole thing. I don't think I counted more than maybe 13, 14 dead Iraqis. So yes, there was a lot of destruction in that so-called Mile of Death, but not a lot of death. But the pictures that the American public saw, the world saw, begat this revulsion of war. And so I think the administration, Chairman Powell, Secretary Cheney, were under tremendous pressure to bring it to an end. As a consequence, some of the Republican Guard units escaped. We didn't set the conditions for a real armistice, some sort of a peace.

The result, of course, was that in the negotiations that were done immediately after the war, the Iraqis were allowed to fly their helicopters, and some other things were permitted that if the war had ended with a clear understanding of where we were, I don't believe would have been allowed.

I know [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz was angry and upset. Were you aware that that kind of dynamic was happening?

I was not aware of things that Richard Perle had been doing and that Mr. Wolfowitz had been doing at the time. But sitting now here in 2004, I take great umbrage at what they were doing. Here's a group with no military experience. And then you add on top of that, you actively avoided service in period of war, Vietnam, as the gentlemen are alleged to do? I take great umbrage that they would have anything to say about the military policies of this country.

I've read that the military felt stretched heading into the Bush administration and was hoping to consolidate and rethink things.

There was a school, of which I'm firmly a part, that believed that you really had to understand war on the ground before you understood war as a total entity, and felt that yes, the military needed to be cut back with the demise of the Soviet Union. Where we were cutting it, where we were putting our money, was wrong. We went from 16 Army divisions down to 10. And of course Mr. Rumsfeld, when he came in, wanted to take it down to eight. That was our concern, those of us in that school, that the money wasn't being spent in the right places. And yes, those forces were stretched.

What do the guys in the military networks you're talking to think when Don Rumsfeld comes in as secretary of defense?

We were pleased to see some of the early moves that Mr. Rumsfeld made, but we became disappointed that it was study on top of study, no decisions. One study would come out, and he'd order another study. And many believe that's the reason he probably may not have survived as the secretary of defense except for 9/11 and, of course, the performance of the military in Afghanistan. We were pleased to see what happened in Afghanistan. It was clear the leadership team can adapt and fight a new enemy and do it quickly on the fly with great results. It was in the run-up to Iraq and subsequent problems that we've become disillusioned.

What does transformation mean to these military guys?

I have no truck with those who talk about terms like transformation. It clearly indicates they don't know what they're doing. All it is is a slogan rather than getting to the hard problems. ... These ideas have never truly been vetted, and yet they're being sold to our headquarters, our services, as the way we want to fight in the future. This intellectual renaissance that I've referred to repeatedly that occurred after Vietnam has not been revived. Rather than trying to think our way through the problem, we're trying to buy our way. So we had to buy our way in terms of technology; we buy our way in terms of some of these ideas without the underpinnings of real bases that you can fight on. ...

I see a very close parallel to what happened after the end of the Second World War. At the end of the Second World War, the focus was on atomic weapons, the technology. Today, the analogous idea is on information technology. We believe that's the cure-all for everything.

There's an art and science to war. The science is in support of the art. The science gives you the weapons systems; it allows you to have the communications; it allows you to have all the things that support the actual conduct of war. War, as it is fought, is an art. It's not a science. If you try to make it a science, you're bound to be disappointed.

The saving grace at this point, here in the middle of 2004, is the fact that none of these things have found their way to the operating forces to any great degree. So the operating forces are still using tried-and-true methods of operations that they feel very comfortable with. It's only a matter of time, however, before those ideas are pushed down and this very rich body of doctrine that came out of the post-Vietnam era, proved in two large operations, is swept aside and we find difficulty.

The argument between Gen. [Eric] Shinseki, Secretary [of the Army Thomas] White, and Donald Rumsfeld -- what was the debate about?

Supposedly Mr. Rumsfeld was unhappy the Army was not transforming fast enough, going the way he wanted. I find that unbelievable. If you look at what the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Shinseki, was trying to do, he had laid out a clear vision that he was trying to move to. He had started a program with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, to develop a future combat system, replace current tracked and wheeled vehicles -- a very imaginary, far-reaching program. There was a lot of argument about the solutions they were proposing, but you can't say it was not transformational. It was very transformational. ... And he's accused of not being willing to change the Army. The man was willing to change the Army. He gets a bum rap.

I don't know what the difficulty was. My belief is Mr. Rumsfeld came in believing he could pay for high-tech weapons, particularly some of the things in terms of missile defense, space-based systems, by cutting two more divisions out of the Army. So his idea of transformation, I think, was pare the Army down in terms of the force structure, use the money for high tech. Professionally unschooled.

And then Shinseki, with 15 months to go in his term, gets the word that his replacement's been announced. How does that go down inside the uniformed services?

I know of nothing other than the failure to plan adequately for the war in Iraq that upset the retired community nearly as much as Mr. Rumsfeld's treatment of the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Shinseki. Just irate. I've been in meetings and breakfasts and lunch where this is a subject of conversation and just a very, very bitter feeling that he would treat someone like that. And then when the general retires, a service chief retiring, and not to attend that retirement ceremony that would have any other high-ranking officials from his office, is just a slap in the face. Why would you do that?

What you find now is, when the Defense Department leadership is having difficulties because of the problems in Iraq and around the world, is those who would normally step forward for their defense and offer some explanation don't have any explanations. We think it's pure failure. In some cases, it's culpable negligence. When the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff goes in front of Congress and testifies, "We did not develop a plan for what took place after the so-called major combat operations because we feared it might be a reason to cause the war," you slap yourself in the head and you say it was an open secret. We were planning to go to war in Iraq. How would planning for the aftermath cause the war?

There was a period when Rich Armitage believed that he was going to be deputy secretary of defense and Wolfowitz was going to be over in State. How would the Defense Department have been different if Richard Armitage would have been No. 2?

If Richard Armitage had been the deputy secretary of defense, we would have somebody with experience, which is good; more importantly, someone who had studied the profession, understands it, is schooled. I believe [Armitage] would have made far different decisions or tried to ensure the secretary and the president made different decisions than we've seen now. ...

But there's no reason why those in these senior leadership positions couldn't understand the phenomenon of war. It is something you can study. I recall reading a book by John Keegan, his first popular book, called The Face of Battle. As he introduces the book, he says, "I've never been in combat, but I'm going to tell you about it." I came this close to closing that book saying, "You couldn't." I pushed on and read the book. He truly writes about war in a meaningful way, even though he never experienced it, because he studied; he was interested. He wasn't someone who said, "I'm just great; I know it." He really was a student. Anyone who assumes these leadership positions who becomes a student, or more importantly was a student, clearly could lead and lead effectively.

How hard is it to get your hands around the military if you're a civilian secretary of the defense?

I don't think it would be hard to get your hands around the military. But to get your hands around the Department of Defense, the Pentagon, the acquisition of weapons systems, the bureaucracy, a bureaucracy far bigger than it needs to be? As a retired military officer, I make a comfortable living working for companies that are doing nothing except trying to correct the errors the Pentagon makes. I don't want to tell you how many different documents I'm asked to go through and simply put into plain English so people can understand it.

We don't have a leadership that's involved intellectually. They simply want to will their way to this transformation. They don't want to get involved themselves and help think the way through. They turn to those inside the military, and they give slogans, and they ask them to write to these slogans. And whether the slogan is something like "information superiority" or "dominant maneuver" or "effects-based operations," these things just kind of fall out as assertions of what we want, and then ask people to write to them. There is no content, so consequently they can't write anything meaningful, but they're being asked, or in some cases being paid, to write, and they write, and they write. And it's terrible.

What is your feeling about the notion of preemption and of the way Wolfowitz wrote his defense policy guidelines?

If Mr. Wolfowitz truly believed that the difficulty was not pursuing Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War automatically, just a full-on military operation, he clearly doesn't understand the relationship between policy, strategy and military operations. You don't simply on a whim say, "Let's continue this military operation and do something different than we started out at the beginning." That's how you get this mission creep. Now you've got yourself in great difficulty, and we've seen that happen a number of times in smaller operations.

Preemption is a tool. When you announce that preemption is your national strategy and you tell everyone, it begets preemption. Why would any nation in the future who understood what we did to Saddam, to Iraq, ever sit back and wait for us to position ourselves like that again before they would strike? Why would they allow us to position the forces close by, to do all the things we did and not strike first, or at least take some action? So yes, I think preemption is something you have in your tool kit, but it's not something you announce as a policy that we're going to follow in each and every case. There are unique cases where you might want to come forward and say, "This particular case requires us to preempt; ergo, this is what we're going to do," but not as a matter of national policy.

Four days after 9/11, [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz and others make an argument, and they say: "It's hard to fight a shadow; it's hard to chase Al Qaeda. But states fight states, and we know a lot about Iraq. These are bad guys; let's go get them." What do you say?

Here's an analogy, perhaps a strange, strained analogy. Let's suppose you were mugged on a street in your neighborhood and you had no idea who the mugger was. You may be suspicious, but you weren't sure. But there was another neighbor you didn't like. You'd had a lot of quarrels with him, and so you decide, "I'm going to solve this problem because I'm going to go burn down that neighbor's house." There's no connection. That's how I equate going after Iraq for what happened on 9/11 or trying to make that case.

Presumably before the war, somebody was saying: "What about the other end of this thing? What if they take to the streets? What about suicide bombers?"

There were many voices who spoke both openly in public testimony to the media, and I'm aware of many cases where they spoke privately to those in key positions in the administration and warned them that this could be the result. They were dismissed, some publicly, like Gen. Shinseki, when he said several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed, and Mr. Wolfowitz said, "I can't imagine you'd need any number like that." So there was this humiliation whenever you challenged.

As the run-up is happening, when does it become clear to you that Iraq's got a bull's-eye painted on it?

In the summer of 2002, I heard senior officers acting in dismay that they were being told to develop the plans for the attack on Iraq. They were saying they didn't think it was the right thing to do at this time until we finished with Afghanistan. They didn't think the guidance they were being given for the attack and the resources they were being told would be made available were sufficient. The word I would use, the ones I talked to, they were appalled.

Were the old Vietnam alarm bells ringing?

They were, in a sense, because I never saw at this point what was the strategy for this global war on terrorists. ... I understood how the fighting in Afghanistan supported the strategy on the war on terrorists. I understood the campaign plan, and I think the campaign plan for Afghanistan was well thought through. It used all the elements of national power. I didn't understand how Iraq fit into this. Moreover, I didn't see a plan unfolding that was a plan that would really fight a war, fight this campaign. I saw one that would take care of a single operation, the capture of Baghdad, the takedown of the Saddam regime. And the question is, all right, what are you going to do with the country after you have it? How are you going to get this thing under control? I saw no planning, heard of no planning worthy of the name for the aftermath of the fighting.

And I said to myself, because I look back at history, and even in 1943 when what the results were going to be in Europe was still in question, the United States had people planning for what happened after the military operations, the active forces passed through. They were talking about how you reestablish civil government. They were talking about how you deal with a people that are occupied. There's a rich body of literature that was written after the Second World War. I knew of no one inside the Pentagon even looking at that. All that work was being done over in the State Department, and the Pentagon was ignoring it, and in fact, when they were offered, simply just refused to even look at it.

So the statue of Saddam falls. What are you thinking?

I was thinking two things -- one, obviously proud that this happened. As a Marine, I was proud that the Marines were involved as they were, that they moved so quick and as well as they did. I was proud of the Army forces, proud of all the joint forces. In the back of my mind, though, I had two concerns. One is, what are you going to do with the rest of the country, the northern part of the country that you haven't gone to? What is it you're going to do with all these places you bypassed down south? Literally, what is your plan now that the regime has fallen? I didn't know of one.

I guess deep in my heart I hoped that there was some sort of a secret plan that they were going to follow. ... Just imagine if the follow-on and support forces that were in the original plans had been there, [if] divisions had simply gone around Baghdad and gone up into what we now know is the Sunni triangle; clamped down; let them see the hard heel of occupation, at least for a short period; get secured; prevent the looting; go into places in the South that were bypassed; get ahold of the weapons; get them under control; get into some of these places where there were alleged weapons of mass destruction, find out what was really there; prevent this radioactive material from escaping. That's the kind of forces you needed. No one can quibble over the right size force for capturing Baghdad. But for a war with the nation of Iraq and for actually occupying the country as we claimed we wanted to do, totally insufficient. This is literally Operations 101.

One guy who has come out as a hero in all this is Gen. [Anthony] Zinni, another outspoken critic like you.

Gen. Zinni is a friend; he's a close neighbor. We fish almost every weekend together. We've been compatriots for a number of years. I have the utmost respect for him. Gen. Zinni told me well before the war started, in the summer of 2002, he said, "Rip, there are no weapons of mass destruction programs." He said, "We may find some isolated weapons, but believe me, there are no weapons programs as you and I would think about it." And I said to myself: "Well, he's a good friend; he's certainly a professional. He's never been wrong in anything I know about, but he's been retired for a couple years now; maybe he doesn't really know what's going on." He was right.

Then he said to me before this last Christmas, Christmas of 2003, he said: "Rip, everybody's worried about what's happening in the Sunni Triangle. Before spring, certainly before summer, it'll be the Shiites that will be up in arms." Lo and behold, they're up in arms. Look at his testimony, what he said in terms of what needed to be done. Look at his press releases. I think you'll find he was pretty much on the mark. He's still concerned.

What's bothering him now?

I think what bothers him is what bothers all of us. We literally can't sleep at night. Those young soldiers, Marines, are dying for a war that didn't have to be fought when it was fought. It needed to be fought sometime, but not when it was fought. Certainly should not have been fought the way it was.

When I see any of these individuals on the television -- Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Feith -- I literally cannot stand it. I have to turn the television off. I'm so embittered about what they've done to a fine military -- more importantly, what they've done to our nation. They've hurt our nation.

How?

Our reputation overseas. Our long-built coalitions that we've put together, those who supported us, they don't like our country; they don't perceive our country as it was before. We didn't have to do that. There was a far better way to do it. If all the elements of power had been brought together, as I've said many times, in a coherent fashion, as the senior President Bush did, before we went to war-- think it through, develop a plan that makes sense, get support for that plan and go to war. Now when you think about it, the first Mr. Bush had to counteract an attack on Kuwait, so he was constrained somewhat by time. But he did it right. The second Mr. Bush is not constrained. He's going to elect when he goes to war, and he gets it wrong.

You didn't mention the president when you ran down your list of people who you can't stand to watch on television. How much of it do you lay on him?

The president has been ill advised on the defense side. ... The military has traditionally conservative values. The Republican Party more often than not represents those values, so I've been a lifelong Republican, but I could not vote for Mr. Bush if Mr. Rumsfeld and his team are still in office.

It's September of '03, and Rumsfeld has gone with a press entourage to Baghdad. Did you know then that the insurgency was more than just a handful of people?

I don't think anyone truly knew what the scope of this was going to be after the active fighting ended in May of 2003, but we understood what Saddam claimed he was going to do; we understood the possibilities of what you could do. And not to be prepared for that, even if you didn't know what was going to happen, to be prepared for all of the eventualities, is what I'm critical of.

Why would the secretary of defense not say: "We've got this problem here. We're going to go get it""?

I think to a degree, he's stubborn. Being stubborn, holding to your convictions, is good to a point, but when the evidence around you indicates your position is not tenable, then you ought to start to adapt to the situation. It got well beyond where it was tenable, and he was still holding the position. We even see some of the same things with the vice president, who in the face of all the available evidence maintains there's a link between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime. There's no evidence of it, but he maintains it. I really think that many in these key leadership positions on the defense side, and I think in the case of the vice president, they're in denial.

There is a kind of nomenclature argument, a war of words -- not wanting to call it a guerrilla war, calling it an insurgency. How do you, as a scholar about warfare, describe an insurgency?

There have been some wonderful works. One I always go back to is [Bard O'Neill's] Insurgency and Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare, and this is about 14 years old. But it really lays out an analytical construct for trying to understand what it's all about. And these are the sort of things we should have been reading before, certainly ought to be reading now, trying to understand what the problem is we face and how to counteract it. ... Our plate, in a sense, was full, but we should not have ignored what I'm terming unconventional operations.

Are we ignoring it still?

I see inside the United States Army the germs of a second intellectual renaissance that's approaching these problems. And they're not caught up in the sloganeering that most of the Joint community's caught up in. They really are studying; they're having conferences. The conferences aren't love fests, where they put out some idea and try to get people to sign up to it. It's a real debate, real argument, trying to synthesize some new knowledge out of it.

Is there anything in the current Defense Department that would lead you to believe those ideas will flourish?

I see nothing from the highest levels of the Pentagon that would lead to this. What I see is a support of the Joint Forces command by edict being told to be innovative. You cannot demand innovation. You can't simply say to an organization, as Mr. Rumsfeld apparently did to the Army: "Be more innovative. You're not innovative enough. Service Chief, you're out of here." That's not the way to do it.

Post-Iraq, do you think the Army is broken?

No, the United States Army is not broken. We've got a great Army. The Army for some reason lost its doctrinal roots after the first war in the Gulf. I don't understand why. They literally led this renaissance of thinking that took place in the '70s and '80s, and that produced a wonderful document, Field Manual 100-5, titled Operations. ... The Army, for some reason, post-Desert Storm, walked away from that manual and wrote a new one that was almost unintelligible, and it was so successful that this very rich intellectual activity that we saw was squashed. And it began to be conformist. My take on it is it's been short-lived, and we're seeing that same energetic thinking reoccurring in the Army, which to me is good news.

When did you hear about Abu Ghraib, and what do you think about it?

I heard about the prison scandals like everybody else, in the media. I was horrified. It goes against anything I've ever seen in any of our armed forces. I think it's the result of two things. One is, it's Mr. Rumsfeld stepping above the law in some of the things he's supported, and that transfers down through the ranks quicker than you might imagine. And some of these things, which allegedly first occurred in Guantánamo, got transferred out to Iraq. That's the one side. The other side, if you have a unit that's poorly led and it gets this sort of a license, even if it's second-, third-, fourth-order information they get, it will get out of control very quickly. But it's not the American military, any service that I've ever known in the 41 years that I served.

Of course, all my evidence is what the media reports, so it's subject to the accuracy of what's being reported. But if the various memos, his interpretations, the instructions given to those who were handling the prisoners in Guantánamo, those same key officers taking these same ideas to Iraq -- and in particular, his idea that you could stash a prisoner and leave him unaccounted for in Iraq for a lengthy period of time, that somehow this was okay -- that all tells me that he must feel himself above the law if he's not concerned about this.

How rapidly does something like that move down through the ranks?

Months. [Over] several months, something like that can happen, not in terms of any sort of written instructions, not in terms of direct guidance, but you set this sort of a climate. Commanders at one level see it. Others witness it, like the results, or feel that it unencumbers what they're trying to do, and they pick up some version of it, usually a more expansive version. Even if it's constrained at one level, it becomes more expansive as it goes down. In a disciplined unit, you might be able to hold it together, but when you reach a level where the discipline is not what it should be, it all falls apart, and we get these tragic results.

And there is no excuse for it in terms of what the soldiers should have understood. Every person who comes in the military understands the Geneva Conventions. There are classes on it. They clearly understand this is not proper. In fact, what most of them are told, if not in these words, is something along this line: Treat every other human being with respect. You don't have to like them, you don't have to agree with them, but treat them with respect. And even if they're prisoners, there's a certain respect that they're due. That went out the window.

What does the next president or the next administration inherit?

Let me take the question in two parts. Let's look at Iraq. I don't think that the Defense Department is capable of solving the problem in Iraq now. If the problem is going to be solved, it'll be through two means: the Iraqi people, number one, and number two, those soldiers and Marines on the ground. Between the two, they'll get it right, and we'll have at least some adequate outcome -- not the outcome we anticipated when the war started, but at least one that's more hopeful.

I'm not saying, though, that that's going to happen. What I fear is that the rivalries between the various groups -- the Kurds, the Sunnis and Shiites -- will eventually boil over, and we'll see some sort of a balkanization of Iraq.

What the next administration needs to do, though, when it looks at the Defense Department, is two things. First, step back and say: "We know that terrorists are a problem. Is the strategy that the previous administration laid out for fighting terrorists what we need? Can we improve that?" And then when they do, decide, "All right, where are we going to concentrate?" ... You articulate this to the military and the State Department, Commerce Department, all of those agencies of government, what they call the agency process, and bring all these elements to bear. There needs to be a clean slate, start over and see where we are.

In terms of the military itself, we've got to have this new focus on the basics. Go back to studying the profession, trying to understand unconventional war, develop a theory, and then write the doctrine and move forward. ...

What this country needs to do is look where its casualties are. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Scales lays out, I think, a very good argument. Over the last 100 years, in particular the last 60 or 70, the vast majority of casualties, by an order of magnitude, are with the infantry. I don't mean just ground forces -- with the infantry. Yet very little of the resources goes to that infantry. Just imagine, if this country put $1 million into each Army squad and each Marine Corps squad, what you might be able to do in not only terms of the equipment you gave it, but in terms of the training, the way you intended to employ them as you develop ideas.

And lives would be saved?

Lives would be saved.

How does it feel for you to see how broken the relationship is between civilians and the Pentagon?

At the outset of my career as a young lieutenant, the relationship the military had with Secretary of Defense McNamara was very acrimonious, and it permeated down through the ranks. And by the end of his term, we didn't like the man. We didn't like what he'd done to the military, what he'd done to our nation. ... We thought we were back on track in Afghanistan. And all of a sudden in Iraq, it looks like déjà vu. We're back to where we were. All of those hard-won lessons are lost. And so when I was 26, I thought there were problems. Now I'm 66, and the same problems are back. It's very disappointing.

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posted oct. 26, 2004

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