rumsfeld's war [home]
paths to power

joseph p. hoar

When the Vietnam War was over, what was the state of the American military?

This was a demoralizing war for the military. It was unwinnable politically, and yet we continued to go back. Our political masses were looking for [an] "easy way out," a way that we could leave with honor, which cost tens of thousands of lives, as we know today. The American people had figured out that this thing wasn't going to work, so it was harder and harder to bring young men and women into the armed forces. And there was great racial upheaval in the country at the time, in the '70s. So in addition to struggling with the aftermath of the war, we were struggling with the larger issue, racial equality in the armed forces. There were riots, there were disciplinary problems, and so forth. It was really the low point for me.

This is a labor-intensive business. If you're going to go in and change a country of 25 million people, youve got to have boots on the ground.

I was infantry battalion commander by '77, '78, and then it started to come around. The quality of the youngsters that we were getting was improving. We were by now in an all-volunteer force. We started to demand more of our junior leaders. We started to look for the right guys to be in command. We started to really rebuild by that point. And I guess by the middle '80s, we had truly turned the corner. We had transformed the American military into a far more professional, far more capable force than ever existed before.

By Desert Storm, you were a very powerful member of the United States military. Were we where you hoped the military would be from the low point at the end of Vietnam?

Absolutely. Absolutely. Not only in the Marines but certainly in the United States Army, the people that were flying airplanes, everybody, everybody, the leadership had all had Vietnam experience. These guys had been shot at; they knew what that was all about. We had rebuilt the institution in terms of training and working together. ... When you add to that equipment that had been visualized in the '70s and developed during the '80s, it all came together in a way that made some of these maneuvers in Desert Storm, Desert Shield, incredible.

A friend of mine commanded the 3rd Armored Division. An armored division on the move is 16 kilometers wide and 35 kilometers deep. Everybody's got a seat in a tank or a Bradley or a truck or in a helicopter. They just literally drove over Iraqi divisions, never even slowed down, destroying them as they went.

photo of hoar

Gen. Joseph P. Hoar (U.S. Marine Corps-Ret.) was commander of CENTCOM from 1991 to 1994. In the build-up to war in Iraq, he supported from the outside Colin Powell's reservations about the consequences, joined other military figures to oppose the war plan and more recently to support John Kerry. In this interview, Hoar explains how the concept of military transformation has developed over the years, and why it should be executed cautiously."We were going to be lighter, faster, and we were going to depend more on technology. That part of it was clear -- so far so good," he tells FRONTLINE. "But I think one of the things that the Iraqi campaign has shown us is that you need to go very slowly when you talk about reducing the size of the armed forces." This interview was conducted on Aug. 9, 2004.

Now, this was a Third World country. They didn't have the capability that we had, of course. But this was still a seasoned army that had fought a long war with Iran and that, particularly in defense, had done very well against the Iranians. And we just rolled right through them. It was an extraordinary feedback to what had taken place in the military since '75 when we withdrew ignominiously from Vietnam.

We always hear a lot about civilian vs. military conflict. How does it manifest itself in the first Gulf War?

There was a lot of give-and-take. Mr. Cheney would come to meetings sometimes, but normally they were conducted with Colin Powell presiding. Never any question about who was in charge, never any question about where the ultimate decision was going to be made. But I thought Mr. Cheney did a remarkable job of managing all of this.

Colin Powell saw [that] in order to fight effectively, you needed to centralize some of the decision making in the staff, not among the Joint Chiefs. And there was a good deal of angst about that, particularly among the iron majors and the colonels who had been around under the old system. And they thought that the service chiefs were being taken out of the decision-making process, that we were not going to have a "general staff," which was always a dirty word. ...

How big a force was Colin Powell as chairman? How did he become such a personality -- a matinee idol, in effect?

First of all, he's a very bright guy. He's the sort of person that the press liked. He was available; he was open. He's tremendously personable. He's a good leader, remembers people's names. He's always pleasant to deal with -- not always, but [most] of the time. He can be tough; I've watched him do that. And I think the fact that he was an African American, the first African American to rise to be the most senior military guy in the U.S. Defense establishment, also made it interesting.

He really isn't in the chain of command. The chain of command went from the war fighters, the theater commanders, to the secretary of defense to the president. Now, that's the formal organization. The day-to-day work of running it went from the secretary of defense to the chairman -- in this case Colin Powell -- and then to the war fighters. ... They were the guys that day to day passed the information back and forth, the guys that cleaned up the details after the secretary made a decision, and so forth. So really, the person that the commanders in the field worked directly with -- make no mistake, the secretary was the boss.

My sense was that Cheney and Powell didn't like each other, didn't get along.

I never saw that. Subsequently, when I was the commander in chief at Central Command [CENTCOM] and Cheney was my boss ... it was all business. I never got a sense of who Mr. Cheney, the person, was. It was a business arrangement. We talked about our mutual interest in the Middle East. Now, during the Gulf War, obviously, there had to have been periods in which the chairman and the secretary didn't see eye to eye on things. But I never saw any of that, nor did I ever hear that such a thing was going on, although it could very easily have been.

You characterized Mr. Cheney as "all business." How would you characterize Colin?

We were both, I would say, at the top of our games. We're both four-star generals. He wasn't in the chain of command, but there was no question that he was the senior military officer in the defense establishment. We talked frequently on the secure phone, passed information, had short conversations and whatever. But those conversations almost always were such that Colin set the course and speed. If he was in a hurry, it was a short conversation; if he had time to gossip, then we gossiped.

Famously, the end of the first Gulf War shocked people like Deputy Secretary [of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz -- certainly what happened in the aftermath with the Shia, what happened up north with the Kurds, what happened with the gunships. Now people say that is the moment that neoconservatism got started, or at least the moral aspect of using our military to do the right thing. What's your memory of that?

On the last day of the fighting, it turned into carnage, where hapless Iraqis trying to flee the battlefield were being killed wholesale. I think it had soured the civilian leadership on doing any more. They were ready to quit. And that included Mr. Wolfowitz. He was appalled by what he saw on the television.

How do you know?

Because we had a conversation the day the war ended. We were standing side by side, and he asked me why we were attacking these people that were fleeing. And I described to him that in offensive combat, that's the last phase; you do this to make sure that you don't have to fight them another day. I think that was all new to him.

I think there was a basic flaw in the way we did business in Desert Storm, Desert Shield. I never once, in all the conversations that took place between August and February, heard a discussion about war termination. What were the terms of ending the war? What kind of requirements were we going to impose on the Iraqis after we had thrown them out of Kuwait? Because you remember, the military mission was beautifully defined: Liberate Kuwait. That doesn't give you either peace or stability; it just gives you a liberated Kuwait. And I guess I'm as guilty as everybody else. I might have raised my hand in a meeting and said, "What are we going to do after we throw them out?" I never heard anybody talk about this.

This has weird and faint echoes into the future, doesn't it, that we're not thinking about the aftermath of these things?

It's the human condition that we do the things we understand best. So the military planned for the military mission of liberating Kuwait. The State Department or somebody else should have been thinking, what are we going to do after we do this? We've got a bad guy, a thug, that runs that country. We used to help him, you'll recall, during the war with Iraq and Iran. But now he was a bad guy, bona fide bad guy. What are we going to do? How are we going to change the relationship here? ...

The interesting thing from my point of view was that President Bush had said, "I had been told that if we decisively beat the Iraqis in Kuwait that Saddam Hussein would throw in the towel and leave, that he'd abdicate." And I often thought that didn't square with my knowledge of that part of the world; that people gave up office usually after they'd been hung up at the end of a rope. ... Some years later, a distinguished admiral who I knew, who's since passed on, said that he had been in the White House when this discussion had come up, and he said that the president had indicated that Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, had told him that Saddam Hussein wouldn't stay if the forces were defeated.

Now, I can't speculate on why Mr. Mubarak said that, but the Egyptians have a very different agenda in that part of the world than in the United States, and so it would seem to me that in this instance, that kind of information might not be very reliable if you were getting it from the head of state of Egypt.

The famous Powell Doctrine -- really the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine -- where does it come from? What does it mean?

I think it makes all kinds of sense. The best example of this was to go into Iraq [in the second Gulf War] on the cheap without enough forces. You need to have overwhelming force. I wrote an op-ed piece in absolute frustration in The New York Times right after the ground war began in Iraq that were not enough forces on the ground, because this is not like a ballet. You can choreograph it in advance, but as soon as the music starts, you throw away the script. You don't know where it's going to go.

So we had minor problems on the road up to Baghdad. We had huge problems when we got to Baghdad and all of a sudden found ourselves in a city of 6.5 million people. And we had two divisions to somehow come to terms with that problem. There should have been a division that was committed that could have rushed right on through into Baghdad and taken the responsibility for securing some of those critical aspects.

There were cultural issues; there were power issues; there were all sorts of things that should have been taken care of. The end result is, I'm told there are six million arms that are loose in that society today because of our failure to go in and provide security when the Iraqi army fell apart and the regime was toppled.

Can you kind of tick it off for me? What is the Powell Doctrine in an easy, kind of rules-of-engagement shorthand?

I think the key thing is that you first of all have a clearly defined mission. It's not open-ended. ... You have the support of the American people; the American people think that this is a meritorious task, that what we're doing is the right thing -- "We're the United States of America, and we're contributing to stability, to peace, to democracy," whatever; that you have enough forces to do the job; that you don't do it piecemeal. Those are really the key elements of it.

Have an exit strategy?

Well, the exit strategy is part of the mission, sure.

Okay. Now it's 2000, the presidential election and campaign. You're retired, but you're watching it, as all high-ranking military people do, with intense interest. And much of the campaign rhetoric of the Bush campaign is "The grown-ups are about to be in charge," specifically about the military. Give me a sense of the state of the military at the moment George W. Bush is elected.

During the Clinton period, the policy group was very weak. Secretary of state, national security adviser, the assistant to the national security adviser, these people were ill prepared for their jobs, in my judgment. ... It was very difficult to talk to people, get decisions. You would go to Washington with a particular problem, and they didn't share the same frame of reference about how you would deal with a problem, and so you had to start all over again -- you know, "In the beginning was the word," and come forward. And so there was a great deal of frustration associated with that period. And it wasn't just me; it was the other regional commanders. I wouldn't try to put words in Colin Powell's mouth, but I know he felt a degree of frustration because he was still the chairman. ... And many people were put off by Mr. Clinton's personal behavior, which clouded a lot of their thinking as well. So I would say my impression was they were ready for a change.

There is, in the first eight months or so, real confusion from the civilian side of the Defense Department. What was your take on those first few months?

Well, there was a lot of discussion about transformation. It appeared in virtually every Defense document. It was clearly something that Mr. [Donald] Rumsfeld wanted to see take place. It wasn't really clear what it encompassed, though, at least not to me. Each of the services attempted to take their pet projects, most of which related to hardware, and say, "My new fighter aircraft is transformational; my new helicopter is transformational; my artillery piece is transformational." And of course, in many cases, you wouldn't know if it was transformational or not until the secretary said it wasn't.

We all knew that there were going to be fewer troops. We were going to be lighter, faster, and we were going to depend more on technology. That part of it was clear -- so far so good. But I think one of the things that the Iraqi campaign has shown us is that you need to go very slowly when you talk about reducing the size of the armed forces. Today we find over 50 percent of the United States Army, the regular Army, 10 divisions, committed overseas. It's not sustainable.

What obstacles was Rumsfeld facing as secretary of defense?

Well, this ponderous bureaucracy. There have been people trying to make changes in the Department of Defense for as long as I can remember, and it's very hard to turn that ship around. ... I think everybody pretty much learned their lesson that Mr. Rumsfeld was in charge, and you'd better listen to what he has to say and give him what he wants.

The trouble is that there was all of a sudden an epiphany in Afghanistan, in Iraq: The world isn't the same that we thought it was a couple of years ago. We need a lot of folks to fight this war, and we're probably going to be at it for a long time. And we don't have the right kinds of people, necessarily, but we can't scrap all the old guys, the old formations, the old units either. And so when the president described the "axis of evil" a few years ago, he opened up the possibility that we had three serious adversaries to deal with. At the time, we found that we're not capable of dealing with all three. We can't deal with one very well. ...

And so we're good at fighting wars. We're good at getting in there and killing folks and changing governments. Not really good at figuring out how to win the peace.

What's your view of what happened between Rumsfeld and [former Army Chief of Staff] Eric Shinseki?

I think he was, for whatever reason, the only service chief that spoke out about certain things like the need for more troops in Iraq. ... It was like the guy in the White House that said, "We're going to need $200 billion to finance the fight in Iraq," and he lost his job. We're up to $144 billion and more to come. And so people learn very quickly Rumsfeld is not a good guy to cross. This is not someone you want to take the fight public. The message is "Do it my way or leave." I've not talked to a single retired general officer with whom I have a good relationship, or admirals, somebody that's been in this business, that has a high opinion of Rumsfeld privately.

9/11 happens. The earth shifts. The secretary, who's virtually on the ropes and everybody says is on the way out, sees that the executive branch would have to seize the leadership of the country, the nation, the world, and get everything moving in the right direction. And he also might have seen that it was an opportunity to implement a new way of doing business for the United States military. What's your view of what happened after 9/11?

Afghanistan, geographically, is probably among the more difficult places in the world for the Americans to get into, but we managed to do that. And Special Forces guys did a very credible job along with the CIA; there was plenty of good news to go around in there. And that, in my judgment, of course, is where the emphasis should have stayed, defeating Al Qaeda, finishing the Afghan war, working on homeland security, work on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

And then, all of a sudden, the Iraqi thing popped up. I testified to this issue with both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Service Committee in December of 2002 in the run-up. And I remember my opening statement because I felt so passionately about this. I said: "When I was a young officer, my government miscalculated the nature of the war in Southeast Asia, and we paid the price. We're about to do that again in Iraq."

I feel the same way today. We missed the boat. We did the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. Of course Saddam Hussein is a bad guy, but this was the wrong time and the wrong way to do it.

And the Powell Doctrine?

Out the window. Out the window. We had what I believe was a president that had a clear vision of where he wanted to go. He had bought into the fact that if we invaded Iraq, overthrew Saddam Hussein, that we could build a democracy, a "beacon" for other countries in the Middle East.

Now, this horse hockey just was not going to happen, and the people that were advising him gave him bad information. But there were very few people in the Congress of the United States that were willing to say "This doesn't make any sense" on either side of the aisle.

What did you think when you heard Wolfowitz was going to be number two in this Defense Department?

He wouldn't have got my vote if anybody asked me. He's an extraordinarily bright guy -- there's no question about that -- but he does not, in my judgment, understand very much about war fighting, what it takes to fight and win. He didn't, in my judgment, when he was the undersecretary of defense for plans during the Gulf War, when I had an opportunity to see him firsthand, and I suspect very little has changed since then. It matters enormously because the principal tenet of the structure of the armed forces in this country is civilian control. ... The civilian leadership has to either a) know what they're doing, or b) be open to suggestion and recommendations from those people that have spent their lives doing this kind of work. And if they don't do it, then they should be held accountable. And that's what's been missing in this administration. This phase four, so-called phase four, the reconstruction of Iraq, has been badly planned and badly executed, and nobody has paid a price for it.

These people had decided that they could change the paradigm in the Middle East by going after Iraq. Iraq is potentially the most powerful Arab state, [with] lots of oil, second only to Saudi Arabia in the world with oil reserves. ... The other thing is they have water. The Tigris [and] Euphrates rivers flow through the country, all kinds of water for agriculture. And finally, one of the spin-offs of the Baathist Party is equality for women and good education. The country has got loads of very smart people. And then the diaspora of Iraqis in Jordan and the United States and Latin America and Europe is enormous -- bright people who have just had enough of Saddam Hussein, and they left.

And so if you could somehow harness this country, it's true you could produce something that would be very different in the Middle East. But the leap from taking this country that has been so badly treated by the Ottomans, by the Brits, by their own leaders, their own despots, to think that overnight you could change that society is just craziness.

General, let's talk about the war plan. One fellow we talked to said, "We could have gone in there with 50,000 or less, decapitated the regime; it would have been over in nothing flat." The reason I'm quoting him is this is what the secretary of defense read and said, "Send this guy down to CENTCOM to talk to the other generals sitting around the table." That was in January of 2002. What do you think Gen. [Tommy] Franks' answer to that was, and what do you think of the idea?

I know what my answer would have been. I can't say it on public television. You can't get there from here. This is a labor-intensive business. If you're going to go in and change a country of 25 million people, you've got to have boots on the ground. The way you minimize casualties is you fight aggressively and with overwhelming strength. And so when you start up the road to Baghdad, you've got to have enough guys to protect your supply lines so hapless guys driving tanker trucks and supply trucks don't get shot and get captured. When you get into the big city, you have enough people to flood that city, that city that's second only in size to New York City in terms of how big it is. It's 6.5 million people.

Fifty thousand people -- where would they go in Baghdad? What would they secure? Even if they were successful, how would you manage all of that? What would be the next step? I think it's absolutely impractical. And 50,000 people would have meant more casualties, because there would have been more of them caught on the roads. There would have been more of them that would have been killed in these small firefights around the city. It's just not workable.

Why would this be attractive to the secretary of defense?

There is this thread that moves through the Defense Department regardless of who's in charge, whether it's Democrats or Republicans ... that technology will take care of all of this. The more technology you have, the fewer guys you need on the ground. That's true for some missions, but it's not true when you're about to undertake a counterinsurgency campaign in a country of 25 million people. And the idea that they were going to dance in the street and welcome us when we got to Baghdad was just wrong. The last time they danced in the street in Baghdad was 9/11. Don't count on it.

Why did they count on it?

Because guys like [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi told them what they wanted to hear. This guy has been a fraud since the early '90s, and all of us have known that and spoken out publicly against him. But he told these guys what they wanted to hear: "It'll be easy. We'll take over the country. When I'm running the country, we'll recognize Israel. We'll reconstitute the pipeline to Haifa. It hasn't been in working order since 1948" -- all of the kinds of stories that these guys wanted to hear.

So when Gen. Shinseki says, "We need a few hundred thousand more guys," and Wolfowitz says, "That's an inappropriate number," what does it mean to the uniformed military people and the retired military community to see the deputy secretary of defense come in basically and say, "The war-hero general is wrong"?

This is a deputy secretary of defense that doesn't know anything about war fighting. He's a defense intellectual, self-described, which makes it all worse. I think it was about that time that I suggested on NPR that he ought to be fired, and I still feel that way.

What is your understanding of why he had the job in the first place? He's not a Rumsfeld choice.

You recall that when Mr. Cheney was the secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz was the assistant secretary for planning, [in] my judgment the most important job. ... I think that this is Mr. Cheney's team in Defense. The vice president has an important say, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's the president's call of what he wants the vice president to do. I think he's very powerful. And I would say that he wants to do what he thinks is best for the country. It happens that I very much disagree with the direction in which he's headed.

At the same time that the war plan is finally evolved and guys are getting to the ground, you would think there's also a reconstruction plan.

I think that because it's essentially a political process, the principal person in the U.S. government to manage this should have been the secretary of state, not the secretary of defense. So decisions about military activity should have been cleared by this senior guy in the country who would have been described, I think, as the presidential special envoy to Iraq. And so it isn't that the military couldn't do what it wanted to do. ... It would have been a cooperative process. But the person that reported back would report primarily to the secretary of state and the secretary of state to the president, in my judgment.

That didn't happen. Why?

Because the president chose to have the Defense Department do this work and be preeminent, to be the agency that had the primary responsibility for the reconstruction.

Once that decision is made, what are the implications?

Well, I think there's a couple problems. First of all, [former Director of Operations in Somalia, Gen.] Tony Zinni, when he was at CENTCOM, had started to think about this and had a plan. Nobody ever asked to see it. Nobody ever looked at it. I'm told that the Army War College up at Carlisle in Pennsylvania put together a plan for the reconstruction. Nobody ever asked to look at it. ...

Now, the developmental piece has been equally screwed up. As you know, there was $18 billion authorized and appropriated for the rebuilding of Iraq. Only $600 million has been spent today. The fiscal year is about ready to end, and a very small portion of that money has been spent thus far. Clearly we're not doing very well on the developmental side either. I don't know why. But clearly the wrong people are out there trying to do the job.

The State Department did have a team, 60 or 70 people, who wrote a plan for what to do. The State Department people get moved over to the Defense Department, and then Rumsfeld tells all of them fairly quickly they've got to get out of the building before sunset. He doesn't like the idea of having the State Department people in the building. What is going on?

Well, I'm not encumbered with any firsthand knowledge, but I would say that this is the problem that you have when you're dealing with true believers. One thing that I have learned as a senior commander is, if you already know the answer to the questions, [and] you can be sure if you've already made it clear what the answers are, people are going to feed you back that information. That's the nature of the ways things are done in the military. Rare occasions you'll get guys who say, "Hey, General, your fly's open," or "You've got it wrong," but not many.

What does it mean to the uniformed services to have all this happen?

This is a very tough issue. Eliot Cohen wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal last week saying generals shouldn't be getting involved in the politics, that they're generals and they weaken the resolve, and this is the issue of supporting the troops. Attacking the political leadership and supporting the troops are two very different things, in my judgment. But if you're on the ground and you're a commander, you have got to put whatever personal views you have about the war aside and meet your day-to-day commitments. And I believe that. We can't just fold up and get away. The second- and third-order consequences of failure in Iraq are enormous. We would have another theocratic state in Iraq. We would destabilize, potentially, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, all of those countries.

But the sure way, in my judgment, of getting that kind of a state is continually trying to influence the outcome. Sooner or later you're going to make these people so angry that the dominant force in this country, which is Shia Islam, is going to wind up running the country.

When did you know that it was a serious insurgency?

I've never heard Mr. Cheney characterize any of our opposition in Iraq as anything but terrorists, and that's pretty big spin in my judgment. Many of these people are people that have no work because of either their political connections or their service in the army before. They've been badly treated by the U.S. military for whatever reason, justified or not. To say that some of these people don't have legitimate reasons for wanting to see the United States out of there is to not understand the problem.

I don't doubt that there are foreign terrorists there, but their numbers seem to be relatively small. I saw a figure that there were 12,000 detainees in Iraq that were held by the U.S. armed forces there, of whom 92 were foreign-born. Now, if you extrapolate that figure to our opposition countrywide, it would seem to me that the number of foreign people is relatively small. The guys that we're having so much trouble with -- whatever their motivations, there is certainly a nationalist overtone. I don't think you could fairly describe them as terrorists. You'd have to talk about them as insurgents.

What do you make of our disbanding of the Iraqi army? Was it a fundamental error?

Absolutely. Couldn't have been worse. And to fire all the people that had Baathist connections, absolute mistake. The reality of the country is that if you wanted to teach school, you wanted to be an employee in the oil business, if you wanted to be in the border security business, in the armed forces, that you needed to be a Baathist.

Now, there should have been a bidding process that picked out those people who were senior Baathists that had decision-making policy or had done bad things. But to disband the army, disband the police, disband the border -- there's no border patrol in that country. That huge border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia is wide open to this day. What's wrong with keeping those people in place and paying them and having them continue to do their old job with some oversight? But none of them are left to do it. And the same way with the army. Within the Republican Guard divisions, to send these guys home, all of them probably armed, is to just make the problem worse. And then pay them and finally think about hiring them back -- it's just been badly handled right from the beginning. You didn't need to have 30-odd years of experience in the military to realize that sending hundreds of thousands of troops home, all of them armed, and all with military experience, that there's not going to be any good outcome from that.

When the Marines were attacking north up to Baghdad, they had collected [a] large amount of ammunition and small arms, some of which had been abandoned, some they had taken from the forces that had opposed them, and they requested permission to destroy it, pile it all up, put explosives around it, blow it up. And they were told: "No, leave it in place. We're going to turn it over to the new Iraqi army." Now, you know and I know that stuff never got to the new Iraqi army. That contributed to this number of six million weapons that are floating around in the country.

It's entirely understandable how this might happen. What is an absolute mystery to me is why nobody's been held accountable for it.

There are people who tell us Abu Ghraib is a metaphor for our occupation in every way. What do you say?

I think there's more to this than will come out. It seems hard for me to believe that a bunch of youngsters from the Army Reserve unit in West Virginia figured this stuff out all by themselves. It doesn't meet the smell test. ... It's a terrible blot on the armed forces, on all of us, and to not seriously investigate this thing and pull it apart and look at it up the chain and down the chain -- I know only what I read in the newspapers, but it seems to me to be probable cause to continue to investigate it.

The Powell Doctrine, so derided -- is it back?

I think it is. I think it should be. I'm not sure that the people that are running the government have embraced it again. This is not an administration that's very good at self-examination, in my judgment. Certainly there's no evidence that there's been self-examination and any punishment.

Let's go back just a moment to Saddam Hussein. There's been much disagreement about whether containment and smart sanctions were working. You're responsible for some of this. Yes? No?

Yes. I think containment worked. After all, where are the weapons of mass destruction? My view continues to be that Iraq presented no clear and present danger to the United States, unlike Al Qaeda, unlike other people that are clearly able to strike inside the United States. And that should have been our number one priority, protection of this country.

The president has a constitutional responsibility for the protection of this country, and that would be fulfilled by destroying Al Qaeda; finishing the campaign in Afghanistan; building homeland security; spending the $144 billion we've spent on Iraq on making our bridges and tunnels and our ports and our chemical factories secure; building our police, first responders, all the other things that we need to do.

The president has a constitutional responsibility not to go off on a tangent and attack a country, no matter how bad they are, that doesn't present a danger to this country. Containment worked with Iraq. Iraq might have been a danger to its neighbors at some time in the future, but at this juncture in our history, having been attacked in New York City and in Washington -- and we know there were plans to attack other places, more targets and so forth -- our priorities should have been different.

Do you think the United States Army's broken?

I'm not in a position to say that, but I think if we continue to do what we're doing, over a period of time there's every reason to believe that it will be broken. My guess is that within the Reserve and National Guard portion of the United States Army, if it's not broken, it's well on the way to being broken.

And that's not for a minute to say that there are not people serving in the National Guard and in the Army Reserve that are proud of their service, that are willing to serve, and they're making a huge contribution. This is a very different issue. What the issue is for a lot of young people that never thought that they would serve overseas in a combat zone for an extended period of time, who have young families, who have had to walk away from reasonably well-paying jobs to serve in the Army at much less money, this is a huge hardship.

I asked you near the beginning of this interview for a snapshot of the military at the beginning of the Bush administration. Here we are at the end of this particular administration. What's the snapshot of the military now?

Well, the burden of the war, of course, has fallen unevenly on the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps, because what's required are people with rifles on the ground. And it's not only in Iraq, but it's in Afghanistan as well. And the people that have been in Afghanistan will tell you that they are very much second cousins to the things that are going on in Iraq; that there just aren't enough assets to do two of these things simultaneously. ... The Army is clearly overcommitted. There's no way that you can build a reasonable rotation structure that allows one-third of the operational Army to be deployed and two-thirds back, one just returning and recovering and one training to get ready to go. There just aren't enough units in the Army to do that. ... I think there's an upper limit to how much you can stand. I think Abu Ghraib did not help the institutional Army at all, and I don't think we've finished paying the price on that. If that particular problem isn't rooted out completely, it's going to continue to live in the Army and fester and manifest itself in other ways.

And Secretary Powell? What price has he paid for this?

I think that he has served his president to the best of his abilities. I'm told that he continues to be outvoted by Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld in the National Security Council. ... He's probably correct in thinking that if he leaves, somebody of lesser ability will be put there in his place. I'd like to think that if Mr. Bush is reelected, he would stay in the government and make a contribution. He's a very capable guy.

Vice President Cheney?

I think he's wrong. I think he's been wrong about Iraq. I think he bought into this argument of using Iraq as the centerpiece, the beacon of light of democracy. The facts on the ground do not support that kind of thinking. in my judgment, and we're going to pay a huge price for that kind of thinking.

Rumsfeld becomes very famous as the secretary of defense. Standing in press conferences every afternoon down in that room doing battle with the press on C-SPAN, he's more popular than Dr. Phil. Why?

He's a very articulate guy, and it's his home turf. And he's immersed in this information. During that period, he had a video conference with the senior leadership at CENTCOM every morning and every evening. He had this information at his fingertips, and when he chose to, he would blow off a question rather than answer it. Now, if he gets away with that, whose fault is that?

Is it possible that he also began to believe that he knew something about it all -- I mean, really knew about it like a soldier would know about it?

I'm sure. I'm sure. After all, he's the secretary of defense. ...There is a tendency when you are in these jobs to feel that you know a great deal about war fighting.

If there's always struggle between civilian and military, who won this round?

I think it remains to be seen. In a democracy, people who have not done a good job deserve to get thrown out. I say that this crowd has not done a good job. ... The political decisions associated with going after Iraq were wrong. No matter how the thing went, it was wrong, because the higher priority was the defense of this country.

I think the toppling of the government went extremely well. Great soldiers, great Marines pressed on up the river valleys, got to Baghdad, worked so fast and worked so hard that they never really allowed the Iraqis to get together and put together a coherent defense. I thought it went fantastically well. But they didn't have the numbers; they didn't have the plan to get on with the counterinsurgency campaign, which should have been an integral part of the rebuilding of the country.

So we win the war and lose the peace.

We never got the peace. It's beyond our grasp right now.

home · introduction ·· paths to power · interviews · washington post coverage
timeline: rumsfeld's life & times · timeline: the military's struggles & evolution · join the discussion
maps · analysis · producer's chat · press reaction · tapes & transcripts · credits · privacy policy
FRONTLINE home · wgbh · pbsi

posted oct. 26, 2004

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
background photo copyright © corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation