Criticism of Rumsfeld by generals reflects historical tension between military and civilians

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by six retired generals is not unprecedented, but may reflect the sentiments of current military personnel, according to Dr. Geoffrey Wawro, director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas.

Wawro, formerly professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College, says that throughout history, "there have always been tensions between the military and the civilian leadership."

"The beauty of the American way is that we do have civilian leadership of the military, which has imposed a necessary check on what used to be called ‘military adventures,' and would now just be called bad or hasty judgment," he says. "The irony in this situation is that the fiasco in Iraq is the product of hasty, bad judgment on the part of Bush's civilian decision makers -- hence this belated revolt of the generals."

Wawro notes that during the Civil War, Gen. George McClellan spoke out against President Abraham Lincoln after Lincoln fired him. In 1951, Gen. Douglas MacArthur loudly spoke out in opposition to the Korean War after President Harry S. Truman fired him. And in 1965, former Air Force Chief Of Staff Curtis Lemay criticized the Vietnam War after he retired.

The generals' criticism of Rumsfeld likely reflects the views of their friends and associates still serving in the military, Wawro says .

"The generals represent the ‘boots on the ground' in Iraq," he says. "Both the Army and the Marines are the two services carrying most of the load over there, and some feel that they have been misused."

The retired generals, he adds, are "sounding boards for people who are still in uniform."

"They reflect a broad opinion on what the service members believe, and they consider this war to be a distraction from where they think they need to be focused."

Dr. Adrian Lewis, chair of the UNT Department of History and a military historian, agrees, pointing out that Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was the chief of the U.S. Central Command and oversaw Iraq and the rest of the Middle East in the late 1990s, and Maine Corps Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper are among Rumsfeld's critics

"Rumsfeld has grossly mismanaged this war and has done enormous harm to the Army and this country, but it is not just the Army (criticizing Rumsfeld)," Lewis says. "More accurately, it is ground force commanders. Long after Rumsfeld and Bush have departed, the country will be suffering the effects of this war."
Wawro gives parallels between Rumsfeld and Robert McNamara, who was defense secretary under Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. McNamara was despised by many in the military for what they describe as "micromanagement" of that war, Wawro says.

"Rumsfeld and McNamara are similar in some respects. They were seen as whiz kids who were going to impose order on the Pentagon and reform it," Wawro says. "Then they ran into an insurgent war. Suddenly, all of their long range planning is irrelevant to the conflict."

Lewis says too many officers sat silent during the Vietnam War, as Johnson and McNamara deployed troops "and fought a war with very little regard for the advice of senior military leaders."

"No one wants to go though that again," he says.

But will any of this criticism lead Rumsfeld to resign or President Bush to fire him? Wawro says it's not likely.

"Rumsfeld is best at dismantling and efficiency. The President is famously loyal to his staff,

but the question the President needs to ask is -- can the Secretary continue to be effective in his job?" he says.  

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