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Rumsfeld's Role as War Strategist Under Scrutiny

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Rumsfeld's Role as War Strategist Under Scrutiny


By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's influence in crafting the plan for the Iraq (news - web sites) war is facing scrutiny as it becomes apparent the campaign will not be as quick or easy as some U.S. leaders had predicted.

Some retired top brass are voicing in public an opinion harbored in private by some current top military officers -- that Rumsfeld's bold vision of a sleeker, high-tech military prompted him to take unnecessary risks in the size and nature of the force sent to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).

In addition, some experts -- even those who say they admire Rumsfeld -- say he has assumed too big a role in articulating U.S. foreign policy.

"At the end of the day the question arises: why would you do this operation with inadequate power?" retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded an infantry division in the Gulf War (news - web sites) and later headed all U.S. military forces in Latin America, told Reuters.

"Because you don't have time to get them there? But we did. Because you don't have the forces? But we did. Because you're trying to save money on a military operation that will be $200 billion before it's done?"

"Or is it because you have such a strong ideological view and you're so confident in your views that you disregard the vehement military advice from, particularly, Army generals who you don't think are very bright."

Rumsfeld has clashed with some top officers, particularly in the Army, during a tenure as defense secretary in which he has sought to reimpose strict civilian leadership over a uniformed military that some conservatives believed had run the show at the Pentagon (news - web sites) during the Clinton administration.

The flash point has been his quest to bring what he calls "transformation" to the military. He has a vision of a military liberated from its Cold War past, with smaller, swifter forces, high-tech weapons, air power and special operations.

In developing a war plan to use in Iraq, Rumsfeld firmly rejected the advice of many top officers that he field a force more in line with the half-million troops used in the 1991 Gulf War. Rumsfeld favored a much smaller force. Analysts said Rumsfeld and war commander Gen. Tommy Franks reached a middle ground, fielding a force about half the size of the 1991 one.

"Rumsfeld basically cut in half what the Army said that it needed for the war. Basically, he has the view the Army is too big, too heavy, too cumbersome," said analyst Lawrence Korb of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.


Military analyst Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation said Rumsfeld is facing the huge task of bringing change to an institution, the military, that resists it mightily.

"In terms of how Rumsfeld has influenced everything, certainly he has demanded that war planners think outside the box a little bit, and come up with some new ways to conduct this mission," Spencer said.

"He's a powerful personality. And powerful personalities, you either love them or hate them. Not many people are indifferent to Rumsfeld," Spencer said.

Military analyst Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute said one must look at the development of the war plan in the context of Rumsfeld's "transformation" quest.

"What we have now is a division between the military guys who want to say that once you've made the decision to go to war, you turn it all over to us: timing, numbers, whatever. The reality is that's not the way it works. It has never been the way it works," Goure said.

During a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld was asked whether his vision of a "transformed" military led him to authorize a force with insufficient troops and armor on the ground.

"First of all, I don't know how anyone outside of the government thinks they know what my views are," Rumsfeld said.

He said the war plan was approved by Franks, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, and President Bush (news - web sites). "And it is a good plan," Rumsfeld said.

"I can't manage what people -- civilians or retired military -- want to say. And if they go on and say it enough, people will begin to believe it. It may not be true, and it may reflect more of a misunderstanding of the situation than an analysis or an assessment of it."

Critics have pointed to a series of faulty assumptions they believe were made by the civilian leaders of Pentagon. Among these are: that the Iraqi military would collapse quickly once hostilities began; that there would be mass surrenders of Iraqi troops; that the "shock and awe" aerial bombardment would convince the Iraqis that resistance was futile; and that the Iraqi people would embrace invading Americans as liberators.

McCaffrey said some moves have been "just shocking," citing inadequate ground combat forces, inadequate security for supply lines, too little artillery and not using key military units.

"So I think we've got a viewpoint where he sees a vision for a new form of warfare. And what I told a senior defense official three months ago was, 'You know you may be right that these people will unravel. But if you're wrong, you're going to risk a political and military disaster."'

Analysts also said Rumsfeld may not be well-suited to articulate U.S. policy on international relations and the war.

"I have incredible respect for the man. But I think that he should have been banned from the Pentagon briefing room for the last year. Honestly. He is articulate. He is smart. And he likes it too much," Goure said. "I don't think that he is doing as good a job, partly because people, including the media, are bored with him, bored with his shtick."

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