- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

Bob Woodward’s latest book is filled with vignettes about how Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld’s refusal to heed military advice turned the Iraq intervention into the current mess. Mr. Woodward repeats the familiar charges that because Mr. Rumsfeld intimidated the brass into submission, the United States invaded Iraq with insufficient forces and failed to plan for the peace. Predictably, the book triggered a mini-tsunami of new calls for the secretary’s resignation.

Suppose President Bush listens and Mr. Rumsfeld goes tomorrow? Then what?

Mr. Rumsfeld’s sacking will temporarily satiate the blood lust of many Democrats and other critics who want his scalp and give Mr. Bush a momentary public relations boost. But will Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure have any lasting effect on the war in Iraq or against terror? Suppose a Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Sam Nunn or other great American took over. What could they do differently from Mr. Rumsfeld other than provide a change in style and personality?

Consider Iraq, Afghanistan and military advice. Tragically, the United States has two unsatisfactory choices in Iraq. One is a withdrawal and redeployment of American forces with or without a date certain to complete the stand-down. The result almost surely will provoke a civil war, shattering the already failing country.

Or, as Mr. Bush argues, we can stay the course. More Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis will perish or will be horribly injured. And, by staying, there is no guarantee that Iraq will emerge as a functioning and stable state for years to come. Should a new secretary be installed, no strategic review, if one were to be conducted, would invent a silver bullet or magical solution for Iraq because none exists.

Afghanistan poses an equally vexing dilemma. NATO has now assumed command of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) for the entire country. According to NATO Supreme Commander James L. Jones, NATO is winning the battle against the Taliban despite the alliance’s reluctance to provide the promised forces and the absence of aggressive rules of engagement for every nation deployed there. Mr. Rumsfeld made a wise decision at last week’s NATO Defense Ministers meeting to place a majority of the 20,000 Americans stationed in Afghanistan under NATO command, reassuring the alliance of America’s commitment and plugging any gaps in needed forces.

But can Mr. Rumsfeld or any replacement overcome the greatest obstacle to the collective effort to stabilize Afghanistan? The United Nations is the umbrella organization meant to coordinate the anti-drug and anti-corruption campaigns, the training of security forces and reforming the judicial system.

However, there is neither an executive agent nor the overall authority necessary to make things happen. Without a strong agent, NATO can win every battle and lose the war. Getting that agent in place is above any secretary of defense’s pay grade.

Mr. Woodward also contends that Mr. Rumsfeld has consistently rejected or demeaned military advice and dealt harshly with dissent. The postscript to Mr. Woodward’s story of choosing the Joint Chiefs chairman in 2001 is insightful. First choice was Marine Gen. Jones, who Mr. Woodward erroneously reports declined the selection interview with Mr. Rumsfeld, something no officer would do short of resignation. Gen. Jones politely and firmly demurred, wanting to remain as Marine Corps commandant. Second choice was Adm. Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations. Mr. Woodward writes that, in part because of his candor, Adm. Clark did not get the job.

What happened to both “dissenters” at the hands of this imperious secretary? Gen. Jones was held in such high regard, that he was later assigned to command NATO, capping an extraordinary career. Adm. Clark was asked to serve a third term as CNO, something that only has happened once before.

While Mr. Woodward portrayed Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki as the poster child for Mr. Rumsfeld’s abuse after he told Congress the Army lacked sufficient forces for Iraq, his replacement, Gen. Pete Schoomaker, recalled from retirement, suffered no such indignities. In fact, Gen. Schoomaker challenged the secretary’s fiscal guidance and bluntly told Mr. Rumsfeld that the Army was underfunded by billions of dollars. Gen. Schoomaker won that fight and with Mr. Rumsfeld’s full support is still running the Army.

Mr. Rumsfeld is tough. To deal with him successfully, one needs to be as tough or tougher, a quality the best military in the world should not have in short supply.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s leaving would have major impact in only one circumstance. Should President Bush awaken one morning and conclude that Iraqi policy needed a fundamental overhaul, then a new secretary of defense makes sense. But why stop there? What about Mr. Bush’s past and present national security advisers, who were as deeply involved as Mr. Rumsfeld in waging these wars and even the vice president?

Perhaps the failures in Iraq mandate firing Mr. Rumsfeld. But absent an epiphany, Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure will not produce better outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan unless presidential policy changes first.

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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