Thursday, April 13, 2006

Of the smattering of retired generals who have called on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign, none has surprised the Pentagon’s inner circle more than retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste.

Gen. Batiste commanded the 1st Infantry Division, responsible in Iraq for the hot spots of Tikrit and Samarra, north of Baghdad. On a chilly December night in 2004, he introduced Mr. Rumsfeld to his soldiers thus: “This is a man with the courage and the conviction to win the war on terrorism.”

A Rumsfeld aide said that when the two talked privately, the general voiced no complaints on how Washington, or Mr. Rumsfeld, was waging war.

But Gen. Batiste has now called on Mr. Rumsfeld to resign, one of five retired generals who have done so in recent weeks.

“I believe we need a fresh start in the Pentagon,” Gen. Batiste said Wednesday on CNN. “We need a leader who understands teamwork, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation.”

Of the Iraqi people, he told CNN, “Iraqis, frankly, in my experience, do not understand democracy. Nor do they understand their responsibility for a free society.”

But in Iraq last year, Gen. Batiste said: “The Iraqi 4th Division represents what is and what is meant to be in Iraq. The soldiers of the division not only reflect the rich ethnic/religious diversity of Iraq, but they also imbue with the energy, courage and determination which the vast majority of the Iraqi people have for freedom and representative government.”

Yesterday, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs also made the resignation plea, this time on National Public Radio.

The acting Army secretary at the time demoted Gen. Riggs and forced him to retire in 2004 because he let a civilian contractor do congressional liaison work that rules said should have been done by a government employee. The forced retirement infuriated some retired officers, who saw the infraction as minor.

Five retired generals hardly constitute a groundswell among what the Pentagon estimates are 9,000 active and retired generals and admirals. But Pentagon officials fear there will be more such calls against Mr. Rumsfeld.

The list now reads: Gen. Batiste; Gen. Riggs; retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, who opposed the Iraq invasion from the start; Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold and Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton.

“I was particularly taken aback by Batiste,” said Larry Di Rita, a senior Rumsfeld adviser. “It seemed very contrary to the interaction I saw in Iraq.”

Gen. Batiste, who now runs a steel company, did not return a phone message for comment.

As to criticism that Mr. Rumsfeld does not meet with senior officials, Mr. Di Rita said the secretary has met more than 60 times this year with Joint Chiefs of Staff members and four-star combatant commanders. In the winter, he conducted a three-day conference with those officers and other Pentagon leaders. The group sat in a conference room, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for three days, hashing out strategies.

Mr. Rumsfeld is known as a direct, some would say brash, manager who will dress down subordinates. He also encourages aides and officers to push back and challenge him, former advisers say.

Interviews reveal deep-seated resentment toward him within the retired Army officer corps for the way he has managed the war and the Army.

An Army officer who asked not to be named said he wished Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs chairman, would “distance himself from Rumsfeld” to show displeasure with the Iraq war planning. But Gen. Pace on Wednesday delivered a spirited defense alongside his boss.

Retired officers say Mr. Rumsfeld failed to plan for the ongoing insurgency in Iraq that has killed hundreds of soldiers and kept too few troops there after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a former commander of the Army War College, said the Army, Marines and special operations need 100,000 more troops.

“If you’re going to fight a long war,” Gen. Scales said, “if this war is generational, and if our grandchildren are going to be fighting this war, and if this war continues to be principally ground warfare, then it just seems overwhelmingly obvious that over the long term we are going to need a bigger ground force.”

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