Friday, April 14, 2006

Several retired generals who worked with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, including a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, yesterday decried calls for the secretary’s resignation from other retired officers.

President Bush repeated his support for his point man in the war against terrorists.

“I think what we see happening with retired general officers is bad for the military, bad for civil-military relations and bad for the country,” retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Mr. Bush, said in an interview with The Washington Times. He said he would elaborate his views in an op-ed essay.

“I’m hurt,” said retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael P. DeLong, who was deputy commander of U.S. Central Command during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and briefed Mr. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

“When we have an administration that is currently at war, with a secretary of defense that has the confidence of the president and basically has done well — no matter what grade you put on there, he has done well — to call for his resignation right now is not good for the country,” he said.

The White House this week expressed continued support for Mr. Rumsfeld, and Mr. Bush, responding to the continued resignation calls, reiterated his support.

“I have seen firsthand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how best to complete these missions,” Mr. Bush said in a three-paragraph statement yesterday. “Secretary Rumsfeld’s energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period. He has my full support and deepest appreciation.”

The president, who has previously declined Mr. Rumsfeld’s offers to step down over the Abu Ghraib prison episode, said he had spoken with Mr. Rumsfeld earlier in the day and “I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our nation.”

In an interview taped Thursday for the Arab-language Al Arabiya TV station, Mr. Rumsfeld said he has no plans to resign.

“The fact that two or three or four retired people have different views, I respect their views,” he said, “but obviously out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed, we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round around here.”

Six former generals have, one at a time, called on Mr. Rumsfeld to resign. The generals, two of the Marine Corps and four of the Army, cited “poor war planning” for Iraq after Saddam Hussein was deposed, insufficient ground troops and failure to anticipate the infiltration of Iraq by al Qaeda fighters that set off a fierce pro-Saddam insurgency. They accused Mr. Rumsfeld of intimidating senior officers and “meddling” in war planning.

“I believe we need a fresh start in the Pentagon,” retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Army’s 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, told CNN cable network. “We need a leader who understands teamwork, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation. You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out.”

Mr. Rumsfeld’s staff scoffed at the accusations of intimidation and meddling. Several retired senior officers also say the calls from the six generals were inspired by Mr. Rumsfeld’s far-reaching transformation of their services and his refusal to increase active forces by a large number.

The officers defending Mr. Rumsfeld say the complaints are an institutional battle between the generals, who think Mr. Rumsfeld is damaging the Army, and the defense secretary, who thinks he is better organizing it for post-Cold War 21st-century threats.

Mr. Bush referred to that friction when he said, “I asked Don to transform the largest department in our government. That kind of change is hard.”

Officers also say general officers have a choice while on active duty: They can follows orders or resign in protests. But they say it is a troubling precedent when retired generals attempt to dictate who should be the military’s civilian leader.

Retired Gen. John Keane, former Army vice chief of staff under Mr. Rumsfeld, said the secretary involved himself in war planning “just like other strong secretaries of defense.”

“Generals bring forward their campaign plans, and the civilian leaders apply their judgments,” he said. “As a result of that, those plans are changed. The secretary has done the same thing as pertains to our plans for invading Afghanistan and Iraq. In my view, this is healthy and in my view this collaboration-making is healthy and it serves the nation well.”

Gen. DeLong said Mr. Rumsfeld often deferred to Gen. Tommy Franks on war planning issues.

“He would go with Franks’ call even though he may not have been wholly on board because Franks was the guy with the experience,” he said.

Gen. DeLong acknowledged that he, his commander, Gen. Franks, Mr. Rumsfeld and others made mistakes in anticipating what would happen in Iraq. They should not have disbanded all Ba’ath Party members loyal to Saddam, for example.

“This after-the-fact stuff is really easy to do,” he said. “We made some mistakes. Everybody had a part of that. Rumsfeld helped fix it.”

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