– A recently retired two-star general who just a year ago commanded a U.S. Army division in Iraq on Wednesday joined a small but growing list of former senior officers to call on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign.
“I believe we need a fresh start in the Pentagon. We need a leader who understands teamwork, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation,” Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Germany-based 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, said in an interview on CNN.
In recent weeks, retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton and Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni all spoke out against Rumsfeld. This comes as opinion polls show eroding public support for the 3-year-old war in which about 2,360 U.S. troops have died.
“You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense,” Batiste said.
“But when decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision making, sound planning, then we’re bound to make mistakes.”
Batiste, a West Point graduate who also served during the previous Gulf War, retired from the Army on November 1, 2005. While in Iraq, his division, nicknamed the Big Red One, was based in Tikrit, and it wrapped up a yearlong deployment in May 2005.
Critics have accused Rumsfeld of bullying senior military officers and disregarding their views. They often cite how Rumsfeld dismissed then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki’s opinion a month before the 2003 invasion that occupying Iraq could require “several hundred thousand troops,” not the smaller force Rumsfeld would send.
Many experts believe that the chaos that ensued and the insurgency that emerged just months later vindicated Shinseki’s view.
Batiste told CNN “we’ve got the best military in the world, hands down, period.” He did not say whether he felt the war was winnable.
‘LACK OF SACRIFICE’
“Whether we agree or not with the war in Iraq, we are where we are, and we must succeed in this endeavor. Failure is frankly not an option,” Batiste said.
Batiste said he was struck by the “lack of sacrifice and commitment on the part of the American people” to the war, with the exception of families with soldiers fighting in Iraq.
“I think that our executive and legislative branches of government have a responsibility to mobilize this country for war. They frankly have not done so. We’re mortgaging our future, our children, $8 to $9 billion a month,” he said, referring to the cost of the war.
He defined success in the war as “setting the Iraqi people up for self-reliance with their form of representative government that takes into account tribal, ethnic and religious differences that have always defined Iraqi society.”
“Iraqis, frankly, in my experience, do not understand democracy. Nor do they understand their responsibilities for a free society,” Batiste said.
Newbold, the military’s top operations officer before the Iraq war, said in a Time magazine opinion piece on Sunday that he regretted having not more openly challenged U.S. leaders who took the United States into “an unnecessary war” in Iraq. Newbold encouraged officers still in the military to voice any doubts they have about the war.
On Tuesday, Marine Corps Gen. Pete Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended Rumsfeld from the criticism.
Rumsfeld said that “there’s nothing wrong with people having opinions,” and that criticism should be expected during a war as controversial as this one.