Even as retired generals engage in debate on whether Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should resign over the Iraq war, critics and defenders appear to agree on one point: The war is not going as well as they expected.
In interviews, writings and public appearances, many of Rumsfeld’s military defenders have acknowledged the failure to predict the virulence of the insurgency and to aggressively impose order in Iraq was a mistake that could be difficult to repair.
With U.S. military casualties again on the rise and public opinion turning against the war, such consensus is unsurprising. But for an administration whose political health is tied to its management of the conflict, and which has repeatedly insisted the war is going better than is generally portrayed, such pessimism from those close to Iraq policy could make the job of regaining public support difficult.
“Everyone is assuming and agreeing we botched this,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst with the Brookings Institution who has been critical of the retired generals’ speaking out against Rumsfeld. “We’re all agreeing this is not going to go down as one of the nation’s great accomplishments. It’s bad for (the Bush administration’s) place in history” and for Republican electoral prospects in November, he added.
There are notable exceptions to the consensus on Iraq. Neither retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the invasion, nor retired Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of U.S. Central Command and the war plan’s primary architect, have acknowledged mistakes.
But several other former military leaders, including members of the Joint Chiefs during the war and a senior general who served as Franks’ deputy, have acknowledged that the plans for rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq were flawed.
“We all agree there were mistakes made,” retired Gen. John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff during the Iraq war, said recently.
Retired Gen. John Keane, who was vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army during Iraq war planning and who has been outspoken in supporting Rumsfeld, said although he believes the invasion plan proved successful, the post-war plan should have included many more military engineers, translators and intelligence experts.
“If we knew the insurgency would emerge, the occupying force would have changed,” Keane said. “Those additional forces could have been in the queue.”
Some military experts say that because there is such widespread agreement over post-invasion failures, the recent denunciations of Rumsfeld can be seen as an effort to deflect blame from the uniformed military.
“The finger-pointing over Iraq has begun,” said retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, a defense analyst who was consulted on war planning when he was in the Army. “We have a disaster on our hands and the generals don’t want to be held accountable.”