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Rumsfeld's role as war planner comes under scrutiny

Retired officers are voicing publicly an opinion held in private by military men: That Rumsfeld has failed.

india Updated: Mar 31, 2003 00:58 IST
Will Dunham (Reuters)
Will Dunham (Reuters)

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's influence in crafting the plan for the Iraq war is facing scrutiny as it becomes apparent the campaign will not be as quick or easy as some US leaders had predicted.

Some retired top officers are voicing in public an opinion harboured in private by some current military officers - that Rumsfeld's bold vision of a sleeker, high-tech military prompted him to take unnecessary risks in the size and nature of the force sent to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded an infantry division in the Gulf War before overseeing anti-drug policies under former President Bill Clinton, said in an interview with Reuters, "At the end of the day the question arises: why would you do this operation with inadequate power?"

"Because you don't have time to get them there? But we did. Because you don't have the forces? But we did. Because you're trying to save money on a military operation that will be $200 billion before it's done?"

"Or is it because you have such a strong ideological view and you're so confident in your views that you disregard the vehement military advice from, particularly, Army generals who you don't think are very bright."

Rumsfeld has clashed with some top officers, particularly in the Army, during a two-year tenure as defence secretary. He has sought to re-impose strict civilian leadership over a uniformed military that some conservatives believed had run the show at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration.

The flash point has been his quest to bring what he calls "transformation" to the military. He has a vision of a military liberated from its Cold War past, with smaller, swifter forces, high-tech weapons, air power and special operations.

Favoured smaller force

In developing a war plan to use in Iraq, Rumsfeld rejected the advice of many top officers that he field a force more in line with the half-million troops used in the 1991 Gulf War. Rumsfeld favoured a much smaller force. Analysts said Rumsfeld and war commander Gen. Tommy Franks reached a middle ground, fielding a force about half the size of the 1991 one.

"Rumsfeld basically cut in half what the Army said that it needed for the war. Basically, he has the view the Army is too big, too heavy, too cumbersome," said analyst Lawrence Korb of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as assistant secretary of defence in the Reagan administration.

Rumsfeld told reporters on Sunday morning that he believed the war plan was an excellent one, that is was in its early phase and that his armchair critics did not know what the war plan was. He said Franks was doing a "truly outstanding job."

"He's had a lot of success," Rumsfeld said, noting that the US-led coalition had captured southern oil fields and a port and that there had been no massive humanitarian crisis or droves of refugees.

He said many of his critics had expected the kind of air war that led off the Gulf War but after months of diplomacy and a last 48-hour ultimatum for Saddam, the decision was to go for tactical surprise by starting the ground war first.

In an interview with ABC's This Week, he said the war plan had the backing of all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House.

He said although some 300,000 US and British troops were now in the region compared with 500,000 troops sent to the 1991 Gulf war, many of the earlier force were not used and the Iraqi army was "35 to 40 percent as capable as it was back in 1991."

He scoffed at suggestions by critics that he forced the slimming down of the force sent to Iraq this time, saying this was "fiction".

'A powerful personality'

Military analyst Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation said Rumsfeld is facing the huge task of bringing change to an institution, the military that resists it mightily.

"In terms of how Rumsfeld has influenced everything, certainly he has demanded that war planners think outside the box a little bit, and come up with some new ways to conduct this mission," Spencer said.

"He's a powerful personality. And powerful personalities, you either love them or hate them. Not many people are indifferent to Rumsfeld," Spencer said.

Military analyst Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute said one must look at the development of the war plan in the context of Rumsfeld's "transformation" quest.

"What we have now is a division between the military guys who want to say that once you've made the decision to go to war, you turn it all over to us: timing, numbers, whatever. The reality is that's not the way it works. It has never been the way it works," Goure said.

Critics have pointed to a series of faulty assumptions they believe were made by the civilian leaders of Pentagon. Among these are: that the Iraqi military would collapse quickly once hostilities began; that there would be mass surrenders of Iraqi troops; that the "shock and awe" aerial bombardment would convince the Iraqis that resistance was futile; and that the Iraqi people would embrace invading Americans as liberators.

Rumsfeld said on Sunday he had never held out much hope of a mass surrender by Iraqi forces. "I never did. Tom Franks fashioned a plan that ... assumed a long, difficult task, but was prepared to take advantage of quicker victory.

First Published: Mar 30, 2003 23:41 IST