Friday, April 14, 2006

Piling on, and some perspective

Another general joins the anti-Rumsfeld fray.

Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who led troops on the ground in Iraq as recently as 2004 as the commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, on Thursday became the fifth retired senior general in recent days to call publicly for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster. Also Thursday, another retired Army general, Maj. Gen. John Riggs, joined in the fray.

"We need to continue to fight the global war on terror and keep it off our shores," General Swannack said in a telephone interview. "But I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq."

Swannack has actually been critical of Rumsfeld for a while, so he doesn't really count as new -- though this may be the first time he's actually said Rumsfeld should be fired.

By my tally this makes at least nine former generals who want Rumsfeld gone:

Major generals: Paul Eaton, John Batiste, John Riggs, Charles Swannack,
Lt. generals: Gregory Newbold, William Odom
Generals: Anthony Zinni, Wesley Clark, Colin Powell

Those are split between Army and Marine generals.

We can probably add in Gen. Eric Shinseki as well, plus several active and retired generals who have indicated disapproval of Rumsfeld but declined to be named.

To be fair, this represents a small fraction of all the generals in the military.

The linked chart shows 2002 officer strength by pay grade; To see how that corresponds to rank, check here.

As you can see, in the Army and Marines there are about 380 generals. Now half of those are brigadiers, which can be discounted; they're not usually in on the senior strategy discussions. Neither are most of the 124 major generals, but we need to acknowledge them because four of the critics listed above were major generals, and some of them worked with the Joint Chiefs and/or were offered higher responsibilities.

So depending on how you slice it (and this is a very rough approximation, because they didn't all retire at the same time), the critics represent:

5.2 percent of those with a rank of major general or higher;
6.2 percent of those with a rank of lieutenant general or higher;
28.6 percent of those with a rank of general.

There are vastly more retirees than active-duty generals, but on the other hand active-duty generals are unlikely to speak out and many retired ones won't, either, even if they agree that Rumsfeld should go.

What does it mean? Hard to say, because the sample size is so small. It seems that the more contact generals had with Rumsfeld, the more they opposed him, but that's not exactly proven. If that is the case, the question is whether that's because he was shaking up the Pentagon with his reform program, or because he was blindly arrogant and micromanaging the war planning and execution. People will pick the answer they like best, of course, but I would point to a few key things:

1. The generals were right, and Rumsfeld wrong, about many of the specifics regarding Iraq.
2. Many of the generals support the war in Iraq, but criticize Rumsfeld's handling of it;
3. Most of these generals do not qualify as "disgruntled"; many held or were offered senior positions under Rumsfeld.

So while they may have multiple axes to grind, I think the balance of evidence suggests that it was Rumsfeld's mistakes, not his reforms, that have pushed these generals to go public.

UPDATE: Columnist David Ignatius has joined the call to replace Rumsfeld. But what makes his column relevant to this post is what he says about Rumsfeld's support within the military.

Rumsfeld has lost the support of the uniformed military officers who work for him. Make no mistake: The retired generals who are speaking out against Rumsfeld in interviews and op-ed pieces express the views of hundreds of other officers on active duty. When I recently asked an Army officer with extensive Iraq combat experience how many of his colleagues wanted Rumsfeld out, he guessed 75 percent. Based on my own conversations with senior officers over the past three years, I suspect that figure may be low.

When you alienate 75 percent of your officer corps, it's not because your reform program is ruffling a few feathers.

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