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Scheduling Rumsfeld’s Departure

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Message Thaddeus Hoffmeister
Scheduling Rumsfeld's Departure

Whether you are for or against the war in Iraq, it should be pretty clear by now that Rumsfeld has to go. Not because of his flawed invasion plans (too few troops); role in Abu Grahib; failure to capture Osama Bin Laden; premature demobilization of the Iraqi Army; inability to stabilize Iraq; or callous statements toward young service members, but rather for a much more fundamental reason. Rumsfeld no longer has the confidence of those whom he leads.

The so-called "general's revolt," in which 6 generals called for Rumsfeld's resignation, brought out to the open the long simmering concerns about leadership in the Pentagon. Although the number of generals may not be large in comparison to the total serving on Active Duty, their actions speak volumes when examined in light of the military's long standing tradition of not publicly voicing disapproval of civilian leadership.

For starters, the military, like most civilian employers, does not look kindly on criticism of the boss. Doing so jeopardizes your career and subjects you to potential criminal penalties--Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice states that no officer shall make disparaging comments about the President, Vice-President or Secretary of Defense.

In addition, the military probably more than any other entity requires adherence to uniformity to properly function. To do otherwise, would result in chaos on the battlefield where you execute, not deliberate. Dissent or disagreement is neither encouraged nor accepted in the military.

The fact that 6 generals, all with more than 30 years of service, were willing to go against the military culture, sacrifice their careers and friendships and subject themselves to possible punishment under Article 88 indicates a serious problem with Rumsfeld's leadership and the direction of the Iraq War. This lack of confidence is also found in the troops on the ground. According to a recent poll, 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and more than one in four say the troops should leave immediately. Not surprisingly, the numbers are higher if the poll consists solely of Reservists.

This leadership crises can only be resolved if those wearing the uniform believe in what they are doing and who they are doing it for. Therefore, even if lightning strikes and a successful Iraq strategy materializes overnight, Rumsfeld is not the one to carry it out because the troops have lost faith in his abilities. At present, the Department of Defense is a rudderless ship.

The Administration, however, can't immediately fire Rumsfeld for two reasons. To do so would be an acknowledgement that the Administration has failed in Iraq. And, dismissing Rumsfeld based on complaints from military leaders jeopardizes the long and successful American tradition of civilian control over the military. Of course, as Rosa Brooks recently wrote "civilian control is a means of safeguarding democracy, not an end to itself."

The best approach is to ease Rumsfeld out gradually while transferring current Iraq decision making to others. First, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should be given a more visible role. Those who are actually fighting the war need to know and see that the military leadership is actively involved in the Iraq decision making process, not just mere stage props at press conferences. Second, as many Iraq duties as possible should be transferred from the Department of Defense to the State Department which seems to be the only department in the Administration willing to acknowledge, what everybody in America already knows, that mistakes have been made in Iraq. Finally, and most importantly, the Administration must announce a timetable for the withdrawal of troops. This change will signal a shift in Iraq policy and provide the opportunity to bring in new leadership at the Department of Defense.
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Former Active Duty service member who has spent over 18 years in the military.
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Scheduling Rumsfeld’s Departure

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