Rumsfeld Blames Generals for Troop Strength

Some recently released Pentagon documents include an “hour-long talk [then-Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had with military officers in late 2006.” The Swamp‘s Aamer Madhani highlights this bizarre exchange:

Q: Hey, also your favorite subject: looking back. What’s become conventional wisdom, simply Shinseki was right. If we simply had 400,000 troops or 200 or 300? What’s your thought as you looked at it?

PACE: I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t take the (unintelligible). I apologize.

RUMSFELD: First of all, I don’t think Shinseki ever said that. I think he was pressed in a congressional hearing hard and hard and hard and over again, well, how many? And his answer was roughly the same as it would take to do the job–to defeat the regime. It would be about the right amount for post-major combat operation stabilization. And they said, “Well, how much is that?” And I think he may have said then, “Well maybe 200,000 or 300,000.”

PACE: I think he said several.

Q: Several, yes, several hundred thousand.

RUMSFELD: Now it turned out he was right. The commanders–you guys ended up wanting roughly the same as you had for the major combat operation, and that’s what we have. There is no damned guidebook that says what the number ought to be. We were queued up to go up to what, 400-plus thousand.

Q: Yes, they were already in queue.

RUMSFELD: They were in the queue. We would have gone right on if they’d wanted them, but they didn’t, so life goes on.

Satyam Khanna is naturally upset by this.

In reality, Rumsfeld fought back when generals like Shinseki requested more troops. He said in 2003 that Shinseki was “far from the mark.” As McClatchy reported in 2004, “Central Command originally proposed a force of 380,000 to attack and occupy Iraq. Rumsfeld’s opening bid was about 40,000. … By September 2003, Rumsfeld and his aides thought, there would be very few American troops left in Iraq.”

The conventional wisdom is that Rumsfeld came to office with a plan to transform the military into a light, high-tech force and wanted to use the Iraq War to showcase that vision. To a large extent, I think, that’s right.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that this was a private conversation Rumsfeld and Pace were having with military officers. And there’s certainly room for argument on some of this.

For one thing, Rumsfeld’s right that Shinseki gave the answer, “I would say that what’s been mobilized to this point, something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers, are probably, you know, a figure that would be required” in response to Congressional questioning. We don’t have much evidence as to what he argued in the Pentagon. Indeed, Shinseki likely wasn’t all that involved in the planning; he was a Service chief, not an operational commander. The guy who filled that role, Tommy Franks, apparently did not argue for a much larger troop footprint and, indeed, apparently shared the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Feith-Tenet view that the postwar “Phase IV” would be a relatively minor, brief affair.

Shinseki was dead on in that regard. His next sentence: “We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems.”

Regardless, however, it’s the job of generals to make recommendations and execute their orders. It’s the job of the political leadership — the president and the SECDEF — to make the tough strategic calls. It really doesn’t matter who recommended what in the end; they’re the ones who are responsible. While we go different places with the idea, I’m largely in agreement with Kyle Moore in this regard.

I’ve counseled for months against Petraeus fetishism. The idea that policymakers should hold up a single career soldier and simply defer to him, deflecting all personal responsibility, is dangerous. We don’t elect generals to make policy but to carry it out.

FILED UNDER: General, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the link JJ.




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  2. Ugh says:

    Sorry Rummy, that spot don’t wash out, no matter how hard you try.




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  3. Bithead says:

    Some thoughts…

    First of all, here’s the exchange they spoke of:

    SEN. LEVIN: General Shinseki, could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army’s force requirement for an occupation of Iraq following a successful completion of the war?

    GEN. SHINSEKI: In specific numbers, I would have to rely on combatant commanders’ exact requirements. But I think —

    SEN. LEVIN: How about a range?

    GEN. SHINSEKI: I would say that what’s been mobilized to this point — something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence.

    (Aside, I can’t help but think that’s exactly what Levin wanted to hear, which strikes me as the sole reason Shinseki was ordered to testify that day)

    The story here is that what Shinseki wanted was not the concensus of the commanders on the ground, was was certainly not what the Joint Cheifs wanted. In short, Bush went with and ordered the advice he was actually hearing. Now, you call it what you will, (I myself disagreed with what I termed ‘calling for a vote) but that was the measurement… the feedback from all the commanders, not just Shinseki and his disciples. In that sense, Rumsfeld is quite correct.

    That being said, though… Was there dispute within the military leadership about how accurate Shinseki was? It certainly looks that way, and I think the degree to which the military itself was argung over the point gets glossed over in the politicaly driven rush to blame the civilian leadership.

    Was Shinseki correct? Possibly, though it strikes me that the numbers each side presented required different deployments for the troups they asked for, for a given level of success.. a deployment which didn’t initially occur, because we were still trying to go with etsablished miltary doctrine, and trying to fufill that doctrine with less troups than were called for as a part of that doctrine. The success of either plan would have required full impliementation. What I’m suggesting here is that we cannot judge the success of either plan, since neither was fully implemented.

    How much of this failure is the control freak in each side, I suppose we’ll never fully know.

    Now, as to what you refer to as Petraeus fetishism, I regard that as an undertsnadable reaction… When you focus on the head of the command structure instead of going levels down, as had been done previously, you have a somewhat easier time of making chocies at the level of a CIC or a DS. Granted that such a commander has as much chance of failure as does the concensus approach, (exluding of course other factors like talent, and luck, both of which Petraeus seems have have in plenty). It does seeminly neuter such political opportunists as Levin, though, and that seems to me it’s major postive point;

    What you don’t have with the single commander focus is, I think, more destrctive…the political opposition finding filed commanders willing to second guess every choice the CIC makes, (thus making the opposition’s points for them) and being rewarded with the possiblity of a political carrier of their own (in these cases, in the Democrat party) on their military retirement… which in Shinseki’s case came in 02, if I’m not much mistaken.

    To this day, I think the media blew Shinseki’s situation with Rumsfled out of proportion for it’s own reasons… IE; Political promotion of the Republican as the failure… and apparently they’ve not lost that habit yet, if your link is of any indication.




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  4. Michael says:

    What you don’t have with the single commander focus is, I think, more destrctive…the political opposition finding filed commanders willing to second guess every choice the CIC makes, (thus making the opposition’s points for them) and being rewarded with the possiblity of a political carrier of their own (in these cases, in the Democrat party) on their military retirement… which in Shinseki’s case came in 02, if I’m not much mistaken.

    Yes, but then again we’ve been doing that exact same thing since before the USA was the USA. Indeed, it’s been happening in any country with a powerful military for as far back in history as we can look.




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  5. Dave Schuler says:

    We don’t elect generals to make policy but to carry it out.

    I agree with that point 100%, James, but, unfortunately, I think it’s a little more complicated than that. To illustrate how it’s more complicated I’ll give an example. Military commanders can disagree so profoundly with the political objectives advanced by the political leadership that they’re incapable of offering sound military advice.

    The other day I heard an interview Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, presumably part of his book tour and it was very clear from his comments that neither did he understand the grand strategy of the invasion of Iraq nor would he have agreed with it if he did—his prescriptions for how things should have been done under his watch, while sound from a military standpoint, would have been completely at odds with the grand strategy.

    Now as it happens I’m more inclined to agree with Gen. Sanchez’s view of things than with the administration’s grand strategy but I think I do understand the grand strategy and that wasn’t Gen. Sanchez’s choice to make.

    I think that practically all of this goes back to the problem that the war that our military has been training for and, consequently, the one they’d prefer to fight, is a conventional war against a near-peer enemy. But you can’t always pick your enemies and, in the case of conventional war against a near-peer enemy, there are no prospective candidates for such an opponent.




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  6. James Joyner says:

    But you can’t always pick your enemies and, in the case of conventional war against a near-peer enemy, there are no prospective candidates for such an opponent.

    Indeed not, although we’ve been trying to fit China for that role for the last 15-odd years.

    I’ve been arguing for radical restructuring of our armed forces into something that doesn’t prefer such a war almost as long, with about the same level of success.




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  7. Bithead says:

    Yes, but then again we’ve been doing that exact same thing since before the USA was the USA. Indeed, it’s been happening in any country with a powerful military for as far back in history as we can look.

    I hope you don’t think that does anything but reinforce the point; To the contrary, you’ve provided precident for it.

    Military commanders can disagree so profoundly with the political objectives advanced by the political leadership that they’re incapable of offering sound military advice.

    Well taken. OTOH, they can also disagree with political leaders making chocies that fall outside the established military doctrine, to the point where they are unable to follow the commands of those political leaders. In part, that’s my suggestion as to what happened with Shinseki and a few others. the result is a field day for political opponants,a nd an all but totally disfunctional military, at least in terms of the stated goal.




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  8. Michael says:

    I hope you don’t think that does anything but reinforce the point; To the contrary, you’ve provided precident for it.

    Oh no, your point is well taken. I was just pointing out that it may be symptom inherit in relationships between the military and the bureaucracy of a state, and not just a flaw of our current implementation.




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  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Indeed not, although we’ve been trying to fit China for that role for the last 15-odd years.

    We may yet maneuvre them into that role although it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s what the ridiculous overblown anti-China rhetoric I’m hearing these days certainly suggests.




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  10. Bob says:

    Bithead, its fascinating that US Military Doctrine is now considered so sacred. There was a German saying about the US Army in WWII that the problem with fighting the Americans was we didn’t bother to read our doctrine. If one goes back to WWII you’d find that doctrine was pretty thin and pretty vague. Military commanders are expected to use doctrine as a guide. But their expected to think! I can’t think of a commander saying “Sorry Mr President, this just isn’t doctrinally correct and hence won’t do it.” That ain’t gonna fly. Afghanistan wasn’t done in a doctrinally correct manner. Iraq was actually doctrinally “correct” as an operation. And if the military advisrs feel so strongly about opposing a given strategic course then they need to resign.




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  11. Chris says:

    I’ve counseled for months against Petraeus fetishism. The idea that policymakers should hold up a single career soldier and simply defer to him, deflecting all personal responsibility, is dangerous. We don’t elect generals to make policy but to carry it out.
    James Joyner

    To an extent, but the handling of military assessments prior to the invasion was very poor. Once Shinseki had given his assessment – which ran counter to the Cabinet’s myopic group think -the Defense department rewarded him by announcing his retirement date a year early, stripping him of much of his authority. The dismantling of the ‘Future of Iraq’ group in the State Department, disregarding of its assessments regarding reconstruction and refusing to allow its head to join a reconstituted group looking at postwar reconstruction was idiotic as well. It really isn’t as if Rumfeld wasn’t told – often – that over 300,000 troops would be needed in Iraq for the invasion. The disregarding of this information was for political reasons rather than a hard-headed analysis of the intelligence on Rumsfeld’s part.

    Policymakers and Secretaries of Departments can do as they please with information provided to them. However, if policymakers won’t at least assess the intelligence provided to them before making decisions then the US just should save itself millions of civil service salary dollars and dismantle all the Departments.




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  12. mike says:

    Rummy should just quietly disappear – no one believes anything that comes out of his mouth anymore – he has clearly proven he was dead wrong in almost of all of his assessments and now others will have to pay for his mistakes for many, many years to include thousands of lost lives and billions of dollars. Can’t we send him to a remote island in exile like Napolean?




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  13. Bithead says:

    Bob; Quite so.

    And contrary to John Kerry’s 2004 claim that Shinseki got his ass booted for that testmony, the fact is, he resigned of his own accord… and it seems to me that his resignation was directly in line with your point.

    Allow me to illustate, though my larger point; There’s more than one way to defeat an enemy… both may be equally successful…and I think our military got far too hung up on it’s own doctrine to be able to see that. One needn’t always rely on such dontrine, as you point out, to be a success.




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  14. Michael says:

    Can’t we send him to a remote island in exile like Napolean?

    Yeah, because that worked out sooo well for the French.




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  15. teqjack says:

    Picking on nits, there is a letter missing here –

    “We don’t [s]elect generals to make policy but to carry it out.”

    Which I believe Gen. Petraeus would agree with. Indeed, trying to make policy is what altered Gen. MacArthur from a revered hero to a fired bum.

    Generals can make policy after retirement, though – witness EIsenhower…




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  16. Bithead says:

    I noticed that, too, teqjack.
    But given my stuff is so riddled with typos, I’m hardly the one to mention it to our host. ;-D
    I suppose when you type as much as I do, you’re going to put yourself in that position more often than some.

    As to generals making policy, I would argue that Shinseki did just that, given that the operation eventually moved away from the WH plan after the military demonstrated itself unable to follow through with the plan for whatever reason.




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  17. anjin-san says:

    deflecting all personal responsibility,

    Deflection of responsibility is the core value of the Bush administration.




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