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.