The Decider Sticks With the Derider
By MAUREEN DOWD
At first Rummy was reluctant to talk about the agonizing generals' belated objections to the irrational and bullying decisions that led to carnage in Iraq. The rebellious retired brass complain that the defense chief was contemptuous of advice from his military officers and sabotaged the Iraq mission with willful misjudgments before and after the invasion.
"I kind of would prefer to let a little time walk over it," Rummy told reporters at a Pentagon briefing yesterday. But seconds later, he let loose a river of ruminations, a Shakespearean, or maybe Nixonian, soliloquy that showed such a breathtaking lack of comprehension that it was touching, in a perverse way.
He flailed and floundered through anecdotes from his first and second stints at the Pentagon, arguing that he drew criticism because he was a change agent, trying to transform the lumbering military bureaucracy.
He talked about things that most people wouldn't understand — how 30 years ago he chose a M-1 battle tank with a 120-millimeter cannon and turbine engine instead of the 105-howitzer and diesel engine the Army had wanted. He babbled on about reforms in the Unified Command Plan, the Defense Logistics System, the Quadrennial Defense Reviews and the National Security Personnel System and about going from "service-centric war fighting to deconfliction war fighting, to interoperability and now towards interdependence."
When you yank the military from the 20th-century industrial age to the 21st-century information age, Rummy said, you're bound to cause "a lot of ruffles."
Asked why he twice offered to resign during the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal but has not this time, Rummy smiled and replied, "Oh, just call it idiosyncratic."
Idiosyncratic, indeed, with Iraq in chaos, the military riven and depleted, the president poleaxed, the Republican fortunes for the midterm elections dwindling, and Republican lawmakers like Chuck Hagel questioning Rummy's leadership and Democratic ones like Dick Durbin proposing a no-confidence vote in the Senate.
The secretary made it sound as if the generals want him to resign because he made reforms. But they really want him to resign because he made gigantic, horrible, arrogant mistakes that will be taught in history classes forever.
He suggested invading Iraq the day after 9/11. He didn't want to invade Iraq because it was connected to 9/11. That was the part his neocon aides at the Pentagon, Wolfie and Doug Feith, had to concoct. Rummy wanted to invade Iraq because he thought it would be easy, compared with Iran or North Korea, or compared with finding Osama. He could do it cheap and show off his vaunted transformation of the military into a sleek, lean fighting force.
Cloistered in a macho monastery with "The Decider" (as W. calls himself), Dick Cheney and Condi Rice, Rummy didn't want to hear dissent, or worries about Iraq, the tribes, the sects, the likelihood of insurgency or civil war, the need for more troops and armor to quell postwar eruptions.
"He didn't worry about the culture in Iraq," said Bernard Trainor, the retired Marine general who is my former colleague and the co-author of "Cobra II." "He just wanted to show them the front end of an M-1 tank. He could have been in Antarctica fighting penguins. He didn't care, as long as he could send the message that you don't mess with Hopalong Cassidy. He wanted to do to Saddam in the Middle East what he did to Shinseki in the Pentagon, make him an example, say, 'I'm in charge, don't mess with me.' "
The stoic Gen. Eric Shinseki finally spoke to Newsweek, conceding he had seen a former classmate wearing a cap emblazoned with "RIC WAS RIGHT" at West Point last fall. He said only that the Pentagon had "a lot of turmoil" before the invasion.
Just as with Vietnam, when L.B.J. and Robert McNamara were running the war, or later, when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger took over, we now have leaders obsessed with not seeming weak, or losing face. Their egos are feeding their delusions.
Asked by Rush Limbaugh on Monday about progress in Iraq, Rummy replied, "Well, the progress has been good." He said that if you always listened to critics about war, "we wouldn't have won the Revolutionary War" or World War I or World War II, and America would have been a different country "if it existed at all."
But the conscience-stricken generals are not critics of war. They are critics of having a war run by a 73-year-old who thinks he's a force for modernity when he's really a force for fantasy. It's time to change the change agent.