WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Democrats sought to raise the heat on embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday as Republicans and the Pentagon came together to defend him and the way he has conducted the war in Iraq.
The battle of words over Rumsfeld, his relations with military leaders and the Iraq war followed unusual public calls in the past week for his resignation from six retired generals, which prompted a rebuke from the Pentagon.
“My view is that the secretary should step aside,” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a potential Democratic presidential candidate, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “Besides the fact that the Iraq war has been mismanaged … we should listen to what these generals are saying.”
Those urging Rumsfeld to step down include Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, and Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, who led the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, and former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark.
“These are six distinguished military officers,” Richardson said. “They basically are saying that Secretary Rumsfeld, on issues relating to military strategy … didn’t listen to them. … This reaches a new level … of not being willing to admit mistakes, not being willing to change a course, policy that is just not working.”
Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said the United States had “wiped out a lot of the people who would do us harm” during Rumsfeld’s tenure.
“I think the important thing to remember here is that we haven’t been attacked again at home since September of 2001,” McConnell said.
Retired Brig Gen. James Marks, speaking on CNN’s “Late Edition,” said of Rumsfeld in the early days of the war: “I kind of had the impression that his mind and those around him had been made up in terms of what we were going to do and how we were going to go about doing it. … And there were requests for forces that were denied.”
The Pentagon on Sunday released the text of a memorandum it sent to civilian military analysts and former top military commanders, some of whom appear often on television, to challenge criticism that Rumsfeld was deaf to the views of military leaders. The memo’s existence was first reported by The New York Times.
“U.S. senior military leaders are involved to an unprecedented degree in every decision-making process,” the memorandum said in part, noting Rumsfeld had held 139 meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the start of 2005.
Republican Sen. George Allen (news, bio, voting record) of Virginia said on “Face the Nation” the criticism of Rumsfeld amounted to “scapegoating” and that firing him would not resolve the Iraq situation.
“What difference would that make?” he asked. “Would that mean anything to the terrorists? A lot of this focus on an individual is a way of maybe criticizing the president.”
Sen. Christopher Dodd (news, bio, voting record), a Connecticut Democrat, said the critical comments from the retired generals could be considered a reflection of current senior officers not permitted to criticize Rumsfeld or Bush.
“We need a new direction in Iraq,” he said. “We’re looking at some incompetency in addition to the arrogance issues that have been raised. … (Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice talked about a thousand tactical mistakes the other day in Iraq the other day. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.”
Richardson, who served in President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet, said the continued high level of violence in Iraq and the failure to form a government in Baghdad suggests the U.S. presence in Iraq could be a detriment to U.S. objectives in the Middle East.
“What you’re seeing is deep frustration in the military,” he said, “deep frustration within our troops who are not getting enough armor. … It is obvious that Secretary Rumsfeld did not listen to them. … That’s why we’re in this morass.”