Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Top officer defends Rumsfeld from ex-generals

Top officer defends Rumsfeld from ex-generals
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer on Tuesday defended Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld against three retired generals demanding his ouster, and denied that the United States invaded Iraq without sufficiently weighing its plan.

Standing next to Rumsfeld at a Pentagon briefing, Marine Corps Gen. Pete Pace said critics could legitimately question the defense secretary's judgment but not his motives.

"People can question my judgment or his (Rumsfeld's) judgment," Pace said. "But they should never question the dedication, the patriotism and the work ethic of Secretary Rumsfeld."

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton and Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni have recently separately called for Rumsfeld to be replaced. This comes as opinion polls show eroding public support for the 3-year-old war in which about 2,360 U.S. troops have died.

"I don't know how many generals there have been in the last five years that have served in the United States armed services -- hundreds and hundreds and hundreds," said Rumsfeld, whom critics have accused of bullying senior military officers and stifling dissent.

"And there are several who have opinions, and there's nothing wrong with people having opinions. And I think one ought to expect that when you're involved in something that's controversial as certainly this war is," he said.

Newbold, the military's top operations officer before the Iraq war, said he regretted not speaking up more forcefully against what he now regards as an unnecessary war and a diversion from "the real threat" posed by al Qaeda.

In a Time magazine opinion piece on Sunday, Newbold encouraged officers still in the military to voice any doubts they have about the war.

"My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions -- or bury the results," Newbold wrote.

Newbold said he went public with the private encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership.

Pace, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, questioned whether Newbold knew all the facts about the invasion plans, noting he retired in September 2002, six months before the invasion took place.

"It's also important to go back and take a look, when you look at people talking: When did their personal knowledge end?" Pace said, noting that the war plan changed many times after Newbold's departure.


Pace said the war plan was thoroughly vetted before the operation was launched.

"We had discussions in the department, we had discussions in the National Security Council, we had discussions with the president. And they were extensive discussions. An awful lot of people around were not shy about giving their views," he said.

Pace said when now-retired Central Command head Gen. Tommy Franks presented the final invasion plan "we were satisfied that he had a good, executable plan, and we so told the secretary of defense and the president of the United States."

Rumsfeld said he was unaware that Newbold had publicly or privately questioned the war plan.

Eaton, in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003-2004, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece last month that Rumsfeld had put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego.

"In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down," he wrote.

Pace said he did not know whether Eaton ever voiced his concerns before leaving the military.