WASHINGTON – Three retired military officers called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Monday,saying he did not give the military enough equipment or troops to succeed in Iraq.
“Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader,” retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste told a meeting of Senate Democrats. “He knows everything,except how to win.”
Batiste commanded the Army's 1st Infantry Division from 2002 to 2005. It was deployed to Iraq in early 2004. He said war planners didn't account for the insurgency that is now ravaging Iraq.
“Bottom line,his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today,” he said,noting the war has created more enemies,especially since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
“We created this insurgency,” Batiste said. “We let it grow,we let it blossom.”
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton and retired Marine Col. Thomas Hammes also agreed that the war was bungled from the start.
All three officers said that troop levels are too low to secure Iraq. Eaton said at least 60,000 more troops are needed to complete the mission.
“Mr. Rumsfeld won't acknowledge this fact and has failed to adapt to the current situation,” Eaton said. “He has tried and continues to fight this war on the cheap.”
In his prepared statement,Eaton called for a transparent,bi-partisan commission to deliver recommendations to the president.
Eaton was involved with training Iraqi security forces.
Hammes said a larger war effort in the U.S. is needed to supply troops with equipment,saying soldiers have been given sub-par armor.
“We did not ask our soldiers to invade France in 1944 with the same armor they trained on in 1941,” he said. “Why are we asking our soldiers and Marines to use the same armor we found was insufficient in 2003?”
Hammes helped establish Iraqi military bases in 2004.
The retired officers also blamed Congress for not asking the right questions before the war started and the Bush administration for not providing essential leadership.
The forum put on by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee,is the first in a series of leading up to the Nov. 7 elections that will probe the Iraq war. It was not an official hearing.
The meeting came one day after a National Intelligence Estimate report was leaked to the press suggesting the war in Iraq has made the U.S. less safe. The report has the consensus views of 16 spy organizations,including the CIA,according to news reports.
Sen. Charles Schumer,D-N.Y.,said Congress should always ask questions – something it failed to do before the war.
Senate Republicans brushed the meeting off as a political stunt.
“This ‘hearing' is simply another partisan media event,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell,R-Ky.,the majority whip,in a statement. “And while it may rile up their liberal base,it won't kill a single terrorist or prevent a single attack.”
But Rep. Walter Jones,R-N.C.,the only Republican to attend the session,said he was glad to see the former officers present facts to Congress.
“This is to help us grow and learn,” he said.
Military historian Richard Kohn of the University of North Carolina,Chapel Hill,said in an interview that it is unusual for retired officers such as Batiste,Eaton and Hammes to be speaking out against a war they helped fight.
Even though he's a critic of the war in Iraq,Kohn said military officials critical of the war could give the public a wrong impression of the military.
“It communicates to the American people that the U.S. military is just another interest group,” he said,noting that more criticism could give Rumsfeld more reason to appoint generals who are loyal,but not qualified.
But Batiste said he and the other retired military officials have the right – and duty – to criticize the war's conduct.
“This is about accountability,” Batiste said. “By God,I've got my First Amendment rights.”
Eaton agreed,saying that active duty officers have called him to encourage him to continue his criticisms of Rumsfeld and the war.
“I have inside knowledge of the U.S. Army,” said Eaton,who has two sons serving in the military. “I am in a position to criticize.”