Batiste. Eaton. Newbold. Riggs. Zinni... Is there a retired general left in the States who hasn't called on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to fall on his sword? While The Nation suggested he resign in April, 2003, an unanticipated and unprecedented cast of characters has joined the growing chorus.
Maj. Gen. John Batiste (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the latest in a line of top military brass to ask the embattled Rumsfeld to step down. As the Washington Post reported Thursday, Batiste said, "It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense."
Volumes indeed. Batiste commanded an army division in Iraq and was offered three stars as well as the No. 2 position there. He chose instead to retire rather than continuing to serve under Rumsfeld. Batiste believes "… the administration's handling of the Iraq war has violated fundamental military principles…." And, as he told The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, "…the strategic underpinnings of this war can be traced back in policy to the secretary of defense. He built it the way he wanted it."
Last month Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton — who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops — was much more pointed in his criticism of Rumsfeld. He wrote in a New York Times op-ed that Rumsfeld is "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically" and should resign.
And in an essay for Time magazine last week, Lt. Gen Gregory Newbold — the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff until shortly before the invasion — called for replacing Rumsfeld "and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach."
It is unprecedented for career military leaders to be speaking out in this manner — and it's the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what we might hear if the rank-and-file could speak freely? Well-connected Washington Post columnist David Ignatius says that "the retired generals who are speaking out ... express the view of hundreds of other officers on active duty." He adds, "when I recently asked an Army officer with extensive Iraq combat experience how many of his colleagues wanted Rumsfeld out, he guessed 75 percent." Ignatius suspects — based on his conversations with senior officers over the past three years — that figure may be low.
What we are witnessing is the impact of the arrogance and recklessness not just of Rumsfeld — but the entire Bush administration. As Gen. Newbold wrote, the decision to invade "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."
There are signs that the spate of retired generals calling for Rumsfeld's resignation is far from over. Lt. General Paul Van Riper, retired from the Marine Corps, said in an interview Thursday he had received a call from another retired General who was weighing whether to publicly join the calls for Rumsfeld's dismissal.
What next? The formation of "Generals Against Rumsfeld"? As one retired Army General asked the other day, "Are the floodgates opening?" Yes. As they should be.
As the spirited site Buzzflash,com put it this morning, "It's not that Rumsfeld's resignation would alone begin to turn this nation back from being run by the crew of the Titanic, but it would restore hope that there is some accountability for the disastrous failure in performance by our one-party Republican government."
I would simply add — there must also be accountability for misleading a nation into an unprovoked, unnecessary and unlawful war that has become a political, moral and military catastrophe.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel has been The Nation's editor since 1995.
By Katrina Vanden Heuvel
Reprinted with permission from The Nation