By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not know what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was talking about when she said last week that the United States had made thousands of "tactical errors" in handling the war in Iraq, a statement she later said was meant figuratively.
Speaking during a radio interview on WDAY in Fargo, N.D., on Tuesday, Rumsfeld said calling changes in military tactics during the war "errors" reflects a lack of understanding of warfare. Rumsfeld defended his war plan for Iraq but added that such plans inevitably do not survive first contact with the enemy.
"Why? Because the enemy's got a brain; the enemy watches what you do and then adjusts to that, so you have to constantly adjust and change your tactics, your techniques and your procedures," Rumsfeld told interviewer Scott Hennen, according to a Defense Department transcript. "If someone says, well, that's a tactical mistake, then I guess it's a lack of understanding, at least my understanding, of what warfare is about."
Rumsfeld's questioning of Rice's comment came amid long-standing tensions between their departments over the war in Iraq and other issues. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon have been criticized by members of Congress and even some retired generals for missteps in Iraq, such as failing to anticipate the insurgency.
On a trip to Britain, Rice told reporters Friday that "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure," but that the strategic decisions will be the ones historians judge.
When asked about the comment the next day, Rice said she "wasn't sitting around counting" U.S. tactical errors and instead meant her remark figuratively. "The point I was making . . . is that, of course, if you've ever made decisions, you've undoubtedly made mistakes in the decisions that you've made, but that the important thing is to get the big strategic decisions right and that I am confident that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and democracy is the right decision."
In the radio interview, Hennen said Rice had "figuratively suggested recently we've made thousands of tactical errors" and "also suggested that the important test was making the right strategic decisions and that would be the test of history."
Hennen asked Rumsfeld: "Do you agree with that? Have we made thousands of tactical errors? And does that concern you?"
Rumsfeld replied: "I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest."
Rumsfeld pointed to the nature of the Iraq war -- unpredictable from the start -- as the reason the United States has had to change tactics over the past three years.
"If you had a static situation and you made a mistake in how you addressed the static situation, that would be one thing," he said. "What you have here is not a static situation, you have a dynamic situation with an enemy that thinks, uses their brain, constantly adjusts, and therefore our commanders have to constantly make tactical adjustments."