By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 25, 2006 5:14 PM
Three retired military officers who served in Iraq called today for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, telling a Democratic "oversight hearing" on Capitol Hill that the Pentagon chief bungled planning for the U.S. invasion, dismissed the prospect of an insurgency and sent American troops into the fray with inadequate equipment.
The testimony by the three --two retired Army major generals and a former Marine colonel -- came a day after disclosure of a classified intelligence assessment that concluded the war in Iraq has fueled recruitment of violent Islamic extremists, helping to create a new generation of potential terrorists around the world and worsening the U.S. position.
In testimony before the Democratic Policy Committee today, retired Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 and served as a senior military assistant to former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, charged that Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration "did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq."
He told the committee, "If we had seriously laid out and considered the full range of requirements for the war in Iraq, we would likely have taken a different course of action that would have maintained a clear focus on our main effort in Afghanistan, not fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, and not created more enemies than there were insurgents."
Joining his call for Rumsfeld to resign were retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who was responsible for training Iraq's military and police in 2003 and 2004, and retired Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes, who served in Iraq in 2004 and helped establish bases for the reconstituted Iraqi armed forces.
Rumsfeld, appearing at a news briefing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, rejected the demands for his resignation. Asked about the Capitol Hill hearing and whether he was considering stepping down, Rumsfeld shook his head slightly and mouthed the word "no" before calling for the next question.
Democrats today sought to make the most of the National Intelligence Assessment and of the retired officers' remarks at the hearing, which Democratic leaders said they had to hold by themselves outside the regular congressional process because of the Republican leadership's persistent "neglect" of oversight.
"On the heels of the disclosure that America's intelligence community has concluded that the war in Iraq has increased the terrorist threat, today's hearing deals a fatal blow to any claim that staying the current course is an acceptable strategy for success in Iraq," said a statement issued by the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).
Batiste charged in his testimony that Rumsfeld "is not a competent wartime leader" and surrounded himself with "compliant" subordinates.
"Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of U.S. Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build 'his plan,' which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace and set Iraq up for self-reliance," Batiste said.
In addition, Rumsfeld "refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency," the retired general said. "At one point, he threatened to fire the next person who talked about the need for a post-war plan," Batiste added.
"Secretary Rumsfeld's dismal strategic decisions resulted in the unnecessary deaths of American servicemen and women, our allies, and the good people of Iraq," Batiste said. "He was responsible for America and her allies going to war with the wrong plan and a strategy that did not address the realities of fighting an insurgency."
Eaton told the panel, "We went in with a bad plan," adding that "stay the course is not a strategy."
Hammes said removing the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein "introduced major instability not just in Iraq, but in the greater Middle East." And while the Bush administration has repeatedly said the war in Iraq is critical to U.S. security, "it has asked nothing of the majority of U.S. citizens," he said.
"While asking major sacrifices, to include the ultimate sacrifice, from those Americans who are serving in Iraq, we are not even asking our fellow citizens to pay for the war," Hammes complained. "Instead we are charging it to our children and grandchildren."
Responding to critics who have charged that the National Intelligence Assessment shows the failure of Bush's Iraq war policy, the White House today sought to put the best face on the document, which was completed in April and disclosed in the news media Sunday.
"One thing that the reports do not say is that war in Iraq has made terrorism worse," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
The National Intelligence Assessment "is not limited to Iraq," he told a news briefing. "The false impression has been created that the NIE focuses solely on Iraq and terrorism. This NIE examines global terrorism in its totality, the morphing of al-Qaeda and its affiliates and other jihadist movements. It assesses that a variety of factors, in addition to Iraq, fuel the spread of jihadism, including longstanding social grievances, slowness of the pace of reform and the use of the Internet. And it also notes that should jihadists be perceived to have failed in Iraq, fewer will be inspired to carry on the fight."
All these points already have been stated publicly by Bush, Snow asserted.
"Obviously, we're not going to go into what the classified report does say, but what we did see in the newspapers yesterday, the substance, is precisely what the president has been saying," he told reporters.
Separately, Vice President Cheney today accused Democrats of advancing a "strategy of resignation and defeatism in the face of determined enemies."
In a speech at a Republican fundraiser in Milwaukee, Cheney indicated that he was not backing away from national security issues despite Democrats' criticism that the administration has mishandled the war in Iraq.
"As we make our case to the voters in this election season, it's vital to keep issues of national security at the top of the agenda," Cheney told Wisconsin Republicans, Reuters news agency reported. He specifically criticized Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, as well as Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.
Reid replied in a statement, "When the U.S. intelligence community confirmed that America is losing the war on terror because of Bush failures in Iraq, this White House lost all credibility on matters of national security. With Iraq in a civil war, Afghanistan moving backwards and our own borders unsecured, it's clear George Bush and Dick Cheney are desperate to hide their record and distort the truth."