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For Democrats, Welcome Words on Rumsfeld -- if Not the War

Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, right; retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, center; and retired Marine Col. Thomas Hammes pleased Senate Democrats by asserting that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumseld had done a poor job with the Iraq war and must go. Democrats weren't so happy, though, to hear them call for more troops and a wider war.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, right; retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, center; and retired Marine Col. Thomas Hammes pleased Senate Democrats by asserting that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumseld had done a poor job with the Iraq war and must go. Democrats weren't so happy, though, to hear them call for more troops and a wider war. (By Mark Wilson -- Getty Images)

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By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, the former commander of the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, had complained loudly about the handling of the Iraq war since he retired 11 months ago -- but no one invited him to present his views to Congress.

"I find that outrageous," the general said. "I have a sense for what I'm talking about."

Yesterday, Batiste got his moment -- sort of. Shunned by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Batiste and two other retired officers spoke before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, a rump group with little legislative clout but access to a proper Senate hearing room. And Batiste made up for lost time.

"Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader," said Batiste, wearing a pinstripe suit, calling himself a "lifelong Republican" and bearing a slight resemblance to Oliver North. "He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq or the human dimension of warfare. . . . Bottom line: His plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today."

Further, Batiste charged, Rumsfeld "reduced force levels to unacceptable levels, micromanaged the war" and created an environment where U.S. troops "are doing unconscionable things."

"Our world is much less safe today than it was on September 11," Batiste said, echoing the administration's newly leaked intelligence estimate.

Batiste, who retired in protest rather than accept a three-star promotion, was a persuasive witness -- and Democrats were joyous. "Your statement, I believe, defines the word 'courage,' " Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) gushed. Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) pumped his fist and gave Batiste and his colleagues pats on the biceps. And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) proclaimed, giddily: "This hearing today could change our country."

Perhaps. But Democrats, while celebrating Batiste's criticism of the administration, exercised some selective listening at the hearing when Batiste and his colleagues offered their solution: more troops, more money and more time in Iraq.

"We must mobilize our country for a protracted challenge," Batiste warned.

"We better be planning for at least a minimum of a decade or longer," contributed retired Marine Col. Thomas Hammes.

"We are, conservatively, 60,000 soldiers short," added retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of building the Iraqi Security Forces.

That last remark caused Schumer to shake his head, indicating he was not so sure. And, indeed, the retired officers' recommendations were off-message for the Democrats. Six of the seven Democrats at the hearing supported legislation calling for the start of a troop withdrawal from Iraq this year. One, Richard Durbin (Ill.), voted for the pullout to be mostly complete by next summer.


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