Scolding Donald Rumsfeld

Tom Ricks's Inbox
Tuesday, July 29, 2008; 12:00 AM

Tom Ricks's Inbox

How does an Army chief of staff chew out his boss, the defense secretary?

Gen. Eric K. Shinseki shows how it's done in this letter written to Donald H. Rumsfeld just before Shinseki stepped down in June 2003. During the run-up to the war, the general told Congress that more troops would be needed to secure Iraq, which earned him a famously public rebuke by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. Shinseki was said to still be angry about the dust-up when he retired.

The general's letter may be more history than news at this point, but its criticism of the way Rumsfeld's office worked does shed some additional light on the development of the mess in Iraq. And Shinseki's comments are particularly interesting because he has maintained an almost total silence in the five years since his retirement. This may be the most we ever learn about his perspective.

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Dear Mr. Secretary:

. . . I feel duty bound to provide you with some of my closing thoughts . . . . While our disagreements have been well-chronicled, and sometimes exaggerated, these professional disagreements were never personal, never disrespectful, and never challenged the foundational principle of civilian control of the military in our form of government. . . .

[On his pre-war assessment that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to stabilize Iraq:] My estimate, based upon past experiences, was provided in a way so as not to foreclose options for you or the Combatant Commander . . . . As a matter of fact, neither you nor Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz ever discussed this issue with me despite all the commentary in the press. . . .

[On the workings of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or OSD, under Rumsfeld:] I am greatly concerned that OSD processes have often become ad hoc and long established conventional processes are atrophying. Specifically, there are areas that need your attention as the ad hoc processes often do not adequately consider professional military judgment and advice. . . . . Second, there is a lack of strategic review to frame our day-to-day issues . . . . Third, there has been a lack of explicit discussion on risk in most decisions. . . . Finally, I find it unhelpful to participate in senior level decision-making meetings without structured agendas, objectives, pending decisions and other traditional means of time management.

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Tom Ricks is The Post's military correspondent. This feature aims to give readers a snapshot of the conversations about Iraq, Afghanistan and other matters that play out in Ricks's e-mail inbox. Have an interesting document? Send it to TheInbox@washpost.com.


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