(Andrew Sullivan reacts to my Rumsfeld post. He writes: "The president refused. Where we are is not Rumsfeld's responsibility. It's Bush's. He's the president. It's been his non-strategy all along. And yet the WS did nothing but back him, lionize him and enable him." Come again. From an April 26, 2004 WS editorial: "Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld famously talks about preparing for the ‘unknown unknowns.' Yet the present crisis was hardly unforeseeable, and Rumsfeld did not ensure that the military was prepared to deal with it. He failed to put in place in Iraq a force big enough to handle the challenges at hand. That is a significant failure, and we do not yet know the price that will be paid for it. The question is whether Rumsfeld and his generals have learned from past mistakes. Or rather, perhaps, the question is whether George W. Bush has learned from Rumsfeld's past mistakes. After all, at the end of the day, it is up to the president to ensure that the success he demands in Iraq will in fact be accomplished. If his current secretary of defense cannot make the adjustments that are necessary, the president should find one who will.") The New York Times notes this from the Rumsfeld memo on what to do in Iraq:
The list of favored options notably does not mention the ‘clear, hold and build' approach that the White House has touted as its strategy for waging counterinsurgency. That is a troop-intensive approach that calls for clearing contested areas with American and Iraqi troops, holding them with American and Iraqi forces and then carrying out reconstruction programs to win popular support.
But the "clear, hold and build" approach is not an "option." It's the president's stated war strategy, and the defense secretary never implemented it. Secretary Rice outlined the strategy in Senate testimony in October 2005, and around the same time the White House chief of staff had to remind the secretary about the president's "clear, hold and build" counterinsurgency strategy. George Will noted this nugget from Bob Woodward's State of Denial:
The book actually includes one heartening story that should enhance Rumsfeld's reputation. On Veterans Day, 2005, the president traveled to a Pennsylvania Army depot to deliver a speech announcing the new military policy for Iraq, the policy of "clear, hold and build.'' Woodward says Rumsfeld, having read the speech, called Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, a half-hour before Bush was to deliver it, and said, "Take that out.'' Card replied that the three words were the centerpiece of the speech, not to mention the war strategy. Rumsfeld replied, "Clear, we're doing. It's up to the Iraqis to hold. And the State Department's got to work with somebody on the build.''
So the commander in chief announces a new war strategy and his defense secretary stonewalls it. If Rumsfeld didn't agree with the "clear, hold and build" strategy, fine. He should have stepped aside and handed over the keys to the Pentagon to someone who supported the new strategy. Instead, the new strategy was pursued with insufficient forces, a critical problem going back to 2003 (see here, here, here, here, here, here and here.) For years, Rumsfeld pursued his own agenda in Iraq. He denied things were getting worse. He ignored calls for more troops and dismissed those critical of his conduct of the war. Rumsfeld now suggests that the US "go minimalist" in Iraq. Unfortunately for the president, his defense secretary has followed a "minimalist" approach in Iraq since March 2003. And here we are.
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