Rumsfeld's 8,000-Mile Screwdriver

By page 147 of his book, Lt. Gen. Ric Sanchez is getting his unit (the 1st Armored Division in Germany) ready for war in Iraq. But there's a hitch -- the Pentagon won't tell them when, where, why or how they're going. Sanchez recounts the way he felt on the receiving end of missives from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and he generalizes from this that the Bush administration's concept of civil-military relations was deeply flawed:

The most devastating impact of Rumsfeld's micromanagement was that warfighting commanders, all the way down to the division level, were never able to plan beyond the basic mission of defeating Saddam Hussein's military. For example, I was initially told that 1st Armored Division would deploy to Iraq as one of the base plan units. Then I was told we would be a follow-on force. Then we weren't going to deploy at all. Finally, we were going to deploy after major combat operations were concluded to handle the Phase IV mission.

Each time our orders changed, we had to stop our planning efforts, rethink and regroup, and then readjust our training programs. The constant changes drained our staff's energy and negatively impacted our mission-specific training regiment. The frustration became so palpable that I finally threw up my hands to my staff and said "Stop! This has got to stop! We cannot continue to change our plans this way. From this moment on, we are going to plan and train for the reserve division mission [the most complex]. That way, whatever they finally decide to have us do, we'll be ready."

The Secretary of Defense was, in effect, involved in the operational decisions of the combatant commander. \And I do not believe that was either the spirit or the intent of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. In my mind, Donald Rumsfeld had changed the doctrine of "civilian control of the military" (when to go to war and for what purpose) to "civilian command of the military" (when to go to war, for what purpose, and how to wage war). That was a very dangerous thing to do, because our national civilian leadership does not have the expertise, judgment, intuition, or staff capacity to make informed decisions or recommendations on the detailed application of military forces. The level of control exercised by the Secretary of Defense went well beyond the establishment of broad policy goals and strategic objectives. He was now beginning a pattern of authoritative and dominating influence over the entire war effort.

To Sanchez, this was a very bad thing. He writes on the next page that when "the executive branch is allowed to use the armed forces to achieve its own political agenda, our democratic republic begins to approach the status of a fascist dictatorship."

Here, I think Sanchez finds his voice. Volumes and volumes have been written about how Rumsfeld tinkered with the military, using in one official's memorable words an "8,000 mile long screwdriver" to personally direct operations in Iraq. From Sanchez's perspective, as a division commander and later a corps commander, these actions had real consequences. They impeded his unit's preparation for war, and arguably cost soldiers their lives once they got to Iraq.

Following his review for the Post last week, Max Boot criticized this passage from Sanchez on his blog, writing:

[J]ust like many of the Vietnam War generals, [Sanchez] tries to lay the blame at the feet of civilians. Of course, civilians-notably President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld-do bear the ultimate responsibility. But Sanchez is off-base when he writes, "I observed intrusive civilian command of the military, rather than the civilian control embodied in the Constitution." Sanchez seems to be under the misapprehension that the Constitution designates the President as "controller in chief" rather than "commander in chief."

The problem in Iraq wasn't that the President was too intrusive; it was that he deferred too much to a military chain of command that made huge mistakes and was slow to correct them. Rumsfeld, while nit-picking minor details, also washed his hands of big strategic decisions (such as the disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces).

The proper lesson of Iraq, then, is the same as the lesson of Vietnam. It is not that we should have less civilian command of the military; it is that we should have better civilian command.

Perhaps. But the real lesson seems to be that America should make better, smarter decisions about when to go to war.

By Phillip Carter |  May 18, 2008; 11:42 PM ET  | Category:  Wiser in Battle
Previous: Our Finest Sons and Daughters | Next: Webb on Civil-Military Relations


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The only thing worse than people like Rumsfeld is people like Sanchez. Sanchez would have sold him Grandma to be a 4 star, and when they showed him the door as a 3 star he started whining. Where were his protests when he was in uniform and had the power to really make a statement?

Posted by: Sanchez makes me sick | May 19, 2008 1:24 PM

regardless of everything this sad excuse for a soldier says NOW, when Congress asked him he parroted the president's story rather than providing his professional and unbiased and unpartisan military opinion.

He doesn't and never did work for the president, he always and every day in uniform worked for the Constitution, and that Constitution puts Congress in a position where if it asks an Army officer a question, that officer is duty and honor-bound to provide his own profession opinion, REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE PRESIDENT WANTS AND REGARDLESS OF ANY PRESIDENTIAL ORDERS TO THE CONTRARY.

He did not speak the truth when it mattered most, and for that he is shamed, rightfully shamed, and should not be welcome among veterans or soldiers today.

The West Point Honor Code says a Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate others who do. The same code applies to all officers regardless of commissioning source.

Sanchez had the opportunity to tell the truth to Congress, did not, and thus all of his whining about Rumsfeld and Bush and other is not worth a bucket of warm spit. He and those like him enabled the administration. He cooperated in a scheme to deny the truth to Congress, and hence the American People. He never once spoke out publicly on subjects clearly nonpartisan. He put his career ahead of his oath of office.

I hope we even get to courtmartial him one day for his gross dereliction of duty. Saying "but the president told me to" or "the secretary of defense insisted on it" does not suffice when discussing purely military options and you are a general officer. If you do it, deny the truth to Congress about doing it, and it does not work, then YOU OWN IT as if it were your idea all along.

He betrayed the US Army and his nation the first day he did wrong without protest. He took the easy right over the hard wrong. He was not willing to resign in protest or risk his career, but he asked others to risk everything - their lives - in support of policies and tactics he knew to be wrong, but which he lacked the courage to challenge.

This does not excuse Rummy and Bush and the rest from their crimes and mismanagement, but Sanchez is just as guilty as any of the rest. I hope he can not sleep at night. I hope he comes down with severe PTSD like so many of those he selfishly betrayed through his lack of moral courage, through his lack of understanding - or worse, his knowing betrayal - of what his oath required of him.

Posted by: jd | May 19, 2008 3:37 PM

Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan.

Posted by: dijetlo | May 19, 2008 6:50 PM

I know some people have questioned why Phil's doing this drawn-out exercise of looking at what this loser has to say about his experiences.

Me, I'm grateful to Phil. I would have never bought Sanchez's book, but I might have checked it out of the library. Phil is saving me the time and the trouble of plowing through what appears to be a big, steaming pile of self-serving horse manure.

What's really sad is that Sanchez was ever placed in command of anything. This guy is right up there with Franks in that way too long list of those who won't get plaques in the general officer hall of fame.

Posted by: Publius | May 19, 2008 7:30 PM

When the executive branch is allowed to use the armed forces to achieve its own political agenda, our democratic republic begins to approach the status of a fascist dictatorship. Begins to approach? It may be all fun and games and human pileons in Bush's rape rooms in Iraq but in America, the Bush mafia has made a mockery of justice and declared war on the rule of law.

Before they had this blog on national security, the WaPo carried Bench Conference by Andrew Cohen. The crimes committed at home against innocent civilians in the pursuit of injustice were worse than any of the crimes of war. We talk about Abu Ghraib because Americans are afraid to receive punishment and pay reparations for the real abuses, which took place on American soil. Whether you consider the stealing of the election from Siegelman a law enforcement matter or a war, only 100 detainees have been killed abroad, far less than the number of civil rights leaders killed at home. Whether they call it the War on Democracy, or the War on Christmas, the looting in America surpasses the looting in Iraq.

As easy as it is to blame Fredo for Bush's policies, he was just doing his job as a loyal Bushie. Those who ordered crimes to be committed always have an expendable fall guy.

We know that the Justice Department was used improperly but with a new administration coming in, America needs to start methodically defending whistleblowers who reveal how the military was unleashed against the American people.

Is it really more appropriate to discuss domestic political assassinations in Andrew Cohen's Bench Conference than in this new militaristic blog if they were carried out or backed by the military? I believe so because all of Bush's political assassinations of civilians had nothing to do with national security. It is easy to dismiss all of this as the unfortunate product of war or national security. But it is not. Is the Bush coup a war or law enforcement? It is neither, it is a bandit act, a crime against America.

Posted by: Singing Senator | May 20, 2008 3:15 AM

At the risk of sounding like a Sanchez defender (which I am not), I would at least that deciding which policies are right or wrong is above his pay grade. He was a leader at the tactical and operational level, not really a strategic leader. It would be wrong for him to resign simply because he disagreed with the policy.

However, it is also right to say that he is required to answer questions from Congress honestly and not to merely sing the administration's tune. If he thought that things were going to hell in a handbasket in Iraq, he was required to say so if asked. But such an answer must be qualified by a recognition that it is limited to that tactical and operational picture.

Basically, in theory, he could have answered that while he had no opinion on whether or not the strategic picture was rosy, operationally and tactically, things were going to s**t in a hurry. Seems a little bit silly, but at least it is an honest look.

Sanchez can be skewered for many things--Abu Ghraib foremost among them, as well as his inability to implement any standard tactics for his subordinate units to operate by (brutal tactics used by 4ID under Ordierno versus good COIN tactics under Petraeus and the 101st at the same time). However, he cannot be held accountable for a failure of strategy. He was way out of his depth, to be sure, but whose failure is that?

Sounds like maybe the SecDef, Rumsfeld may have had something to do with that one...Hmmmmm...

Posted by: DM Inf | May 20, 2008 10:13 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company