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.
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