Two more retired U.S. generals called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign on Thursday, claiming the chief architect of the Iraq war and subsequent American occupation should be held accountable for the chaos there.
As the high-ranking officers accused Rumsfeld of arrogance and ignoring his field commanders, the White House was forced to defend a man who has been a lightning rod for criticism over a war that has helped drive President George W. Bush’s public approval ratings to new lows.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni told CNN Rumsfeld should be held responsible for a series of blunders, starting with “throwing away 10 years worth of planning, plans that had taken into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq.”
The spreading challenge to the Pentagon’s civilian leadership included criticism from some recently retired senior officers directly involved in the Iraq war and its planning.
Six retired generals have now called for Rumsfeld to step down, including two who spoke out on Thursday.
“I really believe that we need a new secretary of defense because Secretary Rumsfeld carries way too much baggage with him,” said retired Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, who led the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq.
“Specifically, I feel he has micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces,” he told CNN.
Retired Major Gen. John Riggs told National Public Radio that Rumsfeld had helped create an atmosphere of “arrogance” among the Pentagon’s top civilian leadership.
“They only need the military advice when it satisfies their agenda. I think that’s a mistake, and that’s why I think he should resign,” Riggs said.
But at the White House, the 73-year-old Rumsfeld drew unflinching support. “Yes, the president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq before his retirement, urged Rumsfeld on Wednesday to resign.
Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold and Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton have also spoken out against Rumsfeld.
The outcry came as opinion polls show eroding public support for the 3-year-old Iraq war in which about 2,360 U.S. troops have died and Bush is struggling to bolster Americans’ confidence in the war effort.
IGNORING THE CALLS
Rumsfeld has offered at least twice to resign, but each time Bush has turned him down.
Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff said Rumsfeld is ignoring the calls for him to quit and they have not been a distraction.
“Has he talked to the White House? The answer is no, he’s not. And two, the question of resignation: was he considering it? No.”
Ruff added: “I don’t know how many generals there are — a couple thousand, at least. And they’re going to have opinions.”
Critics have accused Rumsfeld of bullying senior military officers and disregarding their views. They often cite how Rumsfeld dismissed then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki’s opinion a month before the 2003 invasion that occupying Iraq could require “several hundred thousand troops,” not the smaller force Rumsfeld would send.
But retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Mike DeLong rejected the idea that new leadership was needed at the Pentagon.
“Dealing with Secretary Rumsfeld is like dealing with a CEO,” he told CNN. “When you walk in to him, you’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to know what you’re talking about. If you don’t, you’re summarily dismissed. But that’s the way it is, and he’s effective.”
The White House pointed to comments supportive of Rumsfeld from Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said criticism was to be expected at a time of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We are a nation at war and we are a nation that is going through a military transformation. Those are issues that tend to generate debate and disagreement and we recognize that,” McClellan said.
(Additional reporting by David Morgan)
© 2006 Reuters