Saturday, November 11, 2006


As all of you know by now, the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has been dismissed after 6 years of faithful service. The President's farewell message contained, apart from the obligatory praise, the explanation for this sudden change of guard, and it is that new perspectives in the Iraq war are needed. A curious explanation indeed when one considers that not two weeks ago the President said that he intended to stick with Rumsfeld till the end of his Presidency. The real reason for the dismissal is, of course, that public opinion needs a blood sacrifice. It seems that if a nation is handed the tools for Democracy and Rule of Law on a silver platter but prefers to use tools for drilling holes in skulls instead, not that nation is to blame but a bearer of the silver platter.

It is very likely risky to draw conclusions from secluded events happening thousands of miles away in military HQ's, the Green Zone or the power corridors in Washington. Plus, there was the simultaneous publication, in the first week of November, of an editorial in all three issues of the Army Times asking that Rumsfeld should go. Then, of course, the many times I read that Mr. Rumsfeld was arrogant, stubborn, and not willing to listen. All of these elements make one cautious, if not reluctant, to take up the Defense of the Secretary of Defense. But I'll do it anyway.

I'll do it anyway, because I know that Mr. Rumsfeld served in the Nixon administration as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity - one of the youngest US ministers ever. Which means the man must be damn intelligent.

I'll do it anyway, because I remember that General Franks' original plan to liberate Iraq called for an invading army of 500,000, but it was Mr. Rumsfeld who for months prior to OIF kept poring over Project 77, as the preliminary draft was called, interfered in operational details, and insisted Franks downgrade the troops to a quarter of the original total. And as we all know, Saddam's Iraq was cut down in three weeks. Which means the man's grasp on military affairs is not to be underestimated, to say the least.

I'll do it anyway, because even prior to 9/11 Rumsfeld was known for his emphasis on Special Operations and his willingness to cut down on costly Cold War era weapons systems, such as the unwieldy 80-ton Crusader mechanized artillery combination. Which means the man was intent to not let the American taxpayer foot unnecessary multibilliondollar bills.

And I'll do it anyway, because the criticism I heard thus far has come from only a couple of retired generals - Batiste, Zinni, Swannack, plus a few others. I figure there must be tens if not hundreds of retired US generals. Why do we not hear them asking for Rumsfelds head? Why is Tommy Franks not asking (as a matter of fact, the few occasions in which I have read about Franks on the Secretary it was always with a lot of respect). Why is Raymond Odierno not asking, who two years ago was described as a rising star in the top brass?

The criticism on Donald Rumsfeld mostly seems to crystallize around two main charges. The first one is that the current mayhem in Iraq is his fault because he ignored General Shinseki's recommendation that in order to maintain stability in Iraq "several hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed". Rumsfeld may indeed have underestimated the number of "occupation" troops, but your most obvious question which is never asked with regards to Shinseki's estimate is: where would he get them? As far as I know, the US Army numbers some 480,000 troops on active duty. Plus, perhaps 350,000 in the Army National Guard. Add to that the Army Reserve, give and take 200,000, plus some 70,000 Marines. Adding these four branches together one arrives at a grand total of 1,100,0000. Now suppose that Shinseki's goal was 350,000 men on the ground. I am not a military expert, but I gather that in order to maintain a field strength in Iraq like this, you need at least three times that number - or, 1,350,000, since I assume a working and bearable rotational plan involves three shifts whereby one shift is in the intended Theatre of Operations, one shift is resting and/or refitting, and one shift is readying itself to go. Well, as we have seen there simply are no 1,350,000 ground troops available! Moreover, I do not suspect all of these 350,000 National Guard troops can be mobilized all at once, and I suppose the same goes for the reserves. Then consider the troop requirements all over the planet from Europe over Afghanistan to South-Korea, which - quick guess - account for possibly 120,000 men. And you have a situation where you have to make do with a far less impressive personnel pool to provide for a permanent presence in Iraq. I haven't followed the particular topic too closely, but I read news flashes every once in awhile about it being always the same units that return, always too quick, second Iraq tours for the National Guard etc etc etc...

...all of which leads me to believe the Army is actually doing all it can just to maintain the troop level at the current 130,000! You want 350,000 boots on the ground? Fine, but are you then prepared to foot the bill? IIRC, Bush asked Congress in October 2003 for an additional 87 billion dollars to fund the Iraq bill in 2004, of which almost 94%, or 82 billion dollars, were meant for the US Army presence alone, then scheduled to be, as it was in 2005 and 2006, around 115,000 - 130,000. That's roughly one third of Shinseki's 350,000. It is easy to say that Rumsfeld should have put in more troops, but my question is, would even a Republican-controlled Congress, and would the American people as a whole, have approved of a troop bill of 82 billion US$ x 3 = 246 billion US$??? You doubt it? Then don't blame Rumsfeld! Rumsfeld once said that you go to war with the army that you have, not the army that you would want, and that is pretty much what he did.

The second criticism revolves around Rumsfelds personality. I must confess that time and again I have read that he is arrogant, stubborn, not willing to compromise, and rough with subordinates. Look, from a human point of view one can deplore such traits, if they are true - which I assume they are to a great extent. The point is, do you let emotion take priority over function? Donald Rumsfeld is, I fear, arrogant. So what? Patton was arrogant too. Moreover, Patton could be near inhumane towards subordinates. In August 1943, after his succesful Sicily campaign, he came across a soldier, a certain Private Kuhl, who was suffering from shellshock. Patton cursed and struck him and threw him out of the hospital tent the soldier was lying in. One week later, a very similar event took place involving another soldier. This time it was a Private Bennett, and when Patton asked him what the problem was, he got the reply that "it was his nerves, he couldn't stand the shelling anymore." Patton then burst out: Your nerves. Hell, you are just a goddamned coward, you yellow son of a ***!!! To a British war correspondent, Patton later said: "There is no such thing as shell shock. It’s an invention of the Jews." Stories like that make one cringe, and there are worse tales to tell about Patton - his anti-Semitism, his encouragement to not take prisoners. Plus, of course, his numerous memorable quotes: Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. Which is one I certainly do not subscribe. To cut a long story short, Patton was imho a far less amiable character than Rumsfeld. But both men were essential war leaders. And here lies the difference. Back in WWII, Patton was allowed to go and carry the fight to the Nazis. Which he did: his Third Army was probably the most feared by the Germans on the Western Front. It gave them hell in Normandy in summer 44, swept them back inside their country in fall 44, cut off their salient during the Battle of the Bulge in winter 44, and was first across the Rhine in Spring 45. Sometimes, you do need a son of a bitch to do the dirty work. By which I do not mean to say Rumsfeld was a son of a bitch. But like Patton he probably is not your ideal father-in-law. The difference is that Patton was allowed to continue a job he was good at. Rumsfeld however, is sent home, so to say in the middle of the Normandy battle.

He is sent home, and it is an ignominous return, but like a good soldier Rumsfeld accepted the order to leave. Regular reader da 12th Anon probably captured best what a patriot the man is when he wrote in the comments section: Rummy did one hell of a job and he is being a man by stepping up and taking one in the chest for his country. He has volunteered to be the scape goat for what ever goes wrong.

Thus it is indeed an ingnominous return requested by far too many Americans, who curiously want to blame one of their own when it is actually the Iraqi government which has shown thus far a marked incompetence to quell the now mostly sectarian unrest engulfing their country. An advisor to Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki told a TIME reporter: "We're not going to make a big deal of [Rumsfeld's departure]. We're going to hope that his replacement benefits us. We're hoping the change will mean better execution of the plan to train Iraqi security forces to take charge of the security situation". In other words, it is the fault of the Americans, never mind the dungeons in the Ministry of the Interior or Iraqi policemen and soldiers basically acting like death squads in Baghdads streets.

Nastier comments coud be heard across the globe. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez hailed Rumsfeld's resignation and suggested that President Bush should quit as well. The whole 200-strong Socialist faction in the European Parliament applauded both the Democrat's victory - which they said was "the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world" - as well as the Secdef's dismissal. Another hateful message with the express intention to hurt came from Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, AQ's successor to Zarqawi in Iraq, when an Islamist website posted a recording from him "Calling President Bush a "lame duck" and telling him not to "run away as your lame defense secretary ran away". Chavez, Euro socialists and an Al-Qaeda bigshot... in other words, if you feel delighted in the Defense Minister's departure, know that you are in fine company.

Being a Belgian though, the after-kick which most drew my attention was the one administered by Belgian Defense Minister André Flahaut, see below. André Flahaut, aka BOBA FAT, in which BOBA stands for Butcher Of the Belgian Army and FAT for, well, see for yourself, was quoted by the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws as saying:


"The firing of the American Secretary of Defense is another victory, on top of the one achieved by the Democrats."

Flahaut is everything that Rumsfeld is not. He is a prominent member of the Wallonian Parti Socialiste , the "party of 1,000,000 scandals", and under his "able" leadership, the Belgian armed forces have basically been neutered and morped into possibly the world's biggest association of motorized, obese and ageing teddy bears with a fourteenth degree in first aid. E.g., the tank force which during the height of the Cold War still numbered some four hundred quality German Leopard tanks, but which is largely obsolete now, will be completely disbanded. In its place will come only 52 (fifty-two) wheeled Piranha III's armed with a 90mm gun. So, while the global standard for MBT guns is 120mm, the Belgian Army is actually downgrading from 105mm (now on the Leopards) to 90mm. Curiously, the only 90mm gun variant withheld by Flahaut is fabricated by the Liège-based CMI company, and even more curiously, only one company in the world can make the ammo for it: Mécar from Nivelles, which coincidentally happens to be in Mr. Flahaut's electoral district. The process by which the Belgian Army is now in its final death throes - as a combat force anyway, not as a folkloristic geriatric scouts band - will, I hope, one day be the topic of another post. For now, it perhaps suffices to quote a key Belgian Christian Democrat MP (one of the saner ones), Pieter Decrem, who last year remarked that:

"André Flahaut is the biggest disaster happening to the Belgian Army since the defeat against the Germans in 1940."

In a perfect world, it would be André Flahaut leaving the scene, preferably covered with tar and feathers, and not Donald Rumsfeld.

But, obviously this isn't a perfect world.


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