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Bill Orton
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April 1, 2003

Resign, Mr. Rumsfeld, and accept a Commission

by Bill Orton

Nearly 90 years ago, poor military execution seemingly doomed the career of Winston Churchill, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, in charge of the mighty British Fleet during World War I.

In 1915, Churchill had reluctantly approved a daring naval plan whereby English warships were to swiftly steam through the Dardenelles, a narrow waterway in Turkey that separates Europe from Asia.

After passing Turkish forts and the ancient capitol of Constantanople (now Istanbul), the warships would then be in the Black Sea, and able to penetrate the "soft underbelly" of the enemy powers by navigating up the mighty Danube river.

The storming of the Dardenelles is believed by most military historians to have been one of those brilliant masterstrokes that could have altered the very dynamic of the First World War.

Despite Churchill's clear order giving full leeway to the commanders on the scene, the plan stalled due to reluctance of the fleet admiral to sail under the imposing guns along the nearby Turkish coast.

The reluctance of one admiral spoiled a brilliant plan.

What followed was the landing of soldiers from New Zealand and Australia at Gallipoli, the peninsula at the entry to the Dardenells. The disasterous invasion never resulted in taking the waterway and simply led to a pointless slaughter of thousands of Allied troops.

For the failure of the grand strategy, Churchill was sacked as head of the Navy and kicked out of the British War Cabinet.

Always true to England, the 41-year-old Winston Churchill asked for a commission and orders to fight in Europe.

Churchill was made a Colonel and spent nearly a year commanding a battallion that fought in the trenches of France. (The legendary British army commander, Lord Kitchner, suggested that Churchill be made a three-star general and given command of an army corps.)

And so it happens that seemingly brilliant plans sometimes crumble in the heat of war.

Perhaps it's time for the war council in the United States to face the fact that the illusions of a speedy victory have come to an end in the desert of Iraq.

To my eyes, the failure of our most basic planning assumptions begs the question of whether one of our own war leaders should be sacked.

Now you may ask is it right for the Defense chief to quit just because things are going poorly?

No, it's not purely because of outcome, for Churchill himself stands as good example that one should not be judged by the difficulty of the challenge, but rather by the clarity of judgment shown in war.

It is precisely on that point -- clarity of judgment -- where Donald Rumsfeld comes up short.

According to reports published first by the New Yorker Magazine, Rumsfeld repeatedly did what the Defense Chief is called upon to do: make decisions that often go against the recommendations of his military advisors.

But, says the New Yorker, on at least six occasions, Rumsfeld overruled his military commanders, who wanted tens of thousands of more troops for the assault on Iraq. He told them that half as many soldiers would be involved today as compared to the First Gulf War in 1991.

Rumsfeld repeatedly told his generals and staff that it only this small force would be needed on the ground, as America's overwhelming technological advantage would quickly reduce the enemy to cowering deserters looking for the first opportunity to surrender.

Unlike the plan to storm the Dardenelles, Mr. Rumsfeld actually put his "shock and awe" strategy to work. It is not a reluctant commander but a faulty plan that is to blame.

Regardless of whether it may have been a brilliant masterstroke in the war-gaming, the Rumsfeld plan has clearly not achieved its goals on the battlefield.

American forces are fighting an enemy in Iraq that is a "bit different from the one we war-gamed against," said the three-star general in charge of ground operations in Iraq.

Clearly, the criticism over our war plan is not over how our forces are fighting, for they are doing the best with what they've been given. The American and British forces engaged in battle will benefit from being the best trained and best equipped fighting force the world has ever seen.

But the insistence of the Defense Secretary that the war be fought by his plan now means we may have hobbled these brave fighting men and women.
  • Rather than the enemy surrendering in mass defections due to their "shock and awe" of our mighty weapons, as Mr. Rumsfeld said repeatedly we would see, we face an evermore determined foe who continues into a second week of battle against an invading army.
  • Rather than uprisings and popular revolt, as Mr. Rumsfeld said repeatedly there would be, we have a regime that has ruthlessly maintained its hold over the people in the cities of Iraq.
  • Rather than a military action that it fit within the broader goals of diplomacy and statecraft, as the President hinted, we are dished up war just like it's sports programming, with icons showing (ding-ding-DING) the day's final numbers of dead and wounded.
The war is here, and such it must be fought to conclusion.

There can be no turning back, lest the United States begin immediately its swift fall from the rank of sole superpower.

The debate later, after the war, will be over the purpose of this struggle, for it is not unfair to assume that this is the first of what may likely be many skirmishes in the New American Order, where we don the Red Coats made so famous by another imperial power.

The debate that immediately follows the war shall also include the economic catastrophe that comes from the unrealistic assumptions of our initial war plan and the cost needed to make the situation right.

But those questions shall wait until the fighting has ended and a civil administration of Iraq is earnestly underway.

In the meanwhile, reality demands that the President admit he is receiving less-than-sound military advice from his chief defense minister.

It is time for Mr. Rumsfeld to step down as Defense Secretary.

The failure of "shock and awe" is more than a subject of academic debate. It is now a fault that could reverberate through the battlefield, as the opposing forces are emboldened to continue their fight with greater determination that before.

If Mr. Rumsfeld wishes to better understand the consequences of the orders he's issued, then perhaps he might follow the example of Mr. Churchill, and serve his nation by takng a commission from the President with orders to proceed to the front.

Let Mr. Rumsfeld wear the stars of a divisional or army corps commanding general and take responsibility for the seige of a major city, like Baghdad.

While a replacement for Mr. Rumsfeld awaits confirmation, I suggest that General Powell be given the double duty of continuing at State while also picking up the portfolio of Defense.

Giving Colin Powell the job of leading both the military and diplomatic aspects of this war would allow the United States to salvage what little can be gotten from the diplomatic good will sewn by the Secretary of State, while also turning over command of the details of war to a professional who understands how to achieve victory and preserve the most valuable treasure of all, the lives of our brave men and women in uniform.

No doubt, the individual likely to be nominated to replace Rumsfeld would be his number two at Defense, Paul Wolfowitz.

Wolfowitz is no less bellicose than Rumsfeld and is just as committed to the theory of conflict that has led us to this point, but the fact remains that a grand strategic failure hangs over Mr. Rumsfeld's name. It is difficult to conceive of Donald Rumsfeld long enjoying the needed support of the Congress, our allies, or the American people.

The question of who guides the war ultimately falls to the President, as resignation is not a decision that a man so smug as Donald Rumsfeld is likely to make.

So, Mr. President, if you're listening, I say, "Let Mr. Rumsfeld serve this nation by accepting your commission as a commanding General charged with carrying out his own strategy in Iraq."

It's time to put a new man in charge of this war.


Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.