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Defense Chief Rumsfeld, Facing General Criticism

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

With a half dozen retired generals publicly calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush interrupted a family holiday at Camp David to issue a statement of support. Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership, the President said, is exactly what is needed at this critical point. Mr. Rumsfeld himself entered the controversy in an interview on Al Arabia television.

DONALD RUMSFELD: There are, I don't know, what, three, four, five, six thousand generals, active duty, retired, and there's thousands of them. And there are several who have, are not on active duty, who don't have, not current, who have made comments. And that doesn't surprise me at all.

SIMON: Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor is co-author with Michael Gordon of the New York Times of the new book, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and the Occupation of Iraq. General Trainor joins us in our studios. General, thanks so much for being back with us.

BERNARD TRAINOR: It's my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And your book relied extensively on sources within the military. How many of these high-ranking generals three years ago said, Mr. President or Secretary Rumsfeld, I think we're on the verge of making a big mistake, and there's still time to avoid it? And how many of them three years ago said nothing or just something like, are you sure you want to do that?

TRAINOR: Yeah, I think that that's, the latter is the case. You make your case and then you follow out your orders with a great deal of obedience and a can-do sort of attitude. But as Gen. Greg Newbold pointed out, you know, he said I didn't push back hard enough. And I think this is true with some of other generals. They could have pushed back harder than they did. For example...

SIMON: Let me, so when the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Peter Pace, says, We had then and have every opportunity now to speak our minds, that's true?

TRAINOR: Well, yes, theoretically it's true, but then there are a lot of impediments to speaking your mind.

SIMON: Well, well help us understand...

TRAINOR: Well, first of all there is the tendency to keep disputes in-house. Secondly, there is a sense of loyalty.

SIMON: Well, and civilian authority.

TRAINOR: True, to civilian authority. Then there's the concern, well, you know, if I speak out it's going to, not going to do any good. I probably can do more good inside the tent than outside the tent. And the other one, which shouldn't be neglected, is the fact that there's a feeling in the military, if there seems to be a broadcast of dissonance or disagreement, it's going to hurt morale and therefore operational capability. And that's a big one.

SIMON: If a military officer, particularly at the highest rank, feels that strongly that a policy is a mistake, he or she can resign?

TRAINOR: Absolutely.

SIMON: Do you expect any resignations?

TRAINOR: No, I don't think so.

SIMON: Why hasn't there been resignations before this?

TRAINOR: H. R. McMaster, who is a very successful army colonel, wrote a book called, Dereliction of Duty. He found fault with the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not standing up more to McNamara and to the President. And he relates in that book, and I'm certain it's true because he certainly has documented everything, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff did think at one time that it might be worthwhile for them to resign en masse. They concluded that would do more damage than good in the long run. The damage that something that could do might be far greater than the problems of immediacy that it solved. It smacks of a rebellion against civilian leadership, has a dis-unifying effect upon the military. So in large measure I don't see anything as dramatic as a senior retirement or resignation coming.

SIMON: I'm interested when you use a phrase like running, the Secretary of Defense running roughshod over the military, because I, and I realize you might use the phrase casually because as I probably don't have to remind you, a former military officer, technically the Secretary of Defense can't run roughshod over the military because he's the Secretary of Defense. There's civilian control of the military in this country.

TRAINOR: And that is what the technique that Mr. Rumsfeld used, and he did it both orally and he did it with what was known as snowflakes. He sent out these just blizzards of little white memos asking questions across a high variety of subjects and the central command for part of the planning process found themselves chasing their tails trying to respond to this. So it was a technique to get across not only my authority as Secretary of Defense, but also to shape your thinking to conform to my belief and my thinking. That's what I mean by roughshod.

SIMON: In your career as a military man, have you ever seen this many retired high-ranking generals stepping away, stepping out in public on something like this before?

TRAINOR: No. No. I spent 40 years in the military and not all of them as a general, started off as a private. But this I think is sui-generous, but I do think it's simply a blip. But you know, it's a symptom of something that has to be addressed, and Administration and Capitol Hill has to address these issues. And when I say the Administration, the current one and any democratic administration that may come in.

SIMON: General Trainor, thanks very much.

TRAINOR: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Retired Marine General, Bernard Trainor. He's co-author with Michael Gordon of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.