Hanoi, Vietnam — Here in this former enemy capital, the government of The Socialist Republic of Vietnam operates a museum full of mementoes from the only war America ever fought in which U.S. troops won every battle — but still lost the war. Among displays of captured U.S. military equipment, parts of shot-down aircraft and expended munitions are exhibits devoted to the American anti-war movement. The carping coterie of retired generals now blasting the war effort in Iraq — and demanding Donald Rumsfeld’s head — ought to spend a few hours here before firing another salvo. It might make the tarnished brass hats think twice about whether their words aid and abet America’s adversaries in the Global War on Terror.
"We went to war with a flawed plan that didn’t account for the hard work to build the peace after we took down the regime. We also served under a secretary of defense who didn’t understand leadership, who was abusive, who was arrogant, who didn’t build a strong team," said retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste. His sentiments are echoed by two other retired Army two-stars, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, and Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack.
"My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions — or bury the results," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, perhaps forgetting that the defense secretary served as a Navy fighter pilot. Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs accused the White House and Pentagon of seeking military advice only "when it satisfies their agenda." Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former chief of U.S. Central Command said, "Poor military judgment has been used throughout this mission."
Set aside for a moment that these are all men who helped plan various aspects of the war they now say was poorly planned. With the exception of Zinni, who served as CENTCOM commander during the Clinton administration, they all accepted promotions to "serve" under Commander in Chief Bush and helped carry out a plan they now claim to be irreparably flawed. If the jawing generals felt then as they say they do now — why didn’t they just quit — before their promotions and pay raises?
It’s been done before. On April 21, 1980, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance tendered his resignation and privately confided to President Jimmy Carter, "I know how deeply you have pondered your decision on Iran. I wish I could support you in it. But for the reasons we have discussed I cannot." The secretary of state was referring to the mission — three days later — to rescue American hostages — an operation he had steadfastly opposed. Unlike the "six-pack" of generals now castigating the war they helped plan and execute — Vance had the integrity to make his views known during planning for the Iran operation — and the courage to quit when the commander in chief decided to proceed over his objections.
That archaic combination of honor and fortitude is apparently absent from the current crop of retired generals shouting "Dump Don!" into any available microphone. They should be grateful that the Bush-phobic mainstream media is either ignorant of the ethical tradition exemplified by Vance — or too lazy to research the inconsistencies in the generals’ past and present positions on the war.
Zinni, making the round of talk shows to hawk his latest book, should be the most thankful of the bunch. The retired four-star now says, "There was no solid proof, that I ever saw, that Saddam had WMD." But in 2000, he testified before Congress, "Iraq remains the most significant near-term threat to U.S. interests in the Arabian Gulf region." He went on to say that "Iraq probably is continuing clandestine nuclear research, [and] retains stocks of chemical and biological munitions … Even if Baghdad reversed its course and surrendered all WMD capabilities, it retains scientific, technical and industrial infrastructure to replace agents and munitions within weeks or months." Which Zinni are we to believe?
Perhaps it’s unfair to expect equal measures of courage and character from senior officers in this age of political opportunism. After all, the modern "gold standard" for flag-officer fidelity was set back in 1992 by Adm. William J. Crowe. Appointed Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command by Ronald Reagan in 1983, Crowe was subsequently named Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1985 — a position he continued to hold under President George H.W. Bush — a fellow naval officer and World War II hero. On retirement however, the admiral demonstrated his appreciation by endorsing and campaigning for William Jefferson Blythe Clinton. Clinton, showing far more gratitude than the admiral had for George H.W. Bush, appointed Crowe to be U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1994.
Tough duty. With a role model like this, Don Rumsfeld has to wonder why more of his "all stars" haven’t piled on. Meanwhile, the al Qaeda clipping service is assembling material for a war museum like the one here in Hanoi. Jane Fonda — call the Pentagon.