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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 21, 2006

It's time for Rumsfeld to take heed or leave

An astonishing number of retired senior military officials have come forward publicly in recent days to declare their belief that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the Iraq war is wrong.

These comments have been dismissed by Rumsfeld and others as the complaints of an unhappy few. Most officers are either silent or support the current approach to Iraq, he argues.

That's disingenuous. By law and tradition, active-duty officers are properly not allowed to buck their civilian bosses. American tradition insists that the armed forces report to elected civilian authority.

But a clear chain of command should not imply that those short of the top are without a brain or an idea. By definition, senior military officers should have the best idea of what will work in a war-fighting situation.

That's a fundamental lesson from Vietnam, where civilian (read: political) decisions replaced the best judgment of military officials.

Rumsfeld should recognize that lesson and pay closer attention to the military experts. This does not imply in any way that the generals should be put in charge.

Rumsfeld and Bush disastrously ignored the advice of Hawai'i's Gen. Eric Shinseki, who warned that the post-war occupation plan for Iraq was woefully short of what was needed. For that advice, Shinseki was effectively bounced. So don't expect many active-duty officers to place their heads on the same block.

It's time for Rumsfeld to start listening. If he is unwilling, then it is time for his boss, the president, to let him go and find someone who will.