NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer and retired Gen. Michael P. DeLong falsely suggested that the seven retired generals who have recently advocated for Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation "have a problem with his personality" but "can't say that he's incompetent." In fact, at least two of the generals have specifically cited incompetence as a reason Rumsfeld should resign or be fired.
On the April 17 broadcast of NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer and retired Gen. Michael P. DeLong falsely suggested that the seven retired generals who have recently advocated for Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation "have a problem with his personality" but "can't say that he's incompetent." In fact, at least two of the generals -- Gen. Paul D. Eaton and Gen. Anthony C. Zinni -- have specifically cited incompetence as a reason Rumsfeld should resign or be fired.
As Lauer noted, DeLong -- who served as deputy commander of United States Central Command during the Iraq war -- wrote an April 16 New York Times op-ed defending Rumsfeld. Asked by Lauer why the retired generals were speaking out against Rumsfeld, DeLong responded: "All I can tell you is that part of this, from what I can read, is they don't like his management style." Lauer then asked: "So you're saying this could be as much about personality as it is about competence? That, in fact, they have a problem with his personality, that they find him a little bit condescending, maybe even dismissive, but they can't say that he's incompetent?" DeLong answered: "You asked me the question, and that would be what would be my guess." DeLong added that Rumsfeld is "very competent."
But in a March 19 New York Times op-ed, Eaton, who was "in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004," wrote that "Rumsfeld is not competent to lead our armed forces." Eaton continued: "In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."
DeLong was well aware of Eaton's op-ed; on Today, he told Lauer: "I tried to put an op-ed piece in The New York Times about the 1st of April in response to a Gen. Eaton article." On the April 15 broadcast of Today, NBC chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that "Eaton calls Rumsfeld 'incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically.' "
In addition, Zinni, who formerly served as commander-in-chief of Central Command, has repeatedly cited incompetence as a reason he would fire Rumsfeld.
From the April 7 broadcast of PBS' The Charlie Rose Show, with guest host and New Yorker staff writer George Packer:
PACKER: You have called for Secretary Rumsfeld to be fired because of the failures in Iraq. Why, and what could a replacement do that he's not doing?
ZINNI: Well, just to be clear, I was asked who I might fire, and I gave that view. I'm not on any campaign or -- that's the president's decision. But I think it's important for two reasons. One, you know, I grew up in an organization where accountability was important. The military looks back at itself and critiques itself, critiques its decision-making, its leadership. And we are very hard on ourselves in that respect. Accountability to us, the captain of the ship, the commander of the unit, you know, everything we learn from the very beginning is you accept not only responsibility, but you are willing to stand up and be held accountable. And accountability means you need to be held accountable for decisions that are done and exercised through bad judgment or through incompetence or through arrogance or through discounting information that you should have taken into account.
From the April 4 broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered, with co-anchor Robert Siegel:
SIEGEL: Tony Zinni has made no secret that he thinks Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should be fired for two reasons.
ZINNI: One is a matter of accountability. The second is in order to move forward with a new face, not find ourselves constantly defending the past, not bringing with us whatever baggage comes with the past decisions that were made and the mistakes that were made, to show it's a fresh start, that they're open to new ideas, I think that's necessary. I have nothing personal against Secretary Rumsfeld.
SIEGEL: You're saying it's a distraction, you're saying?
ZINNI: It's a --
SIEGEL: For him to still be secretary of defense?
ZINNI: It is a distraction, and the constant issues of no one being held accountable. Everybody gets a Medal of Freedom, everybody goes home. It's stuff happens, fog of friction of war. When many people believe, me included, that it's much more serious than that. These were decisions based on negligence. We have to question the competence of decisions, the advice that was taken and available and not taken. So, I think there has to be accountability. But that's my view. I'm not on any campaign or calling for anything. I was asked my opinion and I gave it. That decision belongs to the president.
Other retired generals, while not actually using the word "incompetent," have criticized Rumfeld's "absolute failures in managing the war," his failure to "understand the dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare," and his "disastrous" war planning and execution.
Retired Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who commanded the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, was quoted in an April 14 article in The New York Times:
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who led troops on the ground in Iraq as recently as 2004 as the commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, on Thursday became the fifth retired senior general in recent days to call publicly for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster. Also Thursday, another retired Army general, Maj. Gen. John Riggs, joined in the fray.
''We need to continue to fight the global war on terror and keep it off our shores,'' General Swannack said in a telephone interview. ''But I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq.''
General Swannack, by contrast, continues to support the invasion but said that Mr. Rumsfeld had micromanaged the war in Iraq, rather than leaving it to senior commanders there, including Gen. George W. Casey Jr. of the Army, the top American officer in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid of the Army, the top officer in the Middle East. ''My belief is Rumsfeld does not really understand the dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare,'' General Swannack said.
Retired Gen. Paul K. Van Riper was quoted in an April 15 Washington Post article:
The grievances aired by half a dozen retired flag officers in recent days resonated with many military veterans. "I admire those who have stepped forward, and I agree with the arguments they are making," retired Marine Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper said in an interview yesterday. "I count myself in the same camp."
Van Riper, a lifelong Republican who voted for Bush in 2000 but did not vote in the 2004 election, said Rumsfeld has failed in a number of ways, including "disastrous" war planning and execution and fostering a poor command climate.
From the April 17 broadcast of NBC's Today:
LAUER: You wrote an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times basically supporting Secretary Rumsfeld, saying he listens to his military commanders and makes tough decisions based on their advice. You are also obviously appearing with us this morning. Have you been asked by Secretary Rumsfeld or anyone else in his administration to be here on his behalf?
DeLONG: No. In fact, I tried to put an op-ed piece in The New York Times about the 1st of April in response to a General Eaton article. And all I was trying to do was set the record straight, and straight meaning, this is how I saw Secretary Rumsfeld when I worked with him.
LAUER: Let's talk about these six, and by some counts, seven retired generals who have spoken out now calling for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign. Clearly you know that they claim they're not part of an organized effort. They also say, general, that it pains them, it pains them as military men to speak out against the Pentagon. Why do you think, then, doesn't it indicate that there's something very important, in their minds, going on that they would say the things they're saying?
DeLONG: I really don't know what their motivation is. It could be anything. All I can tell you is that part of this, from what I can read, is they don't like his management style. And his management style is a tough management style. He's tough to work with. He is a micro-manager. But he is very effective. So --
LAUER: So you're saying this could be as much about personality as it is about competence? That, in fact, they have a problem with his personality, that they find him a little bit condescending, maybe even dismissive, but they can't say that he's incompetent?
DeLONG: You asked me the question, and that would be what would be my guess. Because his management style, like other senior military people -- he's very competent but very dogmatic and tough when he deals with people. But, from what I've seen, when we ran the war -- and the two people that worked the war with the secretary were [now-retired Gen.] Tommy Franks and myself -- when it came to matters of tactics and strategic thought, he went with us if there was any disagreement.