Following Rumsfeld, supporters asserted that criticism of defense secretary helps America's enemies

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Supporters of Donald Rumsfeld have repeated Rumsfeld's assertion that retired U.S. generals criticizing Rumsfeld and calling for his resignation may be aiding U.S. enemies. Rumsfeld made this claim during an appearance on The Rush Limbaugh Show.

Since April 17, supporters of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld have asserted that the numerous retired U.S. generals criticizing Rumsfeld and calling for his resignation may, in fact, be aiding the enemies of the United States. This assertion, made in op-eds in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, in a New York Post editorial, and in a column by Fox News host Cal Thomas, repeated a similar point made by Rumsfeld about the media's coverage of the generals' criticism.

During an April 17 interview with nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, Rumsfeld said, "[I]f every time there were critics and opponents to war, we wouldn't have won the Revolutionary War, and we wouldn't have been involved in World War I or II, or if we had, we would have failed. And our country would be a totally different place if it existed at all, if every time there were some critics that we tossed in the towel." He further stated that while "people have a right to say what they want to say," they should also "recognize that the terrorists, [Abu Musab Al-] Zarqawi and [Osama] bin Laden and [Ayman Al-] Zawahiri, those people have media committees. They are actively out there trying to manipulate the press in the United States. They are very good at it. They're much better at managing those kinds of things than we are."

In an April 17 Wall Street Journal op-ed (subscription required), retired U.S. generals -- Lt. Gen. John Crosby, Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, Maj. Gen Buron Moore, and Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely -- echoing Rumsfeld, wrote:

Like former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, we do not believe that it is appropriate for active duty, or retired, senior military officers to publicly criticize U.S. civilian leadership during war. Calling for the secretary's resignation during wartime may undercut the U.S. mission and incites individual challenge to the good order and discipline of our military culture. At best, such comments may send a confusing message to our troops deployed on dangerous missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. At worst, they can also inspire and motivate the evil forces we seek to defeat.

In another op-ed, this time in the April 19 edition of The Washington Post, former Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird and retired Lt. Gen. Robert E. Pursley made a similar argument:

We do not advocate a silencing of debate on the war in Iraq. But care must be taken by those experienced officers who had their chance to speak up while on active duty. In speaking out now, they may think they are doing a service by adding to the reasoned debate. But the enemy does not understand or appreciate reasoned public debate. It is perceived as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve.

Likewise, in his April 18 column, Thomas noted and endorsed Rumsfeld's April 13 comments on Al Arabiya and his April 7 statements on The Sean Hannity Show (which also aired on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes) that were similar to those Rumsfeld expressed on Limbaugh's radio show:

What is one to make of the six retired generals who, in recent days, have called not only for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but have questioned whether U.S. troops should remain in Iraq much longer? Only that it will further embolden America's enemies who are betting that the United States is weak, morally corrupt and lacks the stomach for protracted conflict.

[...]

Appearing on Al Arabiya television, Rumsfeld said, "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed, we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round around here."

On Fox News Channel, Rumsfeld said, "... it's a test of wills. If they can't win a battle, where can they win? The only place they can win is the capitals of Western countries. And with trying to persuade the American people and other western nations, free people, 'look, it isn't worth the cost, it isn't worth the time, it isn't worth the money.' And to get them to toss in the towel and say it's not worth the effort. Well, it is worth the effort because terrorists are against free people for behaving as free people."

[...]

This isn't about one secretary of defense or six generals who don't like his policies. This is about winning the most dangerous and important war America has ever fought. By going public with their criticisms in the midst of the war, those generals are making victory more difficult. They are encouraging the enemy to fight on, believing we will ultimately surrender. There can be no good that will come from the comments of the former leaders of our volunteer soldiers, at least no good for what they once called "our side."

Thomas contrasted the generals' behavior, as Media Matters noted, with that of alleged "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui, who, Thomas commented, "isn't retreating or calling for the resignation of Osama bin Laden or any other leader in the terrorist war on America and the West."

An April 20 New York Post editorial, "Railing at Rummy," added that the generals' actions were more likely to "energize America's enemies ... given the unseemly glee with which congressional Democrats have joined the fray":

Let's be clear here: We do not question the right of these generals, all of whom served their country with honor and dignity, to criticize Rumsfeld.

Nor do we doubt that their remarks have been sincerely made - though, it must be noted, their assessment has been refuted by equally noteworthy generals,

including the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his immediate predecessor and the overall commander of the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

But we do take issue with the appropriateness of their challenge to the nation's civilian leadership during wartime.

This can only energize America's enemies - especially given the unseemly glee with which congressional Democrats have joined the fray.

This pattern of accusing critics of aiding U.S. enemies is similar to a rhetorical offensive mounted in late March by conservatives who argued that mainstream news outlets were undermining public support for the war in Iraq with excessively negative and biased war reporting. The offensive began immediately after President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, on March 20 and 19, respectively, criticized the media's coverage of the war.

From Rumsfeld's April 17 interview on The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: OK, let me ask you this question. You've -- you've been in the private sector, and you've -- and you've had had plenty of public service in various positions in our government, and you've devoted your life largely to public service, and you're very much aware of our representative Republican and Democratic process here. We have people in the country who have been attempting ever since shortly after the war with Iraq commenced, that are trying to gin up as much anti-war support amongst the American population as possible. Yet here you are as a member of this administration with a stated goal where Iraq and the "war on terror" is concerned. You have to be aware of the anti-war opinion, those in the country who have it; and you're aware of the people who are trying to foment it and make it larger.

How do you, as a public servant, square the attitude of the anti-war people, if you think it's a large group of people, with what you are stated -- your stated goals and what the president's stated goals are? How do you -- how do you put those two together and end up formulating a policy and sticking to it?

RUMSFELD: Yeah, well, that's a very important question, and I guess -- only someone who's rooted in the history of our country, I think, could accept the kinds of comments that are being made. And if -- if we recognize that the same kinds of criticism occurred in the Revolutionary War and World War I and World War II and the Korean War, Vietnam War -- it's not new. There've always been people who've opposed wars. Wars are terrible things.

On the other hand, if -- if every time there were critics and opponents to war, we wouldn't have won the Revolutionary War, and we wouldn't have been involved in World War I or II, or if we had we would have failed. And our country would be a totally different place if it existed at all, if every time there were some critics that we tossed in the towel.

I think we just have to accept it, that people have a right to say what they want to say and to have an acceptance of that and recognize that the terrorists, Zarqawi and bin Laden and Zawahiri, those people have media committees. They are actively out there trying to manipulate the press in the United States. They are very good at it. They're much better at managing those kinds of things than we are, and we have to recognize that we're not going to lose any battles in the global "war on terror" out in Iraq or Afghanistan. The center of gravity of that war is right here, and in the capital of the United States of America and other Western capitals; in London. They're trying -- it's a test of wills. And what's at stake for our country is our way of life. They want to strike at the very essence of what we are. We're a free people. And our task in government, by golly, is to -- is to -- is to help protect the American people from people who killed 3,000 people here on September 11th, and killed people in London and Madrid and Bali and country after country around the world who have no problems beheading people and murdering innocent men, women and children.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Person
Donald Rumsfeld
Show/Publication
The Rush Limbaugh Show
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