It appears there are only two places in America where Donald Rumsfeld is still held in high regard: the White House and everywhere outside the Washington Beltway. The latest complaint capital insiders level against Rumsfeld is that he interfered with military preparations for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and as a result too few ground forces were sent to fight Saddam’s fearsome Republican Guard.
The criticism isn’t totally wrong, but it’s so myopic — like the whining on the eve of the Taliban’s collapse 16 months ago — that someday soon the critics are going to wish they’d kept their opinions to themselves. So far, the only really valid point they’ve made is that Rumsfeld has to take some responsibility for the campaign plan. On that score, they’re right — considering how well the war is going, he needn’t be so humble. As for the other complaints, though
Critics such as retired Army General Barry McCaffrey say another heavy division should have been included to fight the Republican Guard. Rumsfeld agrees, that’s why the campaign plan included a second front and the 4th Infantry Division attacking from the north. Only one problem: Turkey denied use of its bases, forcing the 4th I.D. to shift to the south and start late. Not Rummy’s fault.
Critics say when Turkey denied base access, hostilities should have been delayed until the southern front could be reinforced. Apparently the critics don’t recall military concerns about fighting in the heat, humidity and sandstorms of mid-spring. Last week’s sandstorm and the record temperatures predicted for this weekend underscore why a “rolling start” was necessary.
Critics say more troops should have been sent sooner to cope with problems like the Turks and fedayeen. Great idea in retrospect, but the U.S. was trying to be circumspect about mobilization last fall so that diplomatic efforts would not be undermined. If the administration had followed Rumsfeld’s advice and avoided the U.N., the force could have deployed sooner and bigger.
Critics say the plan was biased in favor of air power and special forces, at the expense of armored forces. Could this have anything to do with the chronic difficulty of deploying heavy forces in places like Serbia and Afghanistan? Rumsfeld thought the Afghan war showed how air power and unconventional tactics could compensate for a lighter ground force. Looks like he was right.
Critics say that the war will take longer because an inadequate force was sent. Longer than what? Two weeks into the campaign, U.S. forces are at the gates of Baghdad while having suffered very light casualties. The oilfields are secure. The Republican Guard and Iraqi irregulars are rapidly being wiped out. Saddam is missing in action. The campaign has moved very fast and been hugely successful.
The critics are right that Rumsfeld’s views played a role in shaping the campaign plan. So far, that looks like one of the best things about the whole operation.
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