rumsfeld to quit, betrayed trust of armed forces

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    Democrats and Republicans join
    chorus calling for Rumsfeld to quit

    US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld is coming under growing fire from critics over his icy exchange last week with an American soldier over why US troops in Iraq don’t have adequate armour for vehicles, with Republicans and Democrats alike joining the chorus of calls for Rumsfeld to quit.

    In the exchange, which took place during a visit by Rumsfeld to an American military base in Kuwait last week, Thomas Wilson, a soldier from the US National Guard, asked:

    "Mr Secretary, why do we soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal to armour our Humvees and trucks, and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?"

    In widely broadcast and published remarks, Rumsfeld, who is known for his arrogance, replied:

    "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

    Rumsfeld has had frequent run-ins with journalists, legislators and other interlocutors. But this time he seems to have gone too far.

    His remarks have provoked fury among fellow Republicans, Democrats, rank-and-file soldiers, influential military thinkers and retired brass. His words were seized on by critics as evidence of arrogance and being out of touch with the reality of a war in which some 1,300 US soldiers have been killed and more than 10,000 injured.

    Critics said Rumsfeld’s brusque dismissal of Wilson’s concerns raises questions about whether he has publicly betrayed the trust of the men and women in the US armed forces, and whether they have lost faith in his leadership.

    Only a fortnight ago, the White House announced that President George W Bush had asked Rumsfeld (who, at 72, is the oldest ever serving US defence secretary) to stay on into his second term.

    Since then, however, at least four senior Republican senators, as well as William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, the neo-conservatives’ house magazine, have called for Rumsfeld’s dismissal.

    "That soldier and those men and women there (in Iraq) deserved a far better answer from their secretary of defence than a flippant comment," Senator Chuch Hagel, Republican-Nebraska, said on CNN’s "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

    The controversy escalated quickly into a full-fledged attack on Rumsfeld.

    "No CEO in America would retain a manager with so clear a record of failure, and neither should President Bush," House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

    Rumsfeld’s remark was "very troubling," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, adding her voice to those of Republican senators John McCain of Arizona, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and former Senate majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

    Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to Rumsfeld that his answer to troops in Kuwait was "troubling."

    Collins noted that she had brought up her concerns about the shortage of body armour and fortified Humvees for troops in Iraq during a committee hearing in March with a top Pentagon official.

    "I remain concerned that, more than eight months later, the Department of Defence still has been unable to ensure that our troops have the equipment they need to perform their mission as safely as possible," she wrote in a letter dated December 15.

    McCain said last week that he had no confidence in Rumsfeld and called on him to resign. Lott said he hoped Rumsfeld would step down sometime next year, but fell short of calling for his immediate resignation.

    "I’m not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld," said Lott, speaking to the Chamber of Commerce in Biloxi, Mississippi, on Wednesday. "I don’t think he listens enough to his uniformed officers."

    But the White House defended Rumsfeld concerning the Pentagon’s handling of the continuing fighting in Iraq and mounting US casualties.

    "The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job, and that’s why he asked him to continue to serve during this time of war," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

    "President Bush believes that Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person for the challenges that we face going forward in the war on terrorism," McClellan told reporters - conveniently glossing over the fact that the fighting in Iraq has nothing to do with the so-called "war on terrorism." The Iraqis fighting the US occupation troops in Iraq are resistance fighters, not "terrorists."

    Democrats on Saturday said US soldiers in Iraq lacked adequate body armour and plated vehicles because of Rumsfeld’s flawed leadership.

    Senator Dick Durban, Democrat-Illinois, in the Democrats’ weekly radio address, blasted the Pentagon under Rumsfeld’s stewardship for "a litany of serious miscalculations" including underestimating the Iraqis resistance and failing to give US troops enough protective equipment even though Congress gave it all the money it requested.

    "The Pentagon says the lack of protective equipment is a matter of ‘logistics.’ No, it’s not. It’s a matter of leadership," Durbin said.

    "Those responsible for this war were not prepared for the reality on the ground, and many of our soldiers have paid the price," he said.

    "Now Congress has given the administration every penny it has requested for Iraq and Afghanistan," Durbin said. But he said 21 months after the US-led invasion of Iraq, 3,500 Humvees there still lacked protective armour, and about 80 per cent of other vehicles American troops are using in Iraq also were unarmoured.

    "How in the world can the Pentagon have billions of dollars for no-bid contracts for companies like Halliburton - but not enough money to provide basic equipment for our troops?" Durbin said.

    US Vice-President Dick Cheney was CEO of the Houston-based oil-services giant Halliburton Corporation for five years before resigning to become George W Bush’s running mate in the 2000 presidential campaign.

    Cheney’s years at Halliburton were enormously profitable for him personally. With a net worth today of over $ 150 million, he is by far the richest of the top 100 officials in the Bush administration,

    When Cheney left Halliburton in July 2000, he received a $ 35 million severance package from the company. As US vice-president, he continues to receive $ 100,000 a year from Halliburton under a deferred payment arrangement. He also has $ 18 million worth of stock options in the company.

    In a move that smacks of payback time, the Bush administration has aware more than $ 12 billion worth of reconstruction contracts in Iraq to Halliburton and its construction subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, through a no-bid process notably lacking in transparency.

    Durbin said that Rumsfeld owed the soldier who posed the question on armour to him earlier this month and all Americans answers.

    "We can and we should armour every Humvee and every truck our troops use in Iraq and Afghanistan. No more excuses or delays," Durbin said.

    Criticism of Rumsfeld is also audible within the military high command at the Pentagon, which has long been unhappy at the defence secretary’s insistence on fighting the war in Iraq with what, in their view, is "too small a force without enough armour."

    It is another matter, of course, that the Iraqis who are facing attacks by the mighty American military machine have no armour at all and continue to die in their hundreds and thousands.

    According to the highly respected British medical journal Lancet, some 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the fighting since the American invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. More than 80 per cent of the Iraqis killed were innocent civilians, including women and children. Compared to the huge number of Iraqi casualties, the number of US casualties (1,300 dead to date) is very low.

    The US military, for its part, says it does not keep count of Iraqi casualties, only of American casualties - an attitude so callous as to almost defy belief.

    Adding his voice to the growing criticism of Rumsfeld over the armour issue, former US army general Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of American forces in the 1990-91 Gulf War, said: "I was angry when Rumsfeld laid it all on the army, as if he, as the secretary of defence, didn’t have anything to do with the army."

    Meanwhile, the US National Guard announced on Friday that its recruiting was running 30 per cent below requirements, raising the risk of manpower strains.

    As Britain’s Independent newspaper pointed out in a report in its online edition on Saturday, "The National Guard accounts for a quarter of US troop strength in Iraq, crucial in the run-up to the elections scheduled for the end of January."

    But for Rumsfeld to step down now, the paper added, "would amount to an admission that major mistakes had been made in Iraq - highly unlikely from a president who is famously reluctant to admit to the slightest error."

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