Bush circles wagons, cavalry join Indians

Jim Lobe

In the old Hollywood westerns, the white settlers circle the wagons to defend themselves against attacks by the Indians until the US Cavalry can arrive to rescue them and chase off their assailants. But in Washington over the last few days it seems that the Cavalry has joined the Indians. President Bush, backed by his vice president and national security adviser, have been circling the wagons around Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld since the White House told reporters that the president had given him a mild rebuke over the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq. But the embattled Pentagon chief may have made too made enemies particularly — within his armed forces — to be saved.

While Bush praised Rumsfeld for “doing a superb job” during a rare visit to the Pentagon Monday morning, his words were somehow unable to overcome the distinct sounds of knives being sharpened in the hallways just outside, as well as across town on Capitol Hill and at the State Department, where Secretary of State Colin Powell compared the possible impact on US foreign policy of the abuse photographs to the 1969 disclosure of the infamous My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. The news of the day was that the Army Times, which, along with the major dailies of the other armed services, is published by a private company, called for both Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, to step down in light of the scandal surrounding the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. The ex-military and even active-duty military have become increasingly outspoken about their unhappiness with the way the war has been conducted. A number of prominent retired officers, such as the former head of the US Central Command, Gen. Anthony Zinni, and his counterpart in the Southern Command, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, have warned for more than a year that Rumsfeld, in his zeal to ‘’transform’’ the military into a ‘’leaner, meaner’’ global force, was dangerously overstretching the US army, particularly in Iraq.

Top army officers have also made little secret of their resentment of the way Rumsfeld and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dismissed the former Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki. Shinseki presciently warned before the war that at least 200,000 troops would be needed to occupy Iraq after an invasion. Wolfowitz denounced that estimate as ‘’wildly off the mark’’, while, in a major break with tradition, neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attended Shinseki’s farewell ceremony where he cautioned against ‘’a 12-division strategy for a 10-division army.’’ Even more remarkable, perhaps, was the a front-page article Sunday by the Post’s veteran military correspondent, Tom Ricks, titled, “Dissension Grows in Senior Ranks on War Strategy”. The article quoted army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, as insisting that US forces were winning the war in Iraq at the tactical level but, ‘’strategically, we are (losing it).’’

That anger may well be responsible for the most significant defection to date among Republican Party lawmakers from the White House line that calls from members of the Democratic Party for Rumsfeld’s resignation are politically motivated. On Sunday, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a TV interview on the CBS network, ‘’It’s still in question whether ... Rumsfeld and, quite frankly, General Myers can command the respect and the trust and the confidence of the military,’’ given their handling of the prison abuse scandal. — IPS