Jason Leopold: Rumsfeld's Lethal Denial

Published: Mon 6 Nov 2006 02:24 PM
Rumsfeld's Lethal Denial
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 03 November 2006
As the Iraq war continues to claim the lives of American troops on a near-daily basis and the country inches closer toward civil war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants the public to know that the carnage really isn't as bad as it seems.
"Progress is being made everywhere across the country," Rumsfeld said during a radio interview Wednesday, a transcript of which is posted on the Defense Department's web-site. "We're doing a great job of training and equipping their forces and passing over responsibility to them."
That's the visual Rumsfeld and other senior members want to indelibly etch into the minds of the American people when the public goes to the polls next week.
Five days before the hotly contested midterm elections, Rumsfeld, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and senior members of the administration are crisscrossing the country, using far-right media outlets to send a distorted message to the American people about the reality on the ground in Iraq, where 103 US troops were killed in October - the fourth highest monthly figure since the start of the war more than three years ago.
But it's not just the public the White House is duping.
Last month, the White House circulated an internal email, "Iraq Update: Political Progress," which included positive assessments of the war.
The email came on the heels of a blistering attack by one of their own - Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who said the situation in Iraq was "drifting sideways."
At the time, Warner had just returned from a trip to Iraq, which included a stop in Baghdad. He told reporters that if the violence did not begin to subside, the US should immediately consider a "change of course."
Susan Collins, the Republican Senator from Maine, agreed.
"We've heard over and over that as Iraqis stand up, our troops will stand down," Collins said in an interview with the New York Times October 7. "Well, there are now hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops and security forces, and yet we have not seen any reduction in violence."
Perhaps Warner's and Collins's remarks were more about election season politics than a representation of their true feelings. Still, in the weeks since the senators broke ranks with their colleagues, the violence has worsened, and it appears ever more likely that tens of thousands of additional US troops will be deployed to the region.
At first, the White House blamed the escalating violence and the surge in the number of casualties on the Muslim holiday Ramadan. But the bodies of US soldiers continued to pile up even after Ramadan ended on October 23.
Now the administration has settled on a new rationale for the uptick in violence: terrorists are trying to impact next week's elections by slaughtering Iraqi civilians and American servicemen and women.
Moreover, according to Rumsfeld, terrorists are "trying to break the will of the American people," by manipulating the media into believing the war isn't going well and in doing so terrorists are shifting the "center of gravity away from the battlefield."
"You know, they're very good at manipulating the American press and managing the news in a way that advantages them and tries to break the will of the American people," Rumsfeld said during his interview with WPTF in Raleigh. "And they're good at it, they know what they're doing, they consciously plan their attacks to achieve that end. The military always talks about the center of gravity of a conflict, and logically one would think it would be in Afghanistan or Iraq or in the struggle against the violent extremists ... But in fact, because they are so calculating in attempting to break the will and to terrorize people and to alter our behavior, the center of gravity of this conflict very much is back in the United States. And they're very good at attempting to alter our behavior."
In response to what he sees as slanted news coverage of the war, Rumsfeld, who last week told reporters to "back off" when faced with hard-hitting questions about whether progress is being made in Iraq, is overseeing the launch of a Pentagon news channel that will convey stories about the successes in Iraq.
If that sounds like the start of a propaganda campaign it's because that's exactly what it is.
How can a reputable news organization cover stories about schools being built or roads being paved in one small part of the Iraq when a major city such as Baghdad (population 6 million) is so rife with violence that US soldiers are being picked off at the rate of three to five a day?
By and large it has been Rumsfeld's disastrous war planning that has led us into the quagmire we now face.
In October 2002, Rumsfeld ordered the military's regional commanders to rewrite all of their war plans to capitalize on precision weapons, better intelligence, and speedier deployment in the event the United States decided to invade Iraq.
The goal was to use fewer ground troops, a move that caused dismay among some in the military, who said that concern for the troops requires overwhelming numerical superiority to assure victory.
Rumsfeld refused to listen to his military commanders, saying that his plan would allow the military "to begin combat operations on less notice and with far fewer troops than thought possible - or thought wise - before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks," the New York Times reported in its October 13, 2002, edition.
Military officials viewed Rumsfeld's approach as injecting too much risk into war planning and said it could result in US casualties that might be prevented by amassing larger forces, according to published reports.
Still, more than three years after bombs reigned down on Baghdad, the US military that Rumsfeld presides over is still totally unprepared for battle.
In September, Democratic congressman John Murtha released a 12-page report outlining severe shortfalls plaguing the US Army. Murtha, a 37- year Marine Corps veteran who entered the political arena in 1974, said Rumsfeld bears full responsibility for the military's consistent readiness failures.
"Many Army combat and support units scheduled to deploy to Iraq in 2007 will have less than the required one year period for rest and re- training," the report says. "This is one of the key indicators that lead many Army officials to conclude that current deployment rates cannot be sustained without breaking the force."
The report is based on detailed, internal Army documents his staff requested over the past few months.
The findings are damning.
"In effect, the Army has become a 'hand-to-mouth' organization," the report says. "Its inability to get ahead of the deployment and training curves is rooted in the Secretary's miscalculations and blind optimism about troop and industrial surge requirements for the US occupation of Iraq."
Furthermore, "thousands of key Army weapons platforms - such as tanks, Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles - sit in disuse at Army maintenance depots for lack of funding ... there are over 600 tanks - enough for one full Army division - sitting at Anniston Army Depot."
Career military officials have long believed the reason the Iraq war hasn't been a "cakewalk," as Bush administration officials described it prior to the March 2003 US-led attack, is because of the flawed war plan Rumsfeld designed in 2002.
Those predictions have been borne out over the past 41 months, and that is of grave concern to Murtha, who spent most of his life in the military. Murtha said at a news conference in September that issues plaguing today's military are so severe that "of the 16 active-duty, non-deployed combat brigades in the United States managed by the Army's Forces Command, the vast majority of them are rated at the lowest readiness ratings."
"The situation facing the Army Guard and Reserve is comparatively worse," Murtha added. "Of all the Guard units not currently mobilized, about four-fifths received the lowest readiness rating. Personnel shortages are the major reason behind the decline in Guard and Reserve readiness - shortages created for the most part by mobilizations having lapsed or personnel having been pulled from units to augment others. Perhaps most troubling to many of the Army's senior uniformed leaders is the lack of national attention to the Army's plight."
On Tuesday, in the face of the numerous failures in Iraq that have happened under his watch, including the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, President Bush reaffirmed his support for Rumsfeld.
For many, particularly the readers of, pointing out the disingenuous statements of this administration and their total disregard for the truth is simply preaching to the choir.
But lately, there have been a few conservative pundits, some Republican lawmakers and undecided voters who are beginning to question whether their loyalty to President Bush is misplaced in light of the fact that situation in Iraq is, and will likely remain, chaotic.
For those of us who have long recognized the obvious with regard to Iraq, the public pronouncements of "progress" and the like are not much different from "Heckuva job, Brownie."
The images of death and destruction, though, tell a different story than what President Bush and his senior cabinet members would have you believe. And now, at least according to numerous national polls, a majority of the people in this country are realizing that too.
Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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