U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted on Friday the United States had probably made thousands of errors in Iraq but defended the overall strategy of removing Saddam Hussein.The military, who deserve better treatment than they get at the hands of Republicans, is in charge of tactics. The civilian policy makers in Washington are responsible for stategy. Secretary Rice no doubt thought she was being quite progressive, since she was admitting to any mistake at all - admittedly a big step for this administration. But she was, in fact, putting the burden of responsiblity for Iraq's lamentable state on the military. When I heard that comment, I reacted as if I had smelled something foul, like being a 12 year old forced to clean out the cooler after a few too many hot days. Her comments were on March 31, and General Newbold spoke out on April 9.
"Yes, I know we have made tactical errors, thousands of them," she said in answer to a question over whether lessons had been learned since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
And since this whole General's Revolt storyline has focused on one man, Donald Rumsfeld, I think we can introduce one of the Secretary's valuable Rules under the heading Keeping Your Bearings in the White House:
When asked for your views, by the press or others, remember that what they really want to know is the president's views.President Bush and Condoleezza Rice have a widely reported close relationship. They finish each other's sentences. Her views most certainly reflect his, and that's why it's politically dangerous.
This is why the Revolt hurts military-civilian relations: because the civilians are politicians. The plain truth - that there were strategic errors made again and again - is politically devastating and so must be fought by the administration, thereby pitting the two groups against each other. When the inevitable blame game comes for the failure of the Iraq misadventure it will be politically devastating for the military to say that it was the civilian leadership that was making strategic errors, rather than military leaders making tactical ones.
Backed into that corner, out comes the caricatured response that is almost too predictable at this point. On Fox News, which I was watching as I was waiting for Fox News Sunday to come on, the Generals were being discussed on a segment moderated by Page Hopkins. The guests were "strategists" - a Republican and a Democratic. The Democrat's statement didn't strike me as anything out of the ordinary, but my ears perked up when the Republican started responding. This middleaged woman was calling retired generals "Ninnies!" Actually using the word "ninnies!" Poor Page Hopkins gasped in astonishment off-camera. She went so far as to say that speaking out now was an act of cowardice, since they didn't say anything while they were still in a place to do something about it, thereby calling a number of them liars as well. She got in at least one more Ninny-call before a break, and poor Page had to gasp over and over. It was remarkable.
The responsibilty for all facets of the Iraq debacle rests on the civilian policy makers in Washington. We cannot allow the military to be tarnished like it was after Vietnam when it was the Bush Administration at fault.