April 11, 2006

Top officer defends Rumsfeld

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer on
Tuesday defended Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld against
three retired generals demanding his ouster, and denied that
the United States invaded Iraq without sufficiently weighing
its plan.

Standing next to Rumsfeld at a Pentagon briefing, Marine
Corps Gen. Pete Pace said critics could legitimately question
the defense secretary's judgment but not his motives.

"People can question my judgment or his (Rumsfeld's)
judgment," Pace said. "But they should never question the
dedication, the patriotism and the work ethic of Secretary

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, Army Maj.
Gen. Paul Eaton and Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni have
recently separately called for Rumsfeld to be replaced. This
comes as opinion polls show eroding public support for the
3-year-old war in which about 2,360 U.S. troops have died.

"I don't know how many generals there have been in the last
five years that have served in the United States armed services
-- hundreds and hundreds and hundreds," said Rumsfeld, whom
critics have accused of bullying senior military officers and
stifling dissent.

"And there are several who have opinions, and there's
nothing wrong with people having opinions. And I think one
ought to expect that when you're involved in something that's
controversial as certainly this war is," he said.

Newbold, the military's top operations officer before the
Iraq war, said he regretted not speaking up more forcefully
against what he now regards as an unnecessary war and a
diversion from "the real threat" posed by al Qaeda.

In a Time magazine opinion piece on Sunday, Newbold
encouraged officers still in the military to voice any doubts
they have about the war.

"My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to
this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the
special province of those who have never had to execute these
missions -- or bury the results," Newbold wrote.

Newbold said he went public with the private encouragement
of some still in positions of military leadership.

Pace, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff,
questioned whether Newbold knew all the facts about the
invasion plans, noting he retired in September 2002, six months
before the invasion took place.

"It's also important to go back and take a look, when you
look at people talking: When did their personal knowledge end?"
Pace said, noting that the war plan changed many times after
Newbold's departure.


Pace said the war plan was thoroughly vetted before the
operation was launched.

"We had discussions in the department, we had discussions
in the National Security Council, we had discussions with the
president. And they were extensive discussions. An awful lot of
people around were not shy about giving their views," he said.

Pace said when now-retired Central Command head Gen. Tommy
Franks presented the final invasion plan "we were satisfied
that he had a good, executable plan, and we so told the
secretary of defense and the president of the United States."

Rumsfeld said he was unaware that Newbold had publicly or
privately questioned the war plan.

Eaton, in charge of training the Iraqi military from
2003-2004, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece last month
that Rumsfeld had put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego.

"In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically,
operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else
responsible for what has happened to our important mission in
Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down," he wrote.

Pace said he did not know whether Eaton ever voiced his
concerns before leaving the military.