Generals underline Rumsfeld's folly

The flap over Rumsfeld shows what can happen when ideologues manage a war.

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Success, it is said, has a thousand fathers while failure is oft an orphan. It is perhaps overly simple to attribute to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld alone paternity for policies that have left Iraq in the throes of communal violence and without a functioning government. But the current flap over Mr. Rumsfeld generated by several retired generals underlines what can happen when ideologues manage a war.

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, now safely ensconced in the World Bank, may reflect on how he marginalized former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki as "wildly off the mark" after General Shinseki told Congress, based on his experience in Bosnia, that Iraq might require several hundred thousand troops. Later - like three years later - former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers says that Shinseki was "inappropriately criticized."

Then there was Vice President Dick Cheney, who predicted that the war would last "weeks rather than months." Mr. Cheney was also the one who predicted that the invading forces would be "greeted as liberators."

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I recall these quotes because it is so unusual to have civilian control of the military end up with civilians out of control.

Five years ago, when Rumsfeld took over at the Pentagon, he quickly moved to assert greater civilian control over the top military officers. But The Wall Street Journal says that now his grip is slipping as some uniformed officers increasingly chart their own course. One retired colonel described Rumsfeld as "increasingly a spent force."

That being so, the question may not be whether the president will call for his resignation, but how long Rumsfeld will want to serve as his influence wanes.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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