Neal Conan: Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has come under fire from retired US generals who demand his departure for what they call "broad failures in Iraq." Secretary Rumsfeld has heard calls for his head before, notably after the ghastly images from Abu Ghraib came to light a couple of years ago. But the generals present a different indictment. "Arrogant," "hubris," "micromanagement," "incompetence," "refusal to admit strategic and operational errors," and "refusal to accept sound military advice when it was offered." The President has defended his Secretary and, after the charges surfaced, a second group of generals emerged to support Secretary Rumsfeld and attack his critics as opponents of military transformation and, in some cases, as officers trying to deflect blame from their own mistakes. Beyond the substance of the case, many in uniform and out question the circumstances. It is highly unusual for even retired military officers to criticize civilian leadership in public, especially in time of war. The issue is not dissent, per se, but the basic constitutional principle that places the military firmly under the control of civilians. We'll talk with one of Secretary Rumsfeld's critics. Later in the program, Senator John Kerry joins us on the thirty-fifty anniversary of his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the war in Vietnam...
We begin with retired Major General John Batiste, a West Point graduate who retired last year after 31 years in the Army. He commanded the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq and in Kosovo. He's now president of Klein Steel Services. General, nice to have you on the program today!
General John Batiste: Neal, thank you! I appreciate the invitation!
Calling on Rumsfeld to step down
Conan: You're calling on Secretary Rumsfeld to step down. Why?
Batiste: Absolutely. For a series of reasons. One, he made some strategic blunders with decisions taken before and in the initial phases of the operation in Iraq. And secondly, he treated military with contempt, with dismissiveness and arrogance, would not listen to sound military advice.
Conan: You turned down, reportedly, a promotion to three stars. Before you decided to step down, was that the reason why?
Batiste: Neal, I had, by all accounts, a very promising career in the military. I elected to retire on principle in part so that you and I could be having this discussion today. You know, if I was still in uniform, I'd be violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Conan: Yet a lot of people remember the example of General Shinseki, then the Army Chief of Staff, who was asked his military opinion before the US Congress and said he thought maybe 350,000 troops were going to be needed after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and he was retired a year early.
Batiste: He was certainly retired and replaced. A lot of us took note of the shabby treatment that he received. A very distinguished officer who quite frankly knew what he was talking about.
Was the generals' dissent coordinated?
Conan: Were you among those officers -- again, you commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq -- who brought up these criticisms privately in channels to the Secretary?
Batiste: Listen, we always dealt within the system, within the military. We had great debates within the military. Candid. Very heated. But at a point in time a commander makes a decision. And then you have two options. One, you can either execute the best idea you've ever heard or you can get out! I personally chose to stay with my soldiers in combat to complete the mission as best we could.
Conan: You said you had these disagreements within the chain of command. You didn't go outside that chain of command and send anything directly to the Secretary.
Batiste: I didn't go outside the chain of command. No. I stayed right where I needed to be.
Conan: I wonder -- now that you've come out in public with seven other generals it should be said... And for one thing, some people have been asking whether this was coordinated in anyway?
Batiste: Not it's not! Isn't that something! It's all spontaneous because it's the right thing to do.
Conan: And the other question that some people are saying is that when you have prominent retired officers questioning their civilian leadership, the Secretary of Defense, calling for him to step down during a time of war, that brings into question the principle of civilian control of the military.
Batiste: Neal, civilian control of the military is fundamental. We must have it. There's no question about that. What we have here is a question of accountability, a series of strategic blunders which took away what should have been a very deliberate victory and created a prolonged challenge. Let there be no mistake: we will win the war on terrorism. We must complete what we started in Iraq. But it didn't need to be this hard. We went to war with the wrong plan. I'm not saying at all that we should have repeated what we did in the Gulf War in 1991. But we needed to consider the hard work to build the peace after we took down the regime. I'm afraid that our leadership hand-waved that away. We set the conditions for Abu Ghraib. We have our young soldiers, in some cases untrained and poorly led, ambiguous rules for the treatment of prisoners in interrogation. On top of that, you had insufficient boots on the ground over there so that our commanders, who should have been focused on leading and planning and anticipating opportunities, were focused on managing shortages. Incredibly frustrating. On top of that, you had senior civilian leadership in the Department of Defense who chose to stand down the Iraq military. When you're fighting an insurgency -- which should have been no surprise to anybody if you've read even a little bit about the history of Iraq and the complexity of its tribes, its religious factions, the Sunni and the Shia, and the ethnic diversity, Arab and Kurd, you know there's going to be an insurgency. The Brits had this experience back in the last century in spades. So the last thing you want to do is stand down such an important institution. We would have figured out who the bad apples were in that bunch and gotten rid of them! But we needed the military -- the Iraqi military and the police, an institution that was respected -- to keep this thing going and build the peace in a very deliberate fashion.
An active duty soldier disagrees with the generals
Conan: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. ...Daniel is calling us from Texas.
Daniel: I'm an active duty soldier right now. I've been over there to the theatre. A lot of this sounds like armchair quarterbacking on the Saturday after the Super Bowl. Since anyone ever enters the military, they're taught you never talk bad about your chain of command, especially in front of everybody, when there's more constructive channels to go about it. I just wonder what these generals... I saw General the other day saying that, Oh, wouldn't you expect this of somebody if the soldiers are going to war with poor equipment. I'd say yeah, I'd expect the generals to make complaints through the proper channels, perhaps bring it up to the Secretary in a letter they could all sign instead of just going on air and trying to bash everyone in the upper echelons of the military.
Batiste: Let me just say first to the caller, thank you for the service to your country. You're absolutely wonderful... The answer to that is pretty simple. We could not effect change from within. We have a long war on terrorism in front of us. This going to go on... anybody's guess. And there are some really signifiant decisions that will have to be made in the near future about any number of actions that we must take and my point is -- and others, I think -- that why not have a Secretary of Defense whose instinct and judgment and motivation we trust, who has a good track record to make those really important decisions for our country.
Daniel: I just wonder. Basically when times are hard, every single leader has always been criticized. Everyone from Lincoln... Nobody liked Ulysses Grant in the very beginning of the Civil War when he wasn't bringing in the victories. I just wonder. Hindsight's 20/20. Who is there to say exactly who is going to be successful as Secretary of Defense and who is not. Personally I have no great love for the Secretary, but that is our chain of command and I feel we should support him and any complaint necessary should be made through proper channels, observing proper protocol.
Conan: Thanks very much, Daniel. Let's bring in another voice now. Mike Davidson joins us. He retired from the staff of the Joint Chiefs five years ago with the rank of Major General. ... Nice to have you back on the program, Mike!
Mike Davidson: Thank you, Neal. And I had the great good pleasure of serving on the Joint staff with John Batiste down the hall from me!
Conan: Given what he has had to say, I wonder. You've not come out publicly on either side of this issue. Where do you come down?
Davidson: I haven't come out publicly and probably won't. I'm glad John and the other guys have raised those issues. If retired generals don't raise that kind of issue, where's it going to come from? I think it's a first-rate thing to do. I'm not sure we ought to spend the next six months worrying about whether the Secretary of Defense stays. The President says he's the decider. He says he has decided. I think we ought to take this energy, which is great, and turn it toward relooking some of these policies in Iraq which everyone will admit have not worked as well as we had hoped.
Accountability in the Department of Defense
Conan: What about that issue that General Batiste raises about accountability? Somebody's got to take responsibility for those errors which were made.
Davidson: Well, they can do that when they write the history books. What I would rather do is take that energy and go through some of these policies that even the Secretary of Defense will tell you have not worked out the way they had hoped.
Conan: What about that issue of civilian control of the military? to have generals holding the Secretary of Defense responsible in time of war? Doesn't that raise questions?
Davidson: It does not. I know you're knowledgeable enough about this... I don't think that's a serious issue. Let me tell you why, very briefly. The last general officer that I'm aware of, or have read about, that went in and gave the President of the US bad news was Matthew Ridgeway in 1954 when he tried to get the Air Force and the Navy successfully to not use nuclear weapons around the jungle at Dien Bien Phu. Since then we have created such a massive bureaucracy between our senior generals and the President that somebody's got to come up on the net and talk about things that aren't working well. That's what I think John and the others guys have done. It's truly an act of conscience, an act of integrity, and something we ought to be glad we've got guys that will do it.
"Dereliction of Duty"
Conan: Let's see if we can get some more listeners on the line. Annette's calling us from Arlington, Virginia.
Annette: As the daughter of a retired Air Force general and the wife of an Air Force colonel, I'm very interested in the idea of dissent as patriotism. I am wondering what General Batiste thinks of Mr. McMasters' dissertation-turned-book, "Dereliction of Duty," and the fact that Mr. McMasters is still on active duty.
Conan: Col. McMasters' book was about Vietnam. General Batiste?
Batiste: I think that the book, "Dereliction of Duty," is something everyone ought to read. I think Col. McMasters had every right to write it while he was on active duty. It was some years after the Vietnam War, and I think that's a healthy discourse that we must have.
Conan: General Davidson, you were a 2nd Lieutenant in the Rangers in Vietnam and sometimes at the end of a very lonely line. I wonder whether you thought at that time that senior officers ought to be speaking out?
Davidson: At that time I thought a senior officer was a captain! My policy position consisted of an AR rifle and four young soldiers. So I never gave it a thought! I was somewhat responsible for HR's [McMasters'] going down the road: my doctoral dissertation became an article which became a footnote in his book. So I'm not blameless on that issue!
Conan: But you think in retrospect senior officers should have spoken out about Vietnam?
Davidson: They absolutely should have. And that was a time when Maxwell Taylor did not go to the White House and tell the President that he was looking at an enormous risk. So I would tell you that Matthew Ridgeway served Dwight Eisenhower a lot better in Vietnam in the '50's than all of the generals, including Maxwell Taylor -- and he certainly wasn't the only one -- served Lyndon Johnson. And if we had that perceptive comment that Daniel, the caller, made earlier about hindsight being 20/20, I'll bet you when Lyndon Johnson declined to run for president in '68, he would have thought the same thing.
Annette: I was wondering whether General Batiste feels as though there is any constructive dissent going on now, or whether everyone has been cowed?
Batiste: Well, I think, Annette, that those on active duty really need to speak for themselves. I can tell you that the senior civilian leadership in the Department of Defense has been very dismissive and contemptuous of senior militaries. And sadly I think that one of the jobs of senior military officers is to be 1) competent in the principlies of war, and then 2) willing to stand up and be heard when it counts.
Annette: God bless you! Thank you very much! You speak for a lot of people on active duty.
The anger and disgust of soldiers
Conan: Let's turn now to Ann calling from San Jose.
Ann: Hi! ... ...My son is a Staff Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne and he just returned a few months ago from his third deployment to Iraq and I just would like to say thank you, General, and to all of the generals who are speaking out on behalf of those who are wearing the uniform and who are boots on the ground over there in Iraq. My son has said for a long time that Rumsfeld has made such a mess of this war. He's so disgusted and I can't thank you enough for speaking out. I think it's important for people to know how many of the mid-level NCO's are leaving the military because they're so disenchanted with the levels of bureaucracy, with the poor decision-making, and with what they're seeing. The last group that were [ ? ] out were about 70% of fairly high-level NCO's. I think people need to be aware of what this civilian administration is doing to the military. Whether you believe in the military or not, whether you believe in the war or not, I think it's important for us to look at what's going on within that institution.
Batiste: Wow! My response is God bless service men and women and their families.
Conan: Ann does raise a question that has come up from your critics, General Batiste, and that is by saying your leaders ... are incompetent, you might be affecting morale, too.
Batiste: Oh, nonsense! This is not affecting morale at all. The enemy fears our great men and women in Iraq and other places today as much as they did two weeks ago, before I spoke out. This is all about doing the right thing. The harder right instead of the easier wrong. It's calling a spade a spade. It's holding people accountable for their mistakes. And frankly, the stakes are pretty high. We have a long war in front of us, and I for one, a citizen of the US, think we deserve senior leadership in the Department of Defense whose instincts and judgments we trust.
Conan: Let's talk now with Don who's calling us from Louisiana.
Don: Hi. I want to commend the general for speaking out. I'm a retired Army medical officer. I was an Airborne Ranger, Special Forces. Many of us retirees -- I retired in '99 -- have been wondering what's going on, who's in charge up there. As the General knows, the commander is responsible for everything that happens on the battlefield and everything that doesn't happen on the battlefield. Many of us want to know, where was the chain of command with an issue like Abu Ghraib? Where are the 1st sergeants, the sergeant-majors, and then those senior officers who are responsible? How is it that they could just hang those young soldiers out to dry? To me that was one of the most despicable instances of the lack of military leadership that I have seen in the thirty years I've been associated with the military.
Conan: General Batiste, is that one of the issues of accountability you think Secretary Rumsfeld owes for?
Batiste: I do. I think Abu Ghraib is a national disgrace and it never should have happened. It came out, as I said earlier, because there were ambiguous rules established that they changed all too often for the treatment of prisoners and interrogation procedures. As I said, we had commanders on the ground then, in 2003 and early 2004, who were so consumed by the challenges of managing shortages, they didn't have enough boots on the ground to accomplish the mission. They were so consumed with that, that we didn't pay enough attention to leading, to supervising and anticipating an opportunity on the battlefield.
Conan: Let's bring another voice into the conversation, now. Andrew Bacevich, a professor of International Relations at Boston University, and also a retired colonel in the Army. He joins us on the phone from his office at BU. Professor, nice to have you on the program today!
Importance of keeping military out of civilian politics and under civilian control
Bacevich: Thanks for having me.
Conan: Professor, the Military Code traditionally bars members of the military from engaging in civilian politics and publicly challenging civilian leadership especially in times of war. Does this "revolt of the generals," if you will, does it give you pause?
Bacevich: I must admit I'm on the other side of the fence from General Batiste on this. I guess I'm on the same side certainly in the sense that I find great fault with Secretary Rumsfeld and believe that he should have been fired long ago. But having said that, it's not the business of generals to hold civilian officials accountable. It's the business of the Congress and it's the business of the people. I wouldn't for a second question the right of retired officers to speak out, but I think that they probably ought to think carefully about the wisdom of exercising that right. If the dissident generals succeed in ousting Secretary Rumsfeld, they will in fact be subverting the principle of civilian control, regardless of where one stands on the war. And I would emphasize I am against the war. Regardless of where you stand on the war, one ought to be very careful about subverting that crucial principle.
Conan: How does this play out? How is this a threat?
Bacevich: Well, I think it's a threat if tomorrow Rumsfeld announces that he has resigned, regardless of what the President says, it will be understood that he was fired; regardless of what the President says, it will be understood that he was fired because he fell out of favor with senior officers. In effect, we will have created a situation in which future secretaries of defense will be seen to be serving at the pleasure of the generals, in which secretaries will in part be appointed based on whether or not they are perceived to be acceptable to military officers, in which senior officials will have to be looking over their shoulders to try to make sure that they are satisfying general officers. And again, that's not civilian control. That is something other than civilian control. Going all the way back to the founding of this Republic and the modelling done by General George Washington, civilian control has been a paramount value. We ought not to tamper with that.
Batiste: I absolutely agree with Andrew. Civilian control is important. We'll never back away from that. Remember, I hung up my uniform and I never abrogated my rights as an American citizen to speak out. This is all about accountability and there is no leader in any organization I've ever seen who's indispensable. If I had been killed or wounded as a commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, there would have been a replacement identified instantaneously, and that major general and that division would not have missed a beat. I would tell you that the same is true of the Department of Defense. Civilian control is important. It's paramount. But this is a point in history. This was gut-wrenching for guys like me to do this. We did it because it's the right thing to do.
Conan: General Davidson, he's talking about gut-wrenching -- this is clearly... extraordinary for eight generals to come out and say something like that.
Davidson: It is. But again, I think we need to encourage them to do this for this reason: if the war was going well, we would be nominating Rumsfeld for sainthood. The issue is not his personality -- although many of the criticisms are well-founded. I think the issue is, and I think John [Batiste] would agree with this: at the end of the day what we're looking for is a better policy for the war in Iraq and if we can find that with the crew that's there, let's move off and do it. I think John and Tony Zinni's idea is that we'll not get a change with the crew that's there. And I take a different view on that.
Military in political campaigns
Conan: ...Andrew Bacevich, ... haven't we crossed the line of intermingling of senior military officers and politicians. In this past presidential campaign, both presidential candidates surrounded themselves with a coterie of former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs.
Bacevich: A point well made. Really, in my judgment, this latest flap is really indicative of a much larger problem with civil-military relations. And you're exactly right. In the past, what, three presidential cycles, we've had Republicans and Democrats competing with one another to see who can parade the most significant roster of recently retired generals. So the officer corps has been made into a pawn of politics. The officer corps is increasingly politicized. Those trends reinforce my concern about the implications of this particular campaign. Again, I would emphasize that I would not for a second defend the performance of Secretary Rumsfeld. He is a failure. The war policy has failed. He should go. But it's not the business of generals to hold him accountable. Quite frankly, I have my problems with the performance of the senior military leadership in Iraq. And it seems to me that recently retired senior military leaders might do a better job to bring constructive criticism on the performance of the military itself rather than simply targetting the failures of Secretary Rumsfeld.
Conan: Let's get another caller on the line. This is John from Covington, KY.
John: Thank you. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate the generals' speaking out. It takes a lot of courage. The treatment of senior military officers is such that civilian control over the military is taught to them from the beginning and they take it very seriously. At the same time, we live in a democratic republic. Without people standing up to let us know what's going on, neither Congress nor the public is aware of these issues. And so it is a fine line to walk between when you speak up and when you don't. Throughout history, this hasn't been a practice that you see all the time. It is very rare. That's one of the reasons why it gives impetus to really listening to what these generals have to say. Personally, as a citizen, as an ex-military -- I served in the US Army during Vietnam -- I'm just really proud of these gentlemen for standing up. But most importantly as an American citizen, I know that them standing up and taking a position, they create the opportunity for that middle ground that some of your guests have referred to again. Perhaps there is the opportunity to make constructive change. And that opportunity would not exist if these generals had not taken the initiative.
Conan: Andrew Bacevich, if these generals don't talk, how do we know something's wrong?
Bacevich: Maybe I'm living on another planet, but the one I'm on suggests that about 2/3 of the American people have decided that this war was misguided and bungled long before any of these generals spoke out. We don't need retired military officers to tell us when the policies are going awry.
Conan: Andrew Bacevich, thanks very much for being with us today...
[recap and break]
Back to the accountability problem
Conan: ... I wanted to ask you both to elucidate a little bit on the one area of disagreement I've heard emerge between you two guys, and that is, General Batiste, you say Secretary Rumsfeld should resign because we can't move ahead in Iraq with him in control, and General Davidson, you say you think he can -- this team can move ahead. General Davidson, first, why do you think so?
Davidson: Well, I think there's very little chance that the President and the Secretary of Defense will suddenly become infected with flexibility on this issue, so I think it's going to make a tough sell to make 'em change. But I think we're more likely to make them change than if we bring in a new crew and start from scratch.
Batiste: I would say that it's a matter of accountability. I think the American people deserve accountability. I think our service men and women and their families deserve the most competent senior civilian leadership in the Department of Defense.
Conan: Let's get another listener on the line. This is Terry from Spearfish, ND.
Terry: Hi.... May I first applaud both of these generals for having the moxie to stand up and say, Wait a second this is not right! And if necessary to retire from their positions so they can bring it to the public's attention. Secondly, is this going to end up being one of those exposés -- like Black Hawk Down -- where we absolutely messed up from one end to the other and didn't support our people? That's what frightens me the most. We are entrenched in something that's not going anywhere.
Conan: And I think she's getting to that same point: the way ahead. General Batiste?
Batiste: Let me say that I think we've got the best military in the world, no question about it. What they have accomplished in Iraq, operationally and tactically, is nothing short of amazing. The good work that's going on, setting Iraq up for self-reliance, changing the people's attitude and giving them an alternative to the insurgency, we as Americans can all take enormous pride in what they've accomplished. There's no doubt in my mind, assuming we have the political will in this country, that we will not stop until we complete what we started. We must do that. My whole point is that there were some very flawed decisions made that got us where we are today and it's an issue of accountability. Any leader in an organization is responsible for what happens or what fails to happen. We must have a senior leader in that department who's instincts and judgments we trust. As we move down the road in this very long war on terrorism, we have some big decisions coming up. Don't we want a person who has the right instincts?
Conan: General Davidson, I'm going to give you the last shot.
Davidson: Mistakes were made. Serious mistakes. We are three years into a war that is very, very similar to Vietnam which lasted ten years. The resolution will come. There's a race going on. Will the allegiance of the Iraqis to their government outpace the decline in support among the American population for our war in Vietnam [sic] and if we can change the policy, we can capture all the great work that's been done and can be done and we can succeed in Iraq.
Conan: Terry, thank you very much for the call... Terry: Thank you. Thank you, generals, for your objective opinions.
John Kerry on dissent, on veterans, and on why Rumsfeld should have resigned long since
Conan: Thirty-five years ago, a young Vietnam vet named John Kerry stood before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and called for the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam. In testimony that draws criticism from some veterans' groups to this day, Kerry posed two powerful questions.
Kerry, on tape: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
Conan: Speaking in Boston last Saturday, 35 years to the day after his original testimony, the US Senator and former presidential candidate said he believes today what he believed then: that it was right to dissent from a war that was wrong. To reject dissent was not only wrong but dangerous. Kerry also called for a May 15th deadline for Iraqi leaders to put together a unity government in Baghdad or face the possibility of US withdrawal.... John Kerry joins us now from his office in the Capitol. That day, 35 years ago, do you remember what you felt like that morning as you prepared to go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?
Kerry: I was embarrassed that I was late to the hearing! I arrived late and I had no idea I was the only person testifying. So they were sitting there waiting for me and I felt a little badly.
Conan: Looking back, you said some controversial things that day. Any regrets?
Kerry: I said things that were true. My only regret is that it took so long for America to reconcile the truth and in fact some people today still have not reconciled the truth. The fact is there's a lot of revisionism going on about Vietnam even itself. Unfortunately, as we know from Neal Sheehan's brilliant book, "Bright Shining Lie," and as we know from Robert McNamara's book about the war, McNamara himself had come to the conclusion that the war was not winnable. He said the strategy was flawed years before I even protested. So how can you second guess when the leaders themselves are sending people to die for something which they themselves no longer believe in. It's ridiculous.
Conan: As you know, some veterans' groups objected to your testimony when you said that atrocities in Vietnam were apparently less of an aberration and more routine.
Kerry: Well, what I said was they happened. And I quoted other people. I said that this was something that happened in Vietnam, quoting a group of veterans that had testified to things that they had personally done. But also said that there were things that happened on a routine on basis that unfortunately at that time in violation of some of the laws of warfare. I didn't write the rules. But I saw what I saw and I responded to them and I told the truth. The fact is that free fire zones created an incredible ambiguity which some people dealt with differently from others. The fact is that all of know that there was a saying in Vietnam that "if they're dead, they're VC. And there were lots of people innocently caught up in that. War's war. I don't think it does us any good to go backwards and rehash everything that happening in that period of time. The bottom line is, our soldiers fought brilliantly. Our soldiers, just like in Iraq, never lost battles. Our soldiers gave themselves and gave their all. During Vietnam the soldiers were confused with the war itself, regrettably. One of the things I'm proudest of is that we fought very very hard on return to pay attention to the soldiers, to make sure they weren't forgotten. We helped raise the benefits at hospitals. We helped raise the education benefits. We got Agent Orange recognized. We got Post-Vietnam Stress Syndrome recognized. We helped to close the gap with respect to knowledge about prisoners of war. We did a lot of other things besides just talk about the war. I think we kept faith with our fellow veterans.
Conan: The last presidential election was awfully close. If your testimony of 35 years ago is what cost you the presidency -- there's debate about that, but if it's so -- was it worth it?
Kerry: I don't believe, number one, that it was, and number two, telling the truth is always worth it. You have to tell the truth. I think it's important... you know, we could have done more, perhaps, during the campaign, to respond to lies. And there were a great many lies put out there about me and my service. I could tell you that anytime in the future, if anyone wants to reassert one of those, they will be properly answered. But the fact is that, in Iraq, we find ourselves in a sort of increasingly a situation with similarities. Now Iraq is not Vietnam. I've said that a hundred times. Iraq is not Vietnam. We do have a fundamental confrontation with jihadists around the world. We need to be effective in the way we're going to fight the war on terror. I accept all of that. What I don't accept is that Iraq, like Vietnam, has been based on a great deal of deception. On a great deal of incompetence. On a great deal of flawed strategy. You just had General Batiste on. You have a bunch of generals who have come forward lately, talking about the ways in which the Americans were misled, and the ways in which our troops have been exposed to danger without adequate strategy, planning, equipment -- which I think is unconscionable. If there was any lesson in Vietnam, don't ever do that again! And what you're hearing now from soldiers themselves is that some of the leadership has allowed that to happen again. General Casey himself has said that our large presence of troops contributes to the feeling of occupation and that it delays the Iraqis standing up by themselves. The target is supposed to be some 270,000 Iraqis in the security forces trained and standing up. And the President has said that as they stand up, we'll stand down. Well the fact is we've trained 242,000. We're 30,000 shy of the final goal. And we don't see people standing down. We don't see the Iraqis moving into positions they ought to be. If you train a pilot in America at Pensacola or Corpus Christi or wherever, you know when they're graduating, you know the date they'll be through their primary and secondary training, you know the date they can deploy. Same for a Marine from the Marine Corps recruit depot or a soldier from Fort Benning. We've been 3 1/2 years at this with the Iraqis who once upon a time had a million people in the army -- or 500,000 -- who fought against the Iranians for ten years. Why are American soldiers still doing some of the things they're still doing in Iraq? I think that's a legitimate question for all Americans to be asking.
Conan: ...Let's get a listener on the line. This is Mike calling from Strafford NJ:
Mike: Senator Kerry -- glad to speak with you. I voted for you. I have a question for you. Do you believe that the generals' dissent in genuine, or is this payback for Rumsfeld's stated goal at the beginning of his term. "Transformation." Strafe the military.
Kerry: No, I think it's very genuine. Most of the military folks I talked to accept that we have to have a transformation of the military. People aren't fighting a transformation of the military tooth and nail. The thing is that we're going to need a little of both of the things being argued about. We need a faster, lighter, more flexible special operations ability because that's part of the kind of thing we're going to be fighting. But we also need to have the ability to slug it out the way the Army and the Marines have in the past in certain kinds of wartime scenarios. I don't think there's been enough transformation to be honest with you. I think whatever transformation Rumsfeld has been talking about was completely sidetracked anyway by Iraq. The fact is there's been precious little real transformation of the military over the course of the Rumsfeld tenure. I think what they're objecting to is exactly what they're talking about. They're objecting to going to war in the way that we did where whole plans were just thrown aside. Where generals and their best advice was just ignored and then a kind of chill was sent throughout the military higher brass because of what happened to General Shinseki. So people obviously -- and we can argue whether they should have or shouldn't have -- but the fact is the result was that there was a chill and careerism and the sort of culture set in which prevented people from speaking up sooner.
Conan: Senator Kerry, are you concerned by the concerns of Andrew Bacevich and others we've had on this show saying that, if this succeeds in driving Secretary Rumsfeld from officem, you're threatening civilian control of the military?
Kerry: That's just the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life! First of all, the generals who are speaking out are retired. They're all retired! Who is kidding who! You don't give up your citizenship in the United States of America when you retire from the military. You don't even give it up when you're in the military! You have a right to vote. And there's certainly an unspoken rule that you don't stand up and get involved in politics when you're in the direct chain of command and you work for the Commander-in-Chief. We all understand that. But these folks are retired. And they have a sense of patriotic duty and responsibility that's driving them to speak out. Now the notion that this threatens civilian control of the military is just ridiculous. ... What they're doing is saying, Where's the accountability! They're asking the question that many of us in Congress have asked. I asked for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation over two years ago. He should have resigned over Abu Ghraib. He should have resigned over what happened in Iraq when they completely misinterpreted the insurgency. He should have resigned over the lack of armor, the lack of adequate numbers of troops and support for our troops. He should have resigned for the failure to commit enough troops to Tora Bora to actually surround and capture Osama bin Laden.
Conan: Senator Kerry, thank you very much. I'm afraid we're out of time. But we appreciate your being with us today.
Kerry: Good to be with you!