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Generals' Criticism of Rumsfeld Gets Mixed Reaction Among Troops

April 20, 2006|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

AL ASAD, Iraq — News that six retired generals recently called for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign has been slow to reach many of the Marines stationed in Iraq's restive and isolated Al Anbar province.

Few have access to television or newspapers. Internet access, when available, is limited to about 30 minutes per Marine -- usually just enough time to send e-mails home to assure their families that they are still alive.

Some of those who had heard about the debate said they were unimpressed with generals who waited until retirement to speak out against their former boss.

"I back up my secretary of Defense 100%," said Lt. Col. Daniel Wilson, a Marine stationed in the city of Fallouja. "His heart is in the right place.... I find it disturbing that generals are waiting until retirement to speak their views. Calling for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation from the relative anonymity of retirement is, in my view, not a true expression of moral courage."

Maj. Anthony Marro, stationed in the western town of Rawah, was equally unimpressed with the retirees' criticisms. "If you're going to effect change, you should do it while you're still in there," he said.

But another high-ranking officer said he sympathized with dissenting generals who faced difficulties while in uniform. He cited Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who resigned from the military in 2003 after clashing with Rumsfeld over troop strength in Iraq.

"You saw what happened to Shinseki," said the officer, who requested anonymity for fear that he might be disciplined for publicly supporting Rumsfeld's opponents. "It's suicide to come out against your boss. I can understand why they waited until they retired."

Marine Maj. Wesley Fresard was among many officers who helped plan the March 2003 invasion and aftermath. He said that initial plans called for short-term deployments, with the understanding that U.S. troops would withdraw by the end of 2003.

Three years after the invasion, Fresard is on his second deployment in Iraq.

"I don't agree that it's all Rumsfeld's [fault] that the war went this way," said Fresard, who supports the Iraq operation in general. "But I do think that politicians should not dictate the mission to the military. When civilians micromanage the mission, that's a recipe for disaster."

But some Marines in Al Anbar, the heart of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency and one of the most dangerous places in Iraq, said they had heard little, if anything, about the debate raging in the United States over Rumsfeld's performance.

"This is my fourth tour, and I think we've always had what we needed," said Cpl. Christobal Castro, 24, of San Antonio. "Whatever the generals are upset about, I wouldn't know. I'm a very low-ranked Marine, and I don't hear a lot about what's happening back home."

Cpl. Kevin Webb, 25, of Hamilton, Ohio, said he supported Rumsfeld unreservedly.

"I think he did a good job. He equipped us well. He gave us all the armor we need. I support him," Webb said. "I'm not on a high enough level to know what's going on. All I know is that I get fed well and I'm taken care of. As a Marine, that's all I can ask for."

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