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Rumsfeld Memo: Iraq Not Working

Days before resigning, the secretary urged new strategies, including troop reductions.

`Recast The U.s. Goals'

December 03, 2006|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Two days before he resigned as secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld sent a rambling memo to the White House in which he acknowledged that the current U.S. strategy in Iraq was not working and offered several diverging scenarios for reversing course.

In the classified, three-page document, Rumsfeld offered several options for reducing troop presence in Iraq, including some that were similar to proposals by Democratic critics of the war in Iraq and that have been sharply opposed by the Bush administration.

And he suggested one potentially controversial plan of action that had been used in a different form by deposed dictator Saddam Hussein -- paying off "key political and religious leaders" so they would be more compliant with U.S. occupying forces in the war-torn country and its capital, Baghdad.

"In my view it is time for a major adjustment," Rumsfeld wrote in the Nov. 6 memo. "Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough."

Until his resignation, Rumsfeld frequently had said that the overall course of action in Iraq was working, even if it needed adjustments. And while he has said he bases his decisions on input from commanders, his memo is peppered with proposals that run counter to the advice of officers, most of whom have opposed redeployments or withdrawals.

Critics immediately seized on the memo as an admission of failure by one of the administration's primary architects of the Iraq war and its aftermath.

"This is an unbelievable memo. It is an admission of failure. It is more frank than anything that any [administration] official has said publicly in the three years of the war," said Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

In the memo, first reported Saturday by the New York Times on its website and titled "Illustrative New Courses of Action," Rumsfeld describes a "range of options" for the White House to consider. Many of them involve sharply drawing down U.S. troop presence in Iraq by mid-2007.

"Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) -- go minimalist," Rumsfeld suggested. For instance, he proposed an accelerated shuttering or consolidation of most U.S. military bases in Iraq.

"We have already reduced from 110 to 55 bases," he wrote. "Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007."

Another option: withdrawing U.S. forces from vulnerable positions, such as cities and patrols, and moving them to a "Quick Reaction Force" status, in which they would operate from within Iraq and neighboring Kuwait.

Rumsfeld also proposed keeping high-end special operations forces in Iraq to target Al Qaeda, death squads and Iranians, but "drawing down all other Coalition forces," except for key U.S. advisors.

He suggested a new approach in which U.S. forces would only provide security for those provinces or cities that openly request it -- "and that actively cooperate, with the stipulation being that unless they cooperate fully, U.S. forces would leave their province."

In areas where there is continued violence, Rumsfeld proposed that U.S. forces stop helping Iraqis, particularly with reconstruction efforts.

"As the old saying goes, 'If you want more of something, reward it; if you want less of something, penalize it,' " he wrote.

All told, such drawdown efforts would send a strong signal to Iraqis, Rumsfeld said. He described it as " 'taking our hand off the bicycle seat,' so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

Eric Ruff, the senior Pentagon spokesman, said the formulation of the memo evolved over a period of several weeks.

"There had been a lot of discussion over a period of several weeks; people were discussing different options and various approaches, and the secretary had some views on the matter, and the memo reflects those views," Ruff said.

The White House said President Bush was reviewing Rumsfeld's proposals, along with many others. "The president has said he's been dissatisfied with the progress in Iraq. So the right thing to do is reevaluate our tactics," said spokeswoman Eryn Witcher.

The memo was sent one day after Bush had interviewed Rumsfeld's appointed successor, Robert M. Gates, the former CIA director and president of Texas A&M University. But Pentagon and White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed that the timing was coincidental, and that the memo had nothing to do with Rumsfeld's impending departure or any efforts on his behalf to keep his job.

In the memo, Rumsfeld offered alternatives to troop reductions. He proposed stepping up the public relations campaign in Iraq by announcing a set of benchmarks that would reassure the U.S. public and give the appearance "that progress can and is being made."

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