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Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2003 at 3:17 PM
Schwarzkopf : Rumsfeld and the people around him lack the
background to make sound military judgments
Once 'Stormin' Norman,' Gen. Schwarzkopf Is Skeptical About U.S. Action in Iraq
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 28, 2003; Page C01
TAMPA--Norman Schwarzkopf wants to give peace a chance.
The general who commanded U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War says he hasn't seen enough evidence to convince him
that his old comrades Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz are correct in moving toward a new war now.
He thinks U.N. inspections are still the proper course to follow. He's worried about the cockiness of the U.S. war
plan, and even more by the potential human and financial costs of occupying Iraq.
And don't get him started on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In fact, the hero of the last Gulf War sounds surprisingly like the man on the street when he discusses his
ambivalence about the Bush administration's hawkish stance on ousting Saddam Hussein. He worries about the Iraqi
leader, but would like to see some persuasive evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons programs.
"The thought of Saddam Hussein with a sophisticated nuclear capability is a frightening thought, okay?" he says.
"Now, having said that, I don't know what intelligence the U.S. government has. And before I can just stand up and
say, 'Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we need to invade Iraq,' I guess I would like to have better information."
He hasn't seen that yet, and so -- in sharp contrast to the Bush administration -- he supports letting the U.N. weapons
inspectors drive the timetable: "I think it is very important for us to wait and see what the inspectors come up with,
and hopefully they come up with something conclusive."
This isn't just any retired officer speaking. Schwarzkopf is one of the nation's best-known military officers, with
name recognition second only to his former boss, Secretary of State Powell. What's more, he is closely allied with
the Bush family. He hunts with the first President Bush. He campaigned for the second, speaking on military issues
at the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia and later stumping in Florida with Cheney, who was secretary of
defense during the 1991 war.
But he sees the world differently from those Gulf War colleagues. "It's obviously not a black-and-white situation
over there" in the Mideast, he says. "I would just think that whatever path we take, we have to take it with a bit of
So has he seen sufficient prudence in the actions of his old friends in the Bush administration? Again, he carefully
withholds his endorsement. "I don't think I can give you an honest answer on that."
Now 68, the general seems smaller and more soft-spoken than in his Riyadh heyday 12 years ago when he was
"Stormin' Norman," the fatigues-clad martinet who intimidated subordinates and reporters alike. During last week's
interview he sat at a small, round table in his skyscraper office, casually clad in slacks and a black polo shirt, the
bland banks and hotels of Tampa's financial district spread out beyond him.
His voice seems thinner than during those blustery, globally televised Gulf War briefings. He is limping from a
recent knee operation. He sometimes stays home to nurse the swelling with a bag of frozen peas.
He's had time to think. He likes the performance of Colin Powell -- chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the
Gulf War, now secretary of state. "He's doing a wonderful job, I think," he says. But he is less impressed by
Rumsfeld, whose briefings he has watched on television.
"Candidly, I have gotten somewhat nervous at some of the pronouncements Rumsfeld has made," says Schwarzkopf.
He contrasts Cheney's low profile as defense secretary during the Gulf War with Rumsfeld's frequent television
appearances since Sept. 11, 2001. "He almost sometimes seems to be enjoying it." That, Schwarzkopf admonishes, is
a sensation to be avoided when engaged in war.
The general is a true son of the Army, where he served from 1956 to 1991, and some of his comments reflect the
estrangement between that service and the current defense secretary. Some at the top of the Army see Rumsfeld and
those around him as overly enamored of air power and high technology and insufficiently attentive to the brutal
difficulties of ground combat. Schwarzkopf's comments reflect Pentagon scuttlebutt that Rumsfeld and his aides
have brushed aside some of the Army's concerns.
"The Rumsfeld thing . . . that's what comes up," when he calls old Army friends in the Pentagon, he says.
"When he makes his comments, it appears that he disregards the Army," Schwarzkopf says. "He gives the perception
when he's on TV that he is the guy driving the train and everybody else better fall in line behind him -- or else."
That dismissive posture bothers Schwarzkopf because he thinks Rumsfeld and the people around him lack the
background to make sound military judgments by themselves. He prefers the way Cheney operated during the Gulf
War. "He didn't put himself in the position of being the decision-maker as far as tactics were concerned, as far as
troop deployments, as far as missions were concerned."
Rumsfeld, by contrast, worries him. "It's scary, okay?" he says. "Let's face it: There are guys at the Pentagon who
have been involved in operational planning for their entire lives, okay? . . . And for this wisdom, acquired during
many operations, wars, schools, for that just to be ignored, and in its place have somebody who doesn't have any of
that training, is of concern."
As a result, Schwarzkopf is skeptical that an invasion of Iraq would be as fast and simple as some seem to think. "I
have picked up vibes that . . . you're going to have this massive strike with massed weaponry, and basically that's
going to be it, and we just clean up the battlefield after that," he says. But, he adds, he is more comfortable now with
what he hears about the war plan than he was several months ago, when there was talk of an assault built around air
power and a few thousand Special Operations troops.
He expresses even more concern about the task the U.S. military might face after a victory. "What is postwar Iraq
going to look like, with the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites? That's a huge question, to my mind. It really
should be part of the overall campaign plan."
(Rumsfeld said last week that post-Saddam planning "is a tough question and we're spending a lot of time on it, let
me assure you." But the Pentagon hasn't disclosed how long it expects to have to occupy Iraq, or how many troops
might be required to do that.)
The administration may be discussing the issue behind closed doors, Schwarzkopf says, but he thinks it hasn't
sufficiently explained its thinking to the world, especially its assessment of the time, people and money needed. "I
would hope that we have in place the adequate resources to become an army of occupation," he warns, "because
you're going to walk into chaos."
The Result of a Bad Ending?
Just as the Gulf War looks less conclusive in retrospect, so has Schwarzkopf's reputation diminished since the glory
days just after the war, when, Rick Atkinson wrote in "Crusade," Schwarzkopf "seemed ubiquitous, appearing at the
Kentucky Derby, at the Indianapolis 500, on Capitol Hill, in parades, on bubblegum cards."
Twelve years and two American presidents later, Saddam Hussein is still in power, and the U.S. military is once
again mustering to strike Iraq.
Some strategic thinkers, both inside the military and in academia, see Schwarzkopf's past actions as part of the
problem. These experts argue that if the 1991 war had been terminated more thoughtfully, the U.S. military wouldn't
have to go back again to finish the job.
"Everyone was so busy celebrating the end of the Vietnam syndrome that we forgot how winners win a war," says
one Gulf War veteran who asked that his name not be used because he hopes to work in the administration.
Schwarzkopf in particular draws fire for approving a cease-fire that permitted the Iraqi military to fly helicopters
after the war. Soon afterward, Iraqi helicopter gunships were used to put down revolts against Hussein in the Shiite
south and the Kurdish north of Iraq. Only later were "no-fly zones" established to help protect those minority
"It's quite clear that however brilliant operationally and technologically, the Gulf War cannot be viewed strategically
as a complete success," says Michael Vickers, a former Special Forces officer who is now an analyst for the Center
for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense think tank.
Added one Pentagon expert on Iraq, "With benefit of hindsight, the victory was incomplete, and the luster of the
entire operation has faded."
When Army colonels study the Gulf War at the Army War College nowadays, notes one professor there, "a big part
of the class is discussing war termination."
For all that, few experts contend that Schwarzkopf is really the one to blame for the way the Gulf War ended.
"Insofar as Gulf War 1 didn't finish the job, blame is more likely and appropriately laid on Bush 41 and, to a
somewhat lesser extent, on Colin Powell," says John Allen Williams, a political scientist who specializes in military
affairs at Loyola University Chicago.
Schwarzkopf himself doesn't entirely disagree with the view that the war was ended badly. "You can't help but sit
here today and, with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say, 'Look, had we done something different, we probably
wouldn't be facing what we are facing today.' "
But, he continues, Washington never instructed him to invade Iraq or oust Saddam Hussein. "My mission, plain and
simple, was kick Iraq out of Kuwait. Period. There were never any other orders." Given the information available
back then, the decision to stop the war with Saddam Hussein still in power was, he says, "probably was the only
decision that could have been made at that time."
'Tell It Like It Is'
Schwarzkopf was never as lionized in military circles as he was by the general public. Like a rock star, he shuns
commercial air travel mainly because he can barely walk through an airport without being besieged by autograph
seekers and well-wishers. But his reputation inside the Army has "always been a bit different from the outside view,"
notes retired Army Col. Richard H. Sinnreich, who frequently participates in war games and other military training
Sinnreich doesn't think that many in the armed forces blame Schwarzkopf for the inconclusive ending of the Gulf
War. "I know of no Army officer, active or retired, who holds such a view," he says. "The decision to suspend
offensive operations clearly was a political decision that I suspect the relevant principals now profoundly regret,
even if they're loath to admit it."
But what did sour some in the Army on Schwarzkopf, says Sinnreich, was his "rather ungracious treatment of his
Gulf War subordinates."
Schwarzkopf raised eyebrows across the Army when, in his Gulf War memoir, he denounced one of his generals,
Frederick Franks, for allegedly moving his 7th Corps in a "plodding and overly cautious" manner during the attack
on the Iraqi military. He elaborated on that criticism in subsequent rounds of interviews. This public disparagement
of a former subordinate rankled some in the Army, which even more than the other services likes to keep its internal
"I think his attack on Franks was wrong," says Army Maj. Donald Vandergriff, in a typical comment.
"It wasn't meant to be an attack on Fred Franks," Schwarzkopf responds in the interview. Rather, he says, he was
trying to provide an honest assessment, in the tradition of the Army's practice of conducting brutally accurate
"after-action reviews." "No matter how painful it is, [when] you do your after-action review, tell it like it is."
The other behavior that bothered some was Schwarzkopf's virtual absence from the Army after the Gulf War. Many
retired generals make almost a full-time job of working with the Army -- giving speeches at West Point and at the
Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., visiting bases to mentor up-and-coming officers, sitting on Pentagon advisory
boards, writing commentaries in military journals.
"The fact that Schwarzkopf . . . did not make himself available to speak to the many, many Army audiences anxious
to listen to him won him no friends in the Army," notes retired Army Brig. Gen. John Mountcastle.
Adds Earl H. Tilford Jr., a former director of research at the War College's Strategic Studies Institute: "You never
saw him at Carlisle, never."
Likewise, a professor at West Point recalls repeatedly being brushed off by Schwarzkopf's office.
Schwarzkopf says he avoided those circles for good reason. After the Gulf War, he says, he decided to take a low
profile within the Army because he didn't want to step on the toes of the service's post-Gulf War leaders. There were
sensitivities about overshadowing those generals, he says, especially after word leaked that he had been considered
for the post of Army chief of staff but had declined the position.
Seeing that "open wound," he says, "I purposely distanced myself for a reasonable time."
The Army War College's location in rural Pennsylvania makes it difficult to reach from his home in the Tampa area,
he says. And he notes that he has done much other work behind the scenes on behalf of the Army, including meeting
with presidential candidate Bush to lobby him on military readiness issues.
He also has been busy with nonmilitary charities. After a bout with prostate cancer in 1994, he threw himself into
helping cancer research; no fewer than 10 groups that fight cancer or conduct other medical research have given him
awards in recent years.
No More Heroes?
Perhaps the real reason that Schwarzkopf's reputation has shrunk has more to do with America and less to do with
Schwarzkopf's actions. American wars used to produce heroes such as Washington, Grant and Eisenhower, whose
names were known by all schoolchildren, notes Boston University political scientist Andrew Bacevich.
But in recent decades, Bacevich says, "military fame has lost its durability." Sen. John McCain may appear to be an
exception, he says, but he is someone noted less for what he did in the military than for what he endured as a
prisoner of war.
More representative, Bacevich notes, may be Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the officer who would lead U.S. forces
in any new war with Iraq. Franks "has not ignited widespread popular affection," says Bacevich, himself a retired
It may be that American society no longer has an appetite for heroes, military or otherwise, says Ward Carroll, a
recently retired naval aviator and author of "Punk's War," a novel about patrolling the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.
American society may not be making the kinds of sacrifices that make people look for heroes to celebrate. "You
don't have rationing, you don't have gold stars in the window, and the other things that made [war heroes] a part of
the fabric of American life" in the past, he says.
Even Schwarzkopf's own Gulf War memoir was titled "It Doesn't Take a Hero."
Or it just may be that America no longer puts anyone up on a pedestal. "Even our sports heroes aren't heroes
anymore, in the way that Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle were," says Carroll. "The picture is a lot more blurred
Washington Post researcher Rob Thomason contributed to this report.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
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