March 20, 2005 | Broadcast

Topic A with Tina Brown

Welcome, Jim.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (The Atlantic Monthly): Thank you, Tina.

BROWN: And Andrew Apostolou, resident fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, who’s written extensively on military policy.

Welcome to you, too, Andrew.

Mr. ANDREW APOSTOLOU (Foundation for Defense of Democracy): Thank you.

BROWN: So now, Jim, with Paul Wolfowitz headed to the World Bank, some are saying that Rumsfeld, too, now might be headed for retirement. I mean, how do you think his legacy’s going to be evaluated?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, first, on his departure, you know, it would be exceedingly rare for anybody to serve a full eight years, especially someone in his 70s, especially someone who’s been associated with so controversial and energetic a field of endeavor as Donald Rumsfeld has. I think his legacy will be quite mixed because it’s been in separate parts. There was the pre-Iraq War phase where he was pushing very hard against opposition for military reform. There was the war in Iraq itself phase where I think he was seen as a quite successful, you know, secretary of war. And then there’s been all the ambiguous aftermath, from the prison scandals to the difficulties of the occupation, where I think his legacy will be much more questioned.

BROWN: Do you think that’s where it will rest? What do you think, Andrew? Do you think he…

Mr. APOSTOLOU: I think that’s a very good way of putting it…

BROWN: Yeah.

Mr. APOSTOLOU: …that it will be mixed in the sense that here you have a man who clearly understood the US military had to change, and he has been right about the way in which the US has to alter its deployment worldwide towards a more flexible system, has to be able to get to trouble spots more quickly and also has to be able to fight in a different way. I mean, US troops are very, very good at that they do but they hate going out of role.

Mr. FALLOWS: Right.

Mr. APOSTOLOU: They’re not like the British army. So he’s been pushing that and the Pentagon’s been dragged screaming and kicking towards the new era. But at the same time implementation has been poor in many areas, and that’s a problem.

BROWN: One of the big controversies, of course, about Rumsfeld has been he did not put enough troops…

Mr. FALLOWS: Right.

BROWN: …on the ground in Iraq. Where’s that going to shake out now?

Mr. FALLOWS: Well, I think we’ll see that in some of the quick reaction to Paul Wolfowitz because Wolfowitz was sort of the point man on this. Rumsfeld was more probably deeply involved in shaping the actual invasion force because he dealt with a so-called tipfiet, which we don’t need to go into but was the sort of detailed deployment of forces and he made it much, much smaller than the number of the–especially the Army generals, were requesting, and the famous exchange between General Eric Shinseki, who was then the Army chief of staff, and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz was making this argument publicly, Rumsfeld was doing it privately. I think there is now pretty general consensus that that was a mistake because it made it easy to win the war but very hard to win the peace, to control the country, especially in the year after Baghdad fell.

BROWN: What do you think about that, Andrew? Do you think that he did put too few troops down?

Mr. APOSTOLOU: Well, the troop numbers is a factor, but it’s just one factor of many…

Mr. FALLOWS: Sure.

Mr. APOSTOLOU: …as you know, because obviously it depends on the nature of your troops and the missions that they’re performing. And the fundamental strategy drawn up in October 2002 was a good one–3rd Infantry coming up from Kuwait, 4th Infantry, with the 7th Armored Brigade from Britain coming down from Turkey and smashing the Iraqis between a hammer and an anvil. The insurgency that we now have in the Sunni Arab triangle wouldn’t be there because many of these guys would be pushing up the Iraqi daisies, frankly.

Mr. FALLOWS: Right.

Mr. APOSTOLOU: The problem was at the last minute, the rug was pulled out from under our feet by Turkey, and so we had all the troops coming through Kuwait, creating a real bottleneck.

BROWN: But then he was very stubborn, then, after that, about putting more in afterwards. I mean, could he not have acted faster?

Mr. FALLOWS: I think that there are two related issues here, if I could. One is the timing of the war itself, because as Andrew said, the Turkey question was important. The US couldn’t send its troops down through the north, through Turkey from the north, and the question was did you have to attack when we did? Because attacking then meant you wouldn’t have enough troops. Second there was the fact that, as Andrew was saying, there was this very detailed strategy for the actual attack but the counterargument was what you do the day after that? And it was precisely for that reason of how you have enough troops on the ground to seal the borders, to prevent the looting etc., that Shinseki and others were saying more.

BROWN: But now you’ve written actually that the US failure to prevent postwar looting was our biggest mistake. I mean, now, you know, with the weapons that were stolen, which are now in the hands of terrorists, I mean, you could argue that, you know, it wasn’t dangerous before but it is now.

Mr. FALLOWS: You could say–you know, there are these moments in history where you can see there’s a hinge and things are turning, and as best I’ve been able to determine by reporting, three or four days after the removal of Saddam Hussein, when people in Iraq realized that Saddam was gone but nobody was in charge now and the US was not going to stand in the way of the looting, you know, the consequences a year and a half, two years later from that are quite profound. And I think it is a fascinating mystery, still to be unveiled by reportage or memoirs or whatever, why that was allowed to happen, why the orders weren’t given, why exactly the troops weren’t able to respond more quickly.

BROWN: Anthony, you’ve written that–you’ve actually defended this ugly idea of disbanding the Iraqi military which was one of Paul Bremer’s early decisions and clearly was–you know, Rumsfeld was very much a part of that. Why do you defend that still?

Mr. APOSTOLOU: Well, first of all, I think it has to be fair and say the Iraqi army disbanded itself on the battlefield. It was comprehensively defeated. The other thing is this. They were part of the problem. I mean, we could haven’t gone into Germany in 1945 and kept the Wermacht, and Iraqis make that comparison themselves. Remember Jalal Talabani called the winding up of the Iraqi…

Mr. FALLOWS: Right.

Mr. APOSTOLOU: …like the allied dissolution of Prussia in 1946. This was an army of genocide and aggression, an army absolutely despised by the people who served in it, apart from the Sunni Arabs, who, of course, as the officers, particularly from Mosul with their Mercedes and their medical treatment abroad, they were very happy with it. But it was hated and we needed to do that symbolically to show that we are not going to bring back the Baathists; Iraq has changed.

BROWN: Jim, Abu Ghraib, which is the other…

Mr. FALLOWS: Yeah.

BROWN: …of course major, you know, aspect of the Rumsfeld record if we are going to assess it, should he have resigned?

Mr. FALLOWS: He certainly should have offered. I think the president should have accepted it, too, because that would have indicated to the rest of the world how seriously we took this disastrous failure. You know, there has–President Bush through his whole political career has stressed the idea of accountability, of there being consequences for actions, for mistakes and for successes and the fact there’s been no consequence within the US government, except for these corporals, for these terrible prison failures I think is bad.

BROWN: What impact will Rumsfeld leave on the military, lastingly?

Mr. APOSTOLOU: Well, aside from having annoyed a lot of them, I think he will have transformed it to a degree. But to just come back to the Abu Ghraib point, I think it’s a very, very good one. And apparently he did…


Mr. APOSTOLOU: …offer to resign, twice, and Bush didn’t take the resignation. So at least he offered to fall on his sword, which a lot of people didn’t do after September 11th. But I think you’re right. What I’d like to see is the investigations move up the chain of command.

Mr. FALLOWS: Right.

Mr. APOSTOLOU: You know the nature of the chain of command. It’s enormous, it’s long. I doubt very much that there’s a direct link between Don Rumsfeld and Lynndie England, or at least I hope not. But we will have to see. But it’s good that he offered, but it’s odd that the president didn’t accept.

Mr. FALLOWS: Yeah.

BROWN: Andrew, just tell me about the–what he’s going to leave behind in terms of the change in the military.

Mr. APOSTOLOU: I think a restructured military in which you have more combat brigades–43 out of the current 33–less artillery, fewer air defenders, a more teeth-focused US military, more tooth, less tail, more deployable.

BROWN: Jim, do you think that that new-style military is what we needed?

Mr. FALLOWS: Perhaps. I think we’re also going to have as part of the legacy, the US Army–military is becoming quite good at fighting counterinsurgencies. They’re learning on the ground in Iraq. The question is, is that the skill they’re going to need for whatever comes up next?

BROWN: OK. Thank you very much indeed.

Mr. APOSTOLOU: Thank you.