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The Decider. The Decisions.

How dare Washington politicians attempt to dictate benchmarks for measuring the effectiveness of the ineffective Iraqi government or lay down timelines for beginning the withdrawal of American troops from a war gone bad.

The President’s indignation might resonate more loudly with the American people if it were not so heavily laden with hypocrisy.

Shall we call to mind that for six years Bush and his senior cohorts—Vice President Dick Cheney and the unlamented former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld—rode roughshod over the best advice of their military commanders.

Remember Afghanistan? Remember how we blew the best chance ever at destroying Osama bin Laden and the top leadership of al Qaeda because we didn’t have enough American forces on the ground to seal off all the escape routes from Tora Bora?

Or how American troops were killed and wounded in Operation Anaconda because they didn’t have artillery support when they so desperately needed it?

And why was this?

It was because Secretary Rumsfeld, that paragon of military expertise who like his bosses had never heard a shot fired in anger, had dictated that no more than 7,000 American troops would be permitted to set foot in Afghanistan and had ordered the Army to leave its artillery pieces behind.

How did Rumsfeld arrive at that arbitrary manpower ceiling of 7,000 pairs of boots on the ground and not one pair more? God only knows. He was determined to prove that high-tech weaponry had rendered obsolete old-fashioned ideas about how you seize and control an enemy’s territory.

The Army would have no need of its artillery fire support. The Air Force, with its satellite-guided smart bombs and its AC-130 gunships, would provide all the fire support the old-fashioned groundpounders would ever need.

So, when we finally tracked Osama and his merry band of murderous thugs to the cave stronghold of Tora Bora, our military commanders had no choice but to depend on three Afghan warlords to seal the escape routes into Pakistan. Instead, the warlords set up what amounted to toll booths and happily sold get out of jail free cards to Osama and company. When reconnaisance photos showed the escaping terrorists’ campfires in the mountains, the warlords said they belonged to shepherds, who presumably were feeding snow to their sheep.

And while Army artillery is on call 24/7 to provide a shield of hot steel to their infantry brothers in snow, sleet or heavy mountain clouds, the Air Force still is loath to fly expensive jet fighters through zero-zero weather full of 12,000-foot granite peaks. It already had decreed that the highly effective AC-130 gunships with their Gatling guns and 105mm artillery pieces were too vulnerable to fly during daylight hours

That’s just Afghanistan. Then came Iraq.

Here Mr. Rumsfeld, with the obvious approval of Cheney and Bush, tampered and tinkered with literally everything. He threw out a war plan, which had been drawn up based on everything the generals had learned about war in that part of the world, that called for an invasion force of 450,000 American and allied troops. Mr. Rumsfeld determined that a figure of something like 100,000 would be more than enough and threw out five years of planning and war games.

When Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki reluctantly offered an opinion to a senator that it would require “several hundred thousand troops” to secure and occupy Iraq, Rumsfeld’s Deputy Paul Wolfowitz hurried to Capitol Hill to dismiss that estimate as “outlandish.” After all, Wolfowitz said, we all know that Iraq has none of the ethnic divisions of a place like Afghanistan and, thus, would be easier to subdue.

So we invaded Iraq with half the troops we needed to occupy and pacify the country. When Baghdad fell, there was no plan and no troops to keep the mobs from looting government offices and destroying everything from power and sewage plants to hospitals and army camps and schools. No troops available to occupy and pacify the heart of Saddam Hussein’s power base among the Sunnis of Anbar Province. No troops to secure the vast ammunition dumps or secure the borders.

Mr. Rumsfeld and his bosses forbade the generals from planning for a long occupation or nation building. Why plan for those things when we’d be leaving Iraq within six months, by the summer of 2003? Nation building and the creation of a new government were not our job they said. Instead, we’d just turn Iraq over to the Pentagon’s good friend Ahmad Chalabi and his fellow Iraqi exiles.

We now know how well Bush has commanded the military; how accurate his and Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s predictions were and what masters they were of the art of war. Mission Accomplished. Last throes. A few dead-enders. A little untidiness.

Now President Bush would have us believe that he always listens to his military commanders; that he’s outraged that a mere majority of both houses of Congress would presume to substitute their judgment for his . . . er, his commanders.

After all, he’s not merely the commander-in-chief; he’s The Decider.

Joseph L. Galloway

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