Retired Major General Paul Eaton unleashed a vicious Op-Ed attack on the Secretary of Defense yesterday, calling for Rumsfeld to resign immediately due to "incompetence", among other things. In making his point that Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, Eaton also maligned nearly all of the military's key leaders of the past four years. Eaton's attack was innacurate, unprofessional and uncalled for. In summing up his case against the Secretary of Defense, the retired general illustrated a mindset that appears focused on issues that have already passed, rather than the problems being faced by commanders in the field today.
Eaton's attacks on Rumsfeld appear to be largely ad hominem, and rarely backed up by facts. He cites General Shinseki as the only uniformed officer willing to stand up to the Secretary, and that the early announcement of Shinseki's retirement scared all of the military's leadership into silence.
To boldly state that all of the flag officers lack the conviction to present ground truth to the Secretary of Defense, to the President and Congress, and ultimately to the American people is absolutely outrageous. Denigrating all of the Generals with whom and under whom you have served speaks more of a bitterness at one's current lot in life than of rational analysis.
General Shinseki may have been right about the low occupation troop estimates initially made early on by the Pentagon; however, he was ultimately proven to be stubbornly wrong about several outmoded weapon systems that cost the Pentagon billions prior to this, and his judgement was likely suspect at the point that he provided his estimate to Congress. While I am inferring what two people may or may not have thought in this one situation, Eaton, in his opinion piece today, stated outright that the ENTIRE military chain of command is too afraid to speak the truth to the American people. Who is more likely to be right, or at least accurate?
Eaton's statements about Secretary Rumsfeld alienating European allies out of supporting the Iraq mission early on are wrong, too. Building coalitions is beyond the realm of the Secretary of Defense; the President ultimately decided to go to war (with the approval of Congress) with the coalition that had been put together at the time. Rumsfeld's comments about "Old Europe" played no role in support that any other ally (ie Germany or France) was willing to provide in Iraq in the past or now (the Secretary later made light of these remarks during a tour of Europe later on, too).
Beyond his unforgivable lapse into personal attacks, Eaton's judgement is shown to be most suspect when commenting on Army end strength. The retired general called for increasing the Army's size from ten to fourteen divisions, a massive increase in manpower. While he faults Rumsfeld for seeking technological silver bullets, Eaton's own panacea to the problems of the world is an improbable giant Army. But who is being more realistic in their approach to solving problems? Not Eaton, certainly. By its own admission, the Army is challenged recruiting enough people to maintain its current end strength; increase its size by forty percent and the Army would not be able to man its formations. Thus, there would be divisions on paper (requiring Major Generals to command them, of course), but the force would truly be a hollow one.
Instead of focusing on unworkable solutions like the one suggested by Eaton, the Pentagon has spent the last few years adapting the forces available and emerging technology to enhance the effects the military has in the operational environment. Divisions are reorganizing now to maximize deployable subordinate combat units (Units of Action) by another twenty-five to thirty-three percent. Replacing soldiers with contract civilians, while maligned in Eaton's opinion piece, actually frees up Army manpower to be focused in areas more critical to the fight; infantrymen and military police are much more invaluable in counterinsurgency than cooks, after all. And finally yes, technology has increased the operational capabilities of men in battle in this war, as it has in virtually every war before it. Today, a unit's unmanned aerial vehicle (technology that has only become widely available in the last few years) can eliminate the need for a unit to conduct certain types of reconnaissance, or lower the risk that a manned overflight of a target area would incur for an operation. Technology is not a silver bullet, but it is definitely an operational enhancer in today's operational environment that should not be so easily dismissed.
Paul Eaton's op-ed piece is thus inaccurate, untrue, and served no purpose that is constructive to the successful conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While the retired general may have (arguably) served his country well in unform for three decades, his vicious attack did little more than provide soundbites to those who cheer out load at every setback and misstep in this conflict. Better that a man with Eaton's experience rolled up his sleeves and helped the country win its wars, than to bleed all over the editorial page of the New York Times.