Forum: What would Lincoln do?

As a Republican who has lost faith in President Bush's leadership on Iraq, Bob Cranmer tells what needs to be done

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Despite some positive news coming from Iraq last week, I remain very uneasy and skeptical as to the ability of President Bush's team to manage the delicate process of transferring power to a new Iraqi government, while at the same time keeping the peace. Diplomacy and negotiations will be an even more critical component for success, and as has been demonstrated, neither has been a strong suit of the administration.

   

Bob Cranmer is a former field-grade U.S. Army military intelligence officer, company commander in the 101st Airborne Division, Allegheny County commissioner and Republican committee chairman.

   

When the situation in Iraq deteriorated in recent months, even ardent supporters of the invasion were compelled to admit that the operation had gone awry. Policy failures that led to multiple uprisings and increased casualties, combined with the appalling abuse of Iraqi prisoners, pointed to a mission that required new leadership and decisive action.

Even with the recent progress made toward a hand-over of power to the Iraqis, miscalculations concerning the post-war occupation demonstrated a lack of planning and foresight at the highest levels. A significant evaluation is required and it is time for the administration to make some dramatic moves to reestablish the eroded confidence of its once-loyal proponents.

As a Republican, my once unshakable confidence in George W. Bush has been severely affected by his apparent lack of understanding and decisiveness. A good friend of mine, who happens to be a West Point graduate, told me recently that he is so disgusted with the current state of affairs that this may be the first presidential election in which he does not vote. Based upon numerous other conversations I've had with conservative Republicans, a clear consensus of dissatisfaction has formed concerning this war and its execution.

When assessing the situation that has become the war in Iraq and what went wrong, one can quickly zero in on Donald Rumsfeld. With numerous public calls for his resignation, he is now beyond the point of recovery by way of positive "damage control." It is clear that he has lost the confidence of the American public and possibly some leaders in the military as well. His management of the Defense Department has been a disaster for the Bush administration from the beginning, and the failure to comprehend this makes me question its core competency.

Early signs of the growing storm surrounding Rumsfeld were seen when he struggled within his own base. As a result, some very experienced high-profile generals quietly retired rather than deal with Rumsfeld -- Gen. Eric Shinseki, former Army chief of staff and Gen. Tommy Franks, to name two.

If the lessons of Vietnam project any historical maxim to be followed, it's one that states, "when civilians involve themselves too deeply in military operations, disaster usually follows." Rumsfeld's contempt and arrogance has single-handedly forced talented generals to resign, alienated and enraged Muslim religious leaders, and caused otherwise friendly allied nations to oppose us.

As the cultural differences and religious emotions flared, the military situation continued to deteriorate. The mission certainly cannot be abandoned, but it is clear to the world that the current situation is one that demands a sensitive hand and perceptive judgment to prevent future uprisings and increased casualties. Rumsfeld's "take it or leave it" approach cannot be permitted to continue. As a Republican, I add my voice to the chorus demanding that he resign or be replaced, and he must be gone soon.

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One of the greatest leaders in our nation's history was Abraham Lincoln. Never has a president been faced with a more daunting and challenging task. As the country became immersed in the morass of death and debate that was the Civil War, President Lincoln faced an onslaught of setbacks and criticism. In spite of this, he maintained control and responsibility while he likewise made difficult decisions when things went wrong. He fired and replaced generals and Cabinet secretaries, and remained flexible enough to respond to unforeseen developments.

The time has arrived for George W. Bush to take control in the same manner and exhibit truly "presidential" leadership. The position that things will work out in Iraq if we remain steadfast to the current course is folly. The president must deal with the situation as it has developed and take charge. The formulation of a new plan with new administration leaders is required. In 1864, President Lincoln gave Ulysses S. Grant overall command with the charge to get the job done. Incomprehensible mistakes had been made, but the right leader was finally put in charge to bring the Civil War to a conclusion.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and listen as he presented his views of leadership. Being a former career Army officer, I readily identified with his two basic maxims, which he dubbed (for some reason I cannot recall) Rules 13 and 14.

Rule 13: When you find yourself in command, take charge. Rule 14: When in doubt, don't shirk from responsibility, but do the right thing.

His great success during Operation Desert Storm was not based solely upon his firm understanding of the art of warfare, but also his deep understanding of the Middle-Eastern tribal culture with its complex religious orthodoxy. His ability to keep the multinational coalition together during the Persian Gulf War was a testimony to firsthand instruction he did not learn at West Point. His father was a special appointment by General George C. Marshall to serve as the chief adviser of security to the shah of Iran during World War II. As a young boy Norman ended up in Tehran and thus learned Muslim culture in depth. This understanding is the reason he was able to keep the multinational force of Arabs together as they fought "brother Arabs."

Schwarzkopf was always known as a "leader's leader" and it seemed to be designed by destiny that he lead the mission to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. The current quagmire that the United States has fallen into requires the multifaceted talents of this man once again.

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To restore the military situation as well as the confidence of the American public, Norman Schwarzkopf, or someone like him, should be appointed secretary of Defense. He and Colin Powell formed the team that got the job done in Kuwait, and they can be effective once again. As secretary of Defense, Norman Schwarzkopf could quickly accomplish a number of tasks critical to success.

One, he could work with Powell to restore a sense of cooperation and civility with Europe and the United Nations as a whole. Two, he could reestablish relations with our former Arab allies. Three, with his experience, he would be in a much better position to establish relations with the dispirited Iraqi groups to restore order and establish stability. Four, he could re-focus the primary goal of this operation back to anti-terrorism. Five, he could restore a sense of confidence, cooperation and morale within the military's upper-level hierarchy as well as the soldiers in the field.

With past events in mind, I believe that it was no accident that Schwarzkopf wasn't included in the leadership of this administration. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld surely wanted nothing to do with a capable leader who would question their unrealistic plans. In fact, Schwarzkopf effectively challenged Dick Cheney early in the planning for Desert Storm when Cheney proposed his own plan for attacking Iraq. Schwarzkopf labeled it "completely unrealistic" and had it squashed.

President Bush is faced with an extremely complex situation not unlike the challenges that Lincoln faced in late 1863. The situation is viewed as a debacle by many and the American public is fed up with incompetence and mismanagement. Like Lincoln, Bush has tremendous resources but lacks a plan and the right subordinates.

The president has two options: he can stand by and watch this house burn under Cheney and Rumsfeld, or he can follow Schwarzkopf's Rules 13 and 14: Take charge and do the right thing. This can be a new beginning for him as well. Otherwise, he faces the prospect of losing a host of former supporters in the November election as they sit on their hands and stay away from the polls.



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