SECRETARY OF Defense Donald Rumsfeld stands at the head of the table. He has outmaneuvered all his Cabinet rivals and taken over many of the functions that used to belong to the State Department, the CIA, even the Justice Department. He dominates the Cabinet as no secretary of defense has done since Robert McNamara. He is also articulate, refreshingly if undiplomatically blunt, with a no-nonsense approach that is at times both witty and exactly to the point.
His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, is often mentioned as the most brilliant person in government. He is perhaps the most influential deputy in modern times, at the top of his game. He has seen his vision of toppling Saddam Hussein fulfilled, and he is an intellectual force behind a whole new way of looking at US foreign policy.
But for all of that, both should be fired. Here's why.
The Iraq campaign, of which they were in charge, has been grossly mishandled. I use the word campaign because the overthrow of Saddam's army and regime was only the opening phase in what has to be, if this country is to maintain any credibility, an open and democratic society in Iraq. This may yet happen, but the current leadership of the Pentagon, through a fatal combination of hubris and incompetence, has so far bungled the job. If there were any accountability in the Bush administration, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz would be asked to resign.
First, the Pentagon civilians ignored advice early on from military men that more troops would be needed for the operation. This miscalculation of necessary troop strength left the lines of supply dangerously unguarded as American troops sped toward Baghdad. Once Baghdad fell, it was painfully obvious that there were not enough troops to maintain order.
Second, what policing was done had to be done by combat troops who are trained to kill, not police, so when demonstrations started, their only response was to shoot into the crowd. Rumsfeld dismissed the horrendous post-combat looting as just something that comes along with freedom - a comment that will remain around his neck like an albatross as the political and security situation in Iraq deteriorates. As the respected International Crisis Group said in a recent report: ''Even senior American civilians in Baghdad express consternation at the near-total absence of advance preparations for dealing with postwar needs.''
The Pentagon seems to have believed that Iraqi army units and policemen would come over to the American side with their forces intact and begin working for the Americans. It seems not to have occurred to them that another scenario might unfold, that the soldiers and police would simply melt away and that chaos would take over. The great failure of Pentagon planning was that there was no Plan B if Plan A failed. After trying to run Iraq on the cheap, Rumsfeld this week doubled his estimates for the cost of maintaining troops in Iraq.
It is not as if the Pentagon was not warned. In the lead-up to war, there were many voices from experienced experts and think tanks warning that the United States would need a substantial military police force to go in right after the troops. All were ignored, just as Robert McNamara ignored all advice about Indochina, only to say years later that he never knew.
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz presided over what one diplomat calls a ''colossal miscalculation'' that may have more impact on this country than did the miscalculation at the Bay of Pigs four decades ago. All the effort that the armed forces took not to destroy vital civilian infrastructure went for naught because all was destroyed by postcombat looting. Although American soldiers quickly secured the Oil Ministry in Baghdad, nothing was done to protect museums, hospitals, vital offices - even nuclear facilities where radioactive material might have fallen into terrorist hands. Vital records that might have led us to weapons of mass destruction were also destroyed.
The damage done is incalculable, and not just in material terms. The political damage has been worse and will be far more lasting in its consequences. The Pentagon civilian leadership has squandered much of the good will that Iraqis felt after the yoke of the Ba'ath Party was lifted. Policy is in drift. Forces that are inimical to American interests are rushing in to fill that vacuum. A guerrilla war is gathering.
As America's first proconsul in Iraq, General Jay Garner, was fired when it was clear that his team had failed, so should his bosses at the top of the Pentagon civilian leadership be held accountable for this stunning failure to anticipate and plan ahead for a postwar Iraq. It is said that after the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy told Richard Bissell, the CIA man in charge of the project, that under a parliamentary system it would be he, Kennedy, who would have to resign. But since it was not, it was Bissell who would have to go. George W. Bush should make the same speech now to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.
H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.