How Much Did Rumsfeld Know?

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David Hume Kennerly / Getty

Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talks to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, head of Coaltion Forces in Iraq, May 13, 2004.

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But why now? Why was he doing it in September 2006? I wasn't completely sure. I knew it had been a hectic week. The media was hounding Rumsfeld, because a number of former generals had staged something of a revolt and were calling for his resignation. Perhaps he wanted to set up this link in his chain of denials before I left the service, or gauge how I was going to react to his position. Or Rumsfeld might have been anticipating a big political shift in Congress after the midterm November elections, which, in turn, might lead to Democratic-controlled hearings. I didn't know exactly why it happened at this particular time. I just know that it did happen.

Upon returning to Germany, I had some very long discussions with my wife, especially about Rumsfeld's offer of a possible high-paying job in the Department of Defense. "I'm not sure I want to pursue something like that," I said. "But given my reaction to Rumsfeld's memorandum, he now knows that I'm not going to play along. So I don't think he'll pursue it."

"Ricardo, they are just trying to buy you off and keep you silent," said Maria Elena. "I don't think we should mess with them anymore."

My wife had hit the nail right on the head. "I believe you're right," I replied. And sure enough, no one from the Department of Defense ever followed up. So at that point, I closed out all options of doing anything with DoD after retirement.

On my first day back in the office, I received a phone call from Adm. Giambastiani, who had obviously talked to Rumsfeld. "Ric, what happened in that meeting?" he asked. "The Secretary was really upset."

"Well, sir, I essentially told him that his memorandum was wrong," I said. "I guess he didn't like that."

"Well, no, I guess he didn't. Anyway, he's asked me to make this study happen, so we'll get right on it."

Giambastiani assigned the task to the Joint Warfighting Center and gave them a pretty tight timeline. So it wasn't long before I was giving the investigative team a complete rundown of everything that had happened in Iraq between May and June 2003. I later learned that Gen. Tommy Franks, however, had refused to speak with them.

A few months later, I was making a presentation at the Joint Warfighting Center and ran across several of the people involved with the study. "Say, did you guys ever complete that investigation?" I asked.

"Oh, yes sir. We sure did," came the reply. "And let me tell you, it was ugly."

"Ugly?" I asked.

"Yes, sir. Our report validated everything you told us — that Franks issued the orders to discard the original twelve-to-eighteen-month occupation deployment, that the forces were drawing down, that we were walking away from the mission, and that everybody knew about it. And let me tell you, the Secretary did not like that one bit. After we went in to brief him, he just shut us down. 'This is not going anywhere,' he said. 'Oh, and by the way, leave all the copies right here and don't talk to anybody about it.'"

"You mean he embargoed all the copies of the report?" I asked.

"Yes, sir, he did."

From that, my belief was that Rumsfeld's intent appeared to be to minimize and control further exposure within the Pentagon and to specifically keep this information from the American public.

Continuing the conversation, I inquired about the "original twelve-to-eighteen-month occupation deployment," because I wasn't sure what he was talking about. It turned out that the investigative team was so thorough, they had actually gone back and looked at the original operational concept that had been prepared by CENTCOM (led by Gen. Franks) before the invasion of Iraq was launched. It was standard procedure to present such a plan, which included such things as: timing for predeployment, deployment, staging for major combat operations, and postdeployment. The concept was briefed up to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the President of the United States.

And the investigators were now telling me that the plan called for a Phase IV (after combat action) operation that would last twelve to eighteen months.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I had never seen any approved CENTCOM campaign plan, either conceptual or detailed, for the post–major combat operations phase. When I was on the ground in Iraq and saw what was going on, I assumed they had done zero Phase IV planning. Now, three years later, I was learning for the first time that my assumption was not completely accurate. In fact, CENTCOM had originally called for twelve to eighteen months of Phase IV activity with active troop deployments. But then CENTCOM had completely walked away by simply stating that the war was over and Phase IV was not their job.

That decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq. There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible! Rumsfeld knew about it. Everybody on the NSC knew about it, including Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. Vice President Cheney knew about it. And President Bush knew about it.

There's not a doubt in my mind that they all embraced this decision to some degree. And if it had not been for the moral courage of Gen. John Abizaid to stand up to them all and reverse Franks's troop drawdown order, there's no telling how much more damage would have been done.

In the meantime, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty.

From the book Wiser in Battle. Copyright © 2008 by Ricardo S. Sanchez. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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