Ret. General hits three network morning shows calling for Rumsfeld's ouster

Published: Friday April 14, 2006

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Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, appeared on the morning talk shows of all three major networks on Friday calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.

Batiste told Good Morning America's Diane Sawyer that "leaders need to be held accountable."

"By that I mean, we went to war with a flawed plan," said Batiste. "We certainly had the troops necessary to win the fight to take down Saddam Hussein, but we in no way considered the hard work to win the peace. There was 10 years of good, deliberate war planning by U.S. Central Command that was essentially ignored."

On all three shows, Batiste said that, although a plethora of retired generals were now speaking out, it hadn't been a "coordinated effort" and that he hadn't even talked to the other ones.

Batiste disagreed with Katie Couric from NBC's Today Show when she suggested that if he had spoken out from the "get-go" he "might have been successful in shaping public opinion far earlier."

"Katie, back then I was a one-star general," said Maj. Gen. Batiste. "I doubt there'd be many people that would have listened to this voice."

(Crooks and Liars has video of Batiste's interview with Couric)

Batiste agreed with Harry Smith from the Early Show on CBS when he said that from the looks of things one of the views that all the retired generals share is that Rumsfeld hadn't been "listening enough."

"Harry, that's my opinion," Batiste said. "We went to war with a flawed plan that didn't account for the hard work to build the peace after we took down the regime. We also served under a secretary of Defense who didn't understand leadership, who was abusive, who was arrogant, who didn't build a strong team."

Following transcripts, from ABC's Good Morning America, NBC's Today Show, and Early Show on CBS, were acquired by RAW STORY.



MS. SAWYER: Joining us is retired General John Batiste. He is one of the six retired generals speaking out. In fact, this morning they're all lined up on the front page of The New York Times. By the way, Batiste led the Army's legendary 1st Infantry Division in Iraq and left the Army, deciding to do so in 2005 and passing up a third star.

And General, good morning to you.

GEN. BATISTE: Good morning, Diane. How are you?

MS. SAWYER: You have done an extraordinary thing, calling on Secretary Rumsfeld to step down. Why?

GEN. BATISTE: Diane, there's really two reasons. One is, leaders need to be held accountable. By that I mean, we went to war with a flawed plan. We certainly had the troops necessary to win the fight to take down Saddam Hussein, but we in no way considered the hard work to win the peace. There was 10 years of good, deliberate war planning by U.S. Central Command that was essentially ignored.

MS. SAWYER: But the president approved the plan. If the president is in charge, do you include him in your indictment?

GEN. BATISTE: I'm talking right now about the Department of Defense.

MS. SAWYER: And that's all?

GEN. BATISTE: That's right.

MS. SAWYER: One hundred and thirty-four thousand troops in Iraq right now, and you've talked about troop levels to win the peace. Let me ask you this, because the president and the secretary have said all along if the military wants more troops, they will get them. If the military wants a different strategy, they will get it. How many more troops do you think were in fact needed? And were specific requests refused?

GEN. BATISTE: You know, the American Army has significant experience with peace enforcement operations in the recent past, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti. We've done a lot of work on this, all tied to the principles of war. General Shinseki, when asked, you recall, in front of the Congress said it would take about 300,000. In my estimate, that's about right. It takes troops' boots on the ground in this kind of an operation where you're building the peace; you're setting a country up for self-reliance. It is hard work. You have to control the ground; you have screen the borders; you have to intimidate the insurgency.

Too many times I was forced to conduct a movement to contact with my forces. The problem with that, you only own the ground for a moment in time. This is not the way you fight an insurgency. So I would say that back when we developed that plan, there were people that had responsibilities to step forward based on the principles of war, and say, sir, no, we got this wrong.

MS. SAWYER: But this raises a question, General, about speaking out now now that you're retired and not speaking out then when you were on active duty, as the historian just said to us, when you were participating in the plans. Why not speak out then if you felt so strongly?

GEN. BATISTE: Diane, for the past three years I've been commanding a division, forward deployed in Germany with soldiers in Kosovo, Turkey and Iraq. I had my plate full. I was focused on winning this operation. Now, back in the Pentagon, four or five years ago, I was a one-star general, and believe me, no one was going to listen.

MS. SAWYER: Well, but do you regret now looking back you didn't speak out? Do you think you should have done it anyway?

GEN. BATISTE: I have no regrets. I worked within the system. Within the military culture, you have a chain of command. You report to people. You can express differences. But at the point of decision, you have two options: you either salute and execute or you get out. And I chose to stay within the system and make it happen.

MS. SAWYER: Is this a coordinated effort by all of the generals? Are there more to come?

GEN. BATISTE: Actually, Diane, it's not. I have not talked to any of the other five generals, other than last night on a show with Dave Grange and another. We have nothing to gain by this, absolutely nothing to gain by this. There's no political agenda at all. We've been loyal subordinates.

MS. SAWYER: But there are people --

GEN. BATISTE: This is all about --

MS. SAWYER: Excuse me --

GEN. BATISTE: This is all about soldiers.

MS. SAWYER: There are --

GEN. BATISTE: Service men and women and their families.

MS. SAWYER: There are people who've come forward to say that this cannot help but break the bonds of trust, as we've heard, and give some comfort to the enemy to hear this. At the end of the day, the president says he's sticking with Rumsfeld. Does this comfort the enemy?

GEN. BATISTE: I think we got an incredibly resilient military. It can do anything. We can change out any leader and the next day we haven't skipped a beat. I think this would be a cleansing, a very cleansing act, and we will stand up; the military will absolutely complete the mission.

MS. SAWYER: General Batiste, again, our thanks to you for joining us this morning.

GEN. BATISTE: Thanks, Diane.


Friday's TODAY SHOW:


MS. COURIC: Retired Army Major General John Batiste is in Rochester, New York this morning.

General Batiste, good morning to you.

GEN. BATISTE: Good morning, Katie. How are you?

MS. COURIC: Fine, thank you. You have quite a stellar military record of service. You retired last November after 31 years serving your country. In Iraq you led the Army's First Infantry Division. Before that you worked with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Before retiring, you turned down a promotion to three-star general as the second in command of the forces in Iraq.

So why go public with your criticism now?

GEN. BATISTE: Katie, this is something that's been building in me for the last five years. And as you said, I retired on the first of November and transitioned into civilian; thought a lot about it, and I feel strongly.

I have nothing to gain in doing this. There is no political agenda at all. For 31 years I was a loyal subordinate and did not tolerate dissension in the ranks. My sole motivation, pure and simple, are the servicemen and women and their incredible families.

MS. COURIC: What do you hope to accomplish, though, General, with this criticism? For example, if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were to resign, what impact do you think that would have on the war effort?

GEN. BATISTE: I think the war effort will continue, and I think we're going to be successful in that endeavor. We have no choice. We have to be. But I think it's a question of accountability -- accountability for the war plan that was built to invade Iraq, but failed to build the peace; accountability for what happened in Abu Ghraib; accountability for a leadership style which is intimidating, abusive. There was not a two-way street of respect.

MS. COURIC: At the same time, though, the president, as you well know, General, is commander in chief. Why reserve all your criticism for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and hold your fire when it comes to the president himself?

GEN. BATISTE: My focus is on the Department of Defense. It's what I know.

MS. COURIC: I guess if you had concerns about this, though, from the get-go, if you had come out publicly, you might have been successful in shaping public opinion far earlier than you are now.

GEN. BATISTE: Katie, back then I was a one-star general. I doubt there'd be many people that would have listened to this voice.

MS. COURIC: I know that there have been five other retired generals, General Batiste, who have stepped forward in the last few weeks calling for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign. Is this effort a coordinated one?

GEN. BATISTE: Actually, it's not. I have not talked to the other generals.

MS. COURIC: Do you find it just coincidental that they're echoing your sentiments?

GEN. BATISTE: I think it is absolutely coincidental. It's happening for a reason. It's happening on the throes of the "Cobra 2" book publication. I think there's a lot of people now starting to ask questions, and I think that's healthy in a democracy.

MS. COURIC: At the same time -- I just want to get this straight, General Baptiste -- you're actually supporting the decision to go into Iraq, even though you say it's naive to expect democracy to thrive there. So is the main point of your criticism that there weren't enough troops deployed and Secretary Rumsfeld should be held accountable for that -- because in essence, you still support the effort there, correct?

GEN. BATISTE: Katie, it doesn't matter what I think about whether we should be there or not. That's a moot point. The question is, where do we go from here? We have no option but to succeed in Iraq. We have to succeed in this endeavor to set the Iraqis up for self-reliance, with their form of representative government that takes in the incredible complexities of tribes, ethnic groups and religious groups that define Iraq.

MS. COURIC: What is the solution, then? Obviously everyone wants to succeed, but doing so is a vexing problem.

GEN. BATISTE: I think we need a fresh start in the Department of Defense. I think that would be incredibly uplifting. I think we need accountability for what happened five years ago. I think all that has to be resolved before we can move forward and finish what we started.

MS. COURIC: Well, General John Batiste, thanks so much for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it very much.

GEN. BATISTE: You bet, Katie. Thank you.


Friday's EARLY SHOW:


MR. SMITH: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is facing mounting criticism for his handling of the war in Iraq.

Retired Major General John Batiste, who led the Army's First Infantry Division in Iraq for two and a half years, is one of six retired generals calling for Rumsfeld's resignation.

General, good morning.

GEN. BATISTE: Good morning, Harry. How are you?

MR. SMITH: I'm well. First off, the most important reason, single most important reason, you think Secretary Rumsfeld should resign?

GEN. BATISTE: Harry, it has to do with accountability and leadership.

MR. SMITH: When you served under him, did you disagree with him? And what was his reaction to your disagreement?

GEN. BATISTE: Harry, within the culture of the military you serve in a chain of command and you have senior commanders. Decisions are taken by those senior commanders with lots of input, great dialogue, debate.

But once a decision is taken, a commander has two choices. One, he can salute and execute the mission, or two, he can either retire or resign. And I chose to work within the system, to work within that system and be a loyal subordinate.

MR. SMITH: Were you frustrated in that system?

GEN. BATISTE: Sure. I mean, that's normal. That's normal in any bureaucracy. You work constantly to improve it, to make it better. In the Army, you're working for your soldiers and their families.

MR. SMITH: And I just get the sense, from looking and reading the opinions of you retired generals, who want Rumsfeld's resignation, that he just literally was not listening enough.

GEN. BATISTE: Harry, that's my opinion. We went to war with a flawed plan that didn't account for the hard work to build the peace after we took down the regime. We also served under a secretary of Defense who didn't understand leadership, who was abusive, who was arrogant, who didn't build a strong team.

There's a great book. It's called "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. And I think every leader in the department ought to read it and reread it. It's all about teamwork. It's pulling together. It's respect that moves both ways, up and down the chain of command.

MR. SMITH: You know, it's interesting, because we've interviewed the secretary here. One of the issues, right from the beginning of the war, "Are there enough troops on the ground? Do you have what you need to effectively fight this war, effectively to win the peace?" He said, "Well, I'm relying on my commanders on the ground." And we suggested to him, "Well, maybe your commanders are telling you what you want to hear." Does that ring true to you at all as a scenario that happened over the last three years?

GEN. BATISTE: If you're talking about the process to build the plan to invade Iraq and build the peace, I think the secretary's comments are disingenuous.

MR. SMITH: Disingenuous.

GEN. BATISTE: I think he built that plan the way he wanted to, without regard to the CENTCOM work for 10 years to build a deliberate plan. You know, the hardest part of war is building the peace. You've got to own the ground. You've got to change people's attitudes and give them alternatives to the insurgency. You've got to intimidate the insurgency. You've got to go after them day after day. And that takes boots on the ground.

General Shinseki had it right, you might recall, when he suggested that it would take around 300,000. And we all remember what happened to him. He was retired early, and the secretary of Defense did not go to his retirement ceremony.

MR. SMITH: Let me ask you this, General --

GEN. BATISTE: That has stayed with me forever.

MR. SMITH: Let me ask you this very quickly. Some will say, "Well, the generals will always say they know better than the civilians who control the military." Is your beef with civilian control?

GEN. BATISTE: No, absolutely not. I'm a strong proponent of civilian control of the military. The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1974 is exactly where we need to be. I support civilian control completely.

MR. SMITH: What have your e-mails been like in the last 24 hours, General?

GEN. BATISTE: Very interesting.

MR. SMITH: All right. Major General John Batiste, we thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it, sir.

GEN. BATISTE: Thank you, Harry.