Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under attack from Republican Sen. John McCain and retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf over his handling of the Iraq war.
In separate interviews, McCain, of Arizona, said he had “no confidence” in Rumsfeld, citing his handling of the war in Iraq and the failure of the Pentagon to send more troops, while Schwarzkopf, the allied commander in the first Gulf War, said Rumsfeld seemed to be passing the buck when quizzed last week about the armor supply for troops on the ground.
McCain, speaking to The Associated Press in an hour-long interview Monday, said his comments were not a call for Rumsfeld’s resignation, explaining that President Bush “can have the team that he wants around him.”
Asked about his confidence in the secretary’s leadership, McCain recalled fielding a similar question a couple weeks ago. “I said no. My answer is still no. No confidence,” McCain said.
Video: Russert analysis He estimated that 80,000 more Army personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 more Marines would be needed to secure Iraq.
“I have strenuously argued for larger troop numbers in Iraq, including the right kind of troops — linguists, special forces, civil affairs, etc.,” McCain said. “There are very strong differences of opinion between myself and Secretary Rumsfeld on that issue.”
Asked whether Rumsfeld was a liability to the Bush administration, McCain responded: “The president can decide that, not me.”
Oversight of military operations
McCain is not the only Republican to publicly criticize Rumsfeld.
“I don’t like the way he has done some things. I think they have been irresponsible,” Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said Sunday on CNN after returning from Iraq. “I don’t like the way we went into Iraq. We didn’t go into Iraq with enough troops.”
But the words of McCain, a decorated Navy veteran and Vietnam prisoner of war, carry special sting. He is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has oversight of military operations and considerable influence over the Defense Department’s budget.
If Senate Republicans maintain their majority two years from now, McCain would be in line to become the committee’s chairman, something he said he would weigh when considering whether to run for president again.
“In a couple of years, I might give it some consideration, but not right now,” he said of a presidential bid.
Larry Di Rita, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said McCain “has frequently expressed his views regarding troop levels in Iraq, and he is an important member” of the committee.
Rumsfeld has “relied upon the judgment of the military commanders to determine what force levels are appropriate for the situation at hand,” Di Rita said.
Despite the troop levels, McCain believes military morale remains high, but he acknowledged that involuntary extensions of tours of duty were frustrating to soldiers.
He said Iraq must have a functioning independent government before U.S. troops leave.
“I believe we’ll be in Iraq militarily for many years, which would not be a problem to the American people,” he said. “I think what is not acceptable to the American people is an increasing flow of dead and wounded.”
Schwarzkopf, interviewed on MSNBC-TV’s “Hardball,” chided Rumsfeld for his reply to a soldier in Kuwait over the lack of armor on many military vehicles used in Iraq.
“I was very, very disappointed — no, let me put it stronger — I was angry by the words of the secretary of defense when he laid it all on the Army, as if he, as the secretary of defense, didn’t have anything to do with the Army and the Army was over there doing it themselves, screwing up,” Schwarzkopf said.
Schwarzkopf, a registered independent who campaigned for Bush in the last two presidential elections, has previously criticized Rumsfeld on several occasions as arrogant and out of touch with troops on the ground.
Monday, Schwarzkopf said the Defense Department had badly misjudged the situation in Iraq. Reserve forces were rushed into urban combat — “toughest kind of fighting” — without adequate training, and “things have gone awry.”
“In the final analysis, I think we are behind schedule” in Iraq, Schwarzkopf said. “... I don’t think we counted on it turning into jihad.”
The public pounding may have taken a toll on public confidence in Rumsfeld. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted Thursday through Monday, found that public approval of Rumsfeld, already fairly low, had fallen to 34 percent from 39 percent in May.
NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski and The Associated Press contributed to this report.