Rumsfeld Memo Proposed ‘Major Adjustment’ in Iraq
WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 — Two days before he resigned as defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld submitted a classified memo to the White House that acknowledged that the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq was not working and called for a major course correction.
“In my view it is time for a major adjustment,” wrote Mr. Rumsfeld, who has been a symbol of a dogged stay-the-course policy. “Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.”
Nor did Mr. Rumsfeld seem confident that the administration would readily develop an effective alternative. To limit the political fallout from shifting course he suggested the administration consider a campaign to lower public expectations.
“Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis,” he wrote. “This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’ ”
“Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist,” he added. Mr. Rumsfeld’s memo suggests frustration with the pace of turning over responsibility to the Iraqi authorities; in fact, the memo calls for examination of ideas that roughly parallel troop withdrawal proposals presented by some of the White House’s sharpest Democratic critics. (Text of the Memo)
The memo’s discussion of possible troop reduction options offers a counterpoint to Mr. Rumsfeld’s frequent public suggestions that discussions about force levels are driven by requests from American military commanders.
Instead, the memo puts on the table several ideas for troop redeployments or withdrawals that appear to conflict with recent public pronouncements from commanders in Iraq emphasizing the need to maintain troop levels.
The memorandum sometimes has a finger-wagging tone as Mr. Rumsfeld says that the Iraqis must “pull up their socks,” and suggests reconstruction aid should be withheld in violent areas to avoid rewarding “bad behavior.”
Other options called for shrinking the number of bases, establishing benchmarks that would mark the Iraqis’ progress toward political, economic and security goals and conducting a “reverse embeds” program to attach Iraqi soldiers with American squads.
The memo was finished one day after President Bush interviewed Robert M. Gates, the president of Texas A&M University, as a potential successor to Mr. Rumsfeld and one day before the midterm elections. By then it was clear that the Republicans appeared likely to suffer a setback at the polls and that the administration was poised to begin reconsidering its Iraq strategy.
The memo provides no indication that Mr. Rumsfeld intended to leave his Pentagon post. It is unclear whether he knew at that point that he was about to be replaced, though the White House has said that Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld had a number of conversations on the matter.
Told that The New York Times had obtained a copy of it, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed its authenticity. “As it became clear that people were considering options for the way forward, the secretary had some views on the subject, and this memo reflects those views,” said the spokesman, Eric Ruff.
At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld has been famous for his “snowflakes” — memos that drift down to the bureaucracy from on high and that are used to ask questions, stimulate debate and shape policy. Mr. Rumsfeld’s Nov. 6 memorandum, circulated as part of the administration’s review of Iraq policy, is written in that spirit and with the same blunt aphorisms that Mr. Rumsfeld frequently uses in public.
Unlike the lawyerly memo on Iraq policy submitted last month by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, Mr. Rumsfeld’s listed more than a dozen “illustrative options” that the defense secretary did not specifically endorse but suggested merited serious consideration. “Many of these options could, and in a number of cases, should be done in combination with others,” Mr. Rumsfeld advised.
With Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, the options no longer have the same weight. In recent weeks, some have been discarded as the Bush administration tries to adjust its military and political strategy in Iraq. But others, like increasing the number of advisers attached to Iraqi forces, live on and have also been recommended by others.
Mr. Rumsfeld, who has presided over two wars and is one of the longest-serving Pentagon chiefs, is scheduled to leave when his designated successor, Mr. Gates, is confirmed by the Senate, expected later this month.
Titled “Iraq — Illustrative New Courses of Action,” the memo reflects mounting concern over a war that, as Mr. Rumsfeld put it, has evolved from “major combat operations to counterterrorism, to counterinsurgency, to dealing with death squads and sectarian violence.”
The first section of the memo contains two pages of options that Mr. Rumsfeld describes as “above the line” ideas worthy of consideration. Some that Mr. Rumsfeld found intriguing appear to reflect his long-held view that the United States should use relatively modest force in intervening in foreign countries to avoid creating a dependency on American power. That approach, critics have charged, left the United States unprepared to deal with the chaos that followed the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Rumsfeld has frequently emphasized the difficulty of stabilizing Iraq and the need to turn over responsibility to Iraqi authorities as quickly as possible. But he has also been a forceful, even cantankerous, defender of American policy, often insisting his critics were unduly pessimistic.
On Oct. 31, just a week before finishing the memo, Mr. Rumsfeld told a radio interviewer, “I feel that we are making good progress with the piece of it the Defense Department has.”
One option Mr. Rumsfeld offered calls for modest troop withdrawals “so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.”
Another option calls for redeploying American troops from “vulnerable positions” in Baghdad and other cities to safer areas in Iraq or Kuwait, where they would act as a “quick reaction force.” That idea is similar to a plan suggested by Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, a plan that the White House has soundly rebuffed.
Still another option calls for consolidating the number of American bases in Iraq to 5 from 55 by July 2007, a considerable shrinking of the American footprint. At the same time, Mr. Rumsfeld all but dismisses the idea of setting a firm date for removing American forces from Iraq, listing it as one of the less palatable ideas.
One of the more provocative options would punish provinces that failed to cooperate with the Americans by withdrawing economic assistance and security. “Stop rewarding bad behavior, as was done in Falluja when they pushed in reconstruction funds, and start rewarding good behavior,” the option reads. “No more reconstruction assistance in areas where there is violence.”
Some military officers have said that the idea of denying assistance in some areas ignores the fact that many Iraqis are afraid to cooperate with the Americans for fear of retaliation by insurgents.
Falluja has been the focus of reconstruction efforts following an offensive by Americans that crippled city services and damaged scores of buildings, leaving the United States few options beyond rebuilding or evacuating the city. Now, it is considered by the Marines to be one of the few relatively stable areas in the dangerous Anbar Province. Many of the other towns in the region have become even more hostile because the economic assistance has been minimal, leaving the residents feeling neglected by the authorities in Baghdad, military officers say.
Then, too, work on infrastructure that sprawls across the country, like the electrical grid and the oil pipeline network, cannot be limited to nonviolent areas.
“There is an element of throwing in the towel and effectively giving up on at least some areas of the country,” said James Dobbins, a former State Department official and director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND.
In any case, administration officials indicated this week that withholding assistance was not under serious consideration.
Reflecting exasperation with much of the American government, another option in Mr. Rumsfeld’s memo raises the possibility of using military reservists to “beef up” the Iraqi government’s ministries. “Give up on trying to get other USG Departments to do it,” he writes, referring to other United States government agencies.
Taking a leaf out of Mr. Hussein’s book, Mr. Rumsfeld seemed to see some merit in the former dictator’s practice of paying Iraqi leaders. “Provide money to key political and religious leaders (as Saddam Hussein did), to get them to help us get through this difficult period,” one option reads.
The list of favored options notably does not mention the “clear, hold and build” approach that the White House has touted as its strategy for waging counterinsurgency. That is a troop-intensive approach that calls for clearing contested areas with American and Iraqi troops, holding them with American and Iraqi forces and then carrying out reconstruction programs to win popular support. Nor does the list make the withdrawal of American forces explicitly contingent on improving conditions in Iraq.
The final page of the memo is a brief list of six “less attractive” options, which Mr. Rumsfeld describes as “below the line.” These include an “aggressive federalism plan,” an international conference modeled on the Dayton accords that produced an agreement on Bosnia and an idea that is currently being seriously discussed by senior administration officials: temporarily sending 20,000 additional American forces or more to Baghdad to try to improve security in the Iraqi capital and regain momentum.
Moving a large fraction of American forces to Baghdad to “attempt to control it,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes without further elaboration, would be “below the line.”