Wallace failed to challenge Rumsfeld's false claims about troop levels in Iraq, which Hume later echoed

On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace failed to challenge Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's misleading claim that the number of troops in Iraq “is not a decision I make.” Rumsfeld continued: “This is a decision that's made by the military commanders. [Retired] Gen. [Tommy R.] Franks, Gen. [John P.] Abizaid, Gen. [George W.] Casey [Jr.] have decided what those numbers are.”

Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume echoed Rumsfeld's claim during the subsequent “Fox News Sunday Roundtable.” Referring to the generals, Hume insisted that “if they came forward and said, 'Hey, we do need more troops now, this thing has grown to a degree we didn't expect, we can only suppress it with another 100,000 troops,' they'd get them.”

In fact, substantial evidence suggests that in developing the war plan Rumsfeld rejected the advice of top military commanders who warned that more troops would be necessary to secure postwar Iraq. And even after the end of “major combat operations,” Rumsfeld reportedly squelched requests from military commanders -- as well as L. Paul Bremer III, who headed the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority until the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004 -- for more troops.

Franks, the former commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), has acknowledged that he felt more troops were needed in Iraq. He wrote in his recent book American Soldier (Regan, 2004) that he projected that 250,000 troops would be required to secure postwar Iraq, as he acknowledged in an August 16, 2004, appearance on CNN's Paula Zahn Now.

In an October 17, 2004, article on the Bush administration's Iraq policy, Knight Ridder reported that Rumsfeld successfully opposed higher troop levels that military planners thought were necessary. The article found that "[t]he administration also failed to provide some 100,000 additional U.S. troops that American military commanders originally wanted to help restore order and reconstruct a country." The article explained:

Central Command originally proposed a force of 380,000 to attack and occupy Iraq. Rumsfeld's opening bid was about 40,000, “a division-plus,” said three senior military officials who participated in the discussions. Bush and his top advisers finally approved the 250,000 troops the commanders requested to launch the invasion. But the additional troops that the military wanted to secure Iraq after Saddam's regime fell were either delayed or never sent.

Four senior officers who were directly involved said Rumsfeld and Franks micromanaged the complex process of deciding when and how the troops and their equipment would be sent to Iraq, called the Time-Phased Force and Deployment Data, canceling some units, rescheduling others and even moving equipment from one ship to another.

As a result, two Army divisions that Centcom wanted to help secure the country weren't on hand when Baghdad fell and the country lapsed into anarchy, and a third, the 1st Cavalry from Fort Hood, Texas, fell so far behind schedule that on April 21 Franks and Rumsfeld dropped it from the plan.

Moreover, Gregory Hooker, CENTCOM's senior intelligence analyst for Iraq, who was deeply involved in prewar planning, described Rumsfeld's repeated desire to use fewer troops in his research paper Shaping the Plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Role of Military Intelligence Assessments (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, May 2005). Hooker wrote that “near-constant demands from Rumsfeld and his aides for new versions of the war plan using fewer American troops wasted time and diverted attention from fleshing out a blueprint for the March 2003 invasion,” according to a May 20 Knight Ridder article previewing the book.

New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh quoted anonymous military sources in an April 7, 2003, article -- before the fall of Baghdad and before lack of troop strength was widely recognized as an obstacle to stabilizing Iraq -- similarly describing Rumsfeld's rejection of plans calling for more troops:

Rumsfeld repeatedly overruled the senior Pentagon planners on the Joint Staff, the operating arm of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “He thought he knew better,” one senior planner said. “He was the decision-maker at every turn.” On at least six occasions, the planner told me, when Rumsfeld and his deputies were presented with operational plans -- the Iraqi assault was designated Plan 1003 -- he insisted that the number of ground troops be sharply reduced.

Even conservative Weekly Standard editor William Kristol has reported that “Gen. Tommy Franks had projected that he would need a quarter-million troops on the ground for that task” in a Washington Post op-ed criticizing Rumsfeld's failure to commit enough troops for “postwar stabilization.”

Most famously, in February 2003, a few weeks before the invasion began, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, now retired, told Congress that "[s]omething on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers ... would be required" to stabilize postwar Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz rejected this claim, insisting that he was “reasonably certain that they [the Iraqis] will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep [troop] requirements down.” Rumsfeld shared Wolfowitz's optimism. “Rumsfeld said the post-war troop commitment would be less than the number of troops required to win the war. He also said 'the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces, I think, is far from the mark,' ” [CNN, 3/3/03]. Rumsfeld also retaliated against Shinseki. “Rumsfeld's office leaked word of Shinseki's replacement 15 months before Shinseki was due to retire, both embarrassing and neutralizing the Army's top officer,” Knight Ridder's May 20 article recalled.

Similarly, though he is not a military commander, Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority, stated in October 2004 that “We never had enough troops on the ground.”

Contrary to Hume's assertion that if generals asked for more troops, “they'd get them,” Rumsfeld maintained lower troop levels than commanders wanted during the post-invasion period. According to a February 7 article in Newsweek, Rumsfeld has effectively rejected at least one postwar appeal already, from Abizaid and other military commanders:

Ultimately, Bremer did ask for more troops. So did commanders in the field. But Rumsfeld and the brass balked at committing even more of the overstretched Army to bolster what they increasingly viewed as unrealistic occupation goals. Gen. John Abizaid, who took over from Gen. Tommy Franks as commander of CENTCOM, also asked for more soldiers, sources tell NEWSWEEK. He followed the usual practice, which is to dispatch a draft request to the Pentagon. But Abizaid was told not to send it up in final form. (The result, sources say, is that Rumsfeld was able to insist truthfully that no such request was received from the field.)

The April 12, 2004, New York Daily News reported that Abizaid “has been repeatedly discouraged from asking for more soldiers,” according to a “senior military official.” The article further quoted that official: “Rumsfeld has made it clear to the whole building that he wasn't interested in getting any requests for more troops.”

From the June 26 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: I want to turn to another aspect of this. When we announced that you were going to be on the program, I got a phone call -- unsolicited phone call -- from a gentleman who had been a veteran of Vietnam, wounded twice in Vietnam, whose son is now serving in Iraq. And he said that he never thought that this country would fight another Vietnam, meaning send our troops over there without enough strength to win, but he said -- this is his argument -- that that's exactly what's going on in Iraq, that we are fighting another Vietnam in the sense that we don't have enough force to win. And then he said, the problem -- and I'm going to quote him now -- is, he said, “Rumsfeld tried to fight this on the cheap.” ... What do you say to that patriotic but very concerned father?

RUMSFELD: Sure. Well, I think you thank him first for his service, and then thank him for the service of his son. And then point out that this is not a decision I make; this is a decision that's made by the military commanders. Gen. Franks, Gen. Abizaid, Gen. Casey have decided what those numbers are. They've recommended them to me. I've recommended them to the president. I agree with them. I think they're right.

I can understand some people would say, “Oh, there ought to be more,” or, “There ought to be less.” Gen. Abizaid and Gen.Casey are absolutely convinced, and said so publicly, that they would worry if there were more U.S. forces there, because it would require more force protection, more support troops, more targets, a heavier footprint, a more intrusive occupation force that would further alienate Iraqi people from the coalition forces and what they're trying to do.

On the “Sunday Roundtable” segment later in the show, Hume disputed Kristol's criticism of troop levels in Iraq:

KRISTOL: And I think we haven't had enough troops and we don't have enough troops, and there are now military officials saying that almost on the record. Third Armored Cavalry Regiment officials telling The New York Times that we, they do not have enough troops to do adequate counterinsurgency fighting. And the secretary of defense's answer to that is he doesn't make those decisions; the generals make those decisions.

HUME: Well, there was more than that to his answer. That's what strikes me. One of the questions always is, is this balance you have to strike. You're in a country that you're trying to liberate and you're trying to make independent. The larger your military presence, the larger your footprint, the less that seems to be so. From the beginning of this, critics of this war have said, “We are too big a presence in Iraq. This occupation must end. Any effort to enlarge the troop presence there will further enhance that side of the equation, and not for the better.”

So I think it's a delicate question, and I do think that the generals are calling the shots here. And I don't think there's any doubt that if they came forward and said, “Hey, we do need more troops now, this thing has grown to a degree we didn't expect, we can only suppress it with another 100,000 troops,” they'd get them.