Wash. Times editorial embraced London Times article that baselessly suggested most troops in Iraq support Rumsfeld


A November 13 Washington Times editorial touted a November 10 London Times article that asserted -- without citing support -- that "the frontline soldiers in Iraq" are dismayed by Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation as defense secretary, primarily because they are concerned it would lead to a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. In fact, as blogger Greg Sargent noted, the London Times quoted no soldiers actually saying they "fear[ed] Rumsfeld's exit will end their Iraq mission" and cited "a grand total of two soldiers [who] praised Rumsfeld," one of whom called his impending departure a "blow to the military." Sargent commented: "How's that for scientific research?"

Additionally, The Washington Times editorial omitted the London Times' report in the same article that, according to one unnamed U.S. Army colonel, "positive views" of Rumsfeld "were uncommon in higher ranks of the US military," because "[w]e are the ones closer to the problem." The London Times reported the colonel's specific criticisms:

The colonel criticised Mr Rumsfeld for sending too few troops to Iraq, and for refusing to listen to the advice of his generals. He noted that General Eric Shinseki, the former US Army Chief of Staff, was dismissed for demanding more troops, while General John Abizaid, the commander of Central Command, was the sole general to have differed publicly with Mr Rumsfeld and survived.

Other news reports contradict the London Times' suggestion that most "frontline soldiers in Iraq" opposed Rumsfeld's departure. A November 10 New York Times article reported that, "among these young marines slogging through the war in [Iraq's] Anbar Province, [Rumsfeld] appeared to mean almost nothing. If he was another casualty, they had seen worse." According to the article, when told by his sergeant that "Rumsfeld's out," one Marine replied, "Who's Rumsfeld?" A November 9 Stars and Stripes article reported that the "[t]roops' reaction across Europe to the announcement of ... Rumsfeld's resignation ranged from shock to disinterest," including some who opposed the move and some who favored it. According to the Stars and Stripes article, one soldier who recently returned from Iraq said, "I think it's time for another person to step up and see if they're capable of making better decisions regarding Iraq. This war's gone on for a long time ... it's time for new ideas."

Sargent also noted that conservative bloggers Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters and John Hinderaker at Power Line have promoted the London Times article as a contrast to the November 10 New York Times article mentioned above. The Washington Times mentioned Morrissey in the editorial.

From the November 13 Washington Times editorial, titled "Let us finish the job":

With the handover of power in Congress and the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it might be a good time to wonder how the troops in Iraq are handling all this. Quick summary: It looks like we shouldn't worry.

A London Times reporter interviewed a handful of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and asked them about their feelings regarding the changes back home. As the Times reports, "Some members of the 101st Airborne Division and other troops approached by the Times as they prepared to fly home from Baghdad airport yesterday expressed concern that Robert Gates, Mr. Rumsfeld's successor, and the Democrat-controlled Congress, might seek to wind down their mission before it was finished." No one yet knows just how Mr. Gates might differ from his predecessor, at least until the Baker commission's findings on the war are revealed. But the troops' concerns that Democrats might follow through on their campaign rhetoric and abort the mission are certainly warranted.

As opposed to the glee felt in many quarters of the country following Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation, the Times found a handful of troops who felt differently. Insisting that Iraq was better off than before the war, Staff Sgt. Frank Notaro said that Mr. Rumsfeld "made decisions, he stuck with them and he did what he thought was right, whether people agreed with it, like it, or not." That's clearly not an endorsement, but for the soldiers on the front lines resolute decision-making is preferable to second-guessing. Staff Sgt. Michael Howard was more forceful. "It's a blow to the military," he told the Times. "He was a good Secretary of Defense. He kept us focused. He kept leaders focused. It's going to be hard to fill his shoes."

Indeed, one gets the sense from the Times story that the troops' biggest concern is that the changes in Washington might lead to a confusion in priorities on the ground. While they would accept a change in tactics, it seems unlikely they'll accept defeat. "I hope history will judge that we did something good and stuck with it and saw it through," said Major Mike Jason, "because it's already been pretty damn costly." As blogger Ed Morrissey has pointed out, the Times is not a pro-war paper. It should be commended for giving the troops a chance to speak their minds -- something oddly missing in the U.S. media after Tuesday's Democratic victories. And what the troops are saying to Washington is, "Let us finish the job we started."

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
The Washington Times
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