CLARKE: What kind of signal would it send, by the way? This is tough stuff, no two ways about it. There have been good things that have happened. There has been important progress made in Iraq. Nobody seems to focus on the positive. They only focus on the negative. People on the ground understands how tough this is, understands that this secretary has backed them up completely with what they needed, when they needed it, what they want.
BLITZER: Torie makes a point, Paul. What kind of signal would it send to al Qaeda and the terrorists, the insurgents, if Rumsfeld was forced out?
BEGALA: It would send a signal to our soldiers that incompetence would be punished. When Les Aspen was secretary of defense for President Clinton, he was asked to send armor in to Somalia. He declined to do so. Eighteen rangers were killed. It became "Black Hawk Down." Les Aspen lost his job for that. He made an enormous mistake. Men died because of that mistake. He was fired because of that.
Secretary Rumsfeld has made much larger mistakes and many more people have died. He overruled his military commanders who said they need 300,000 troops to peacefully occupy this country. Now people are dying because of Mr. Rumsfeld's incompetence. We have to show there is price to be paid for incompetence.
CLARKE:There is an urban legend that Rumsfeld has overruled the military leadership. Nothing could be further from the truth.
By the way, it is an insult to people like Abizaid and Casey and Franks who have 30 to 40 years in uniform to suggest something like that. It is an insult to them. You're insulting them when you're saying they're not getting what they need when they needed it. (emphasis added)
BEGALA: Shinseki was the Army Chief of Staff, the number one general in America. He testified under oath that we needed hundreds of thousands of troops. Mr. Rumsfeld and this pinhead Professor Wolfowitz who worked for him, publicly insulted him and trashed him and effectively relieved him from his duty.
CLARKE: Urban legend. Months before General Shinseki testified and said it would take several hundred thousand troops, months before it was publicly known that Shinseki was not coming back. Do not propagate the myth.
That is classic Rovespeak: Pointing out that Rumsfeld over-ruled his commanders is itself an insult to those commanders. Why? Because they didn't object strenuously enough? Because they didn't resign? Because they behaved like soldiers and carried out their orders?
Regarding General Shinseki and urban legends, traditionally when a story has been repeatedly substantiated, it ceases to be called an urban legend. I may, however, be mired in pre-9/11 thinking here in that I cling to the perhaps outmoded belief that assertions require proof. On the circumstances of General's exit, here's an interview with James Fallows.
Q: In the tensions existing between the Pentagon and the military, Shinseki seemed a particular target. Explain.
FALLOWS: Shinseki's last, say, year and a half in office was a series of apparently calculated and intentional insults from the civilian leadership, especially Donald Rumsfeld. The episode that got the most public attention was when Rumsfeld announced Shinseki's successor as chief of staff, about a year and a half before his term was up. Usually this announcement is made right at the last minute to avoid turning the incumbent into a lame duck.
Q: Three weeks before the war, Shinseki testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Describe what happened.
FALLOWS: Shinseki has been, through his career, a real by-the-book guy. So he would not go out of his way to make public disagreements that were clearly going on inside the Pentagon. But in the hearing where Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan was sort of drawing him out on what he expected the troop levels to be, Shinseki finally said, based on his own past experience, that he thought it would be several hundred thousand troops. This became a real arcane term about, what did several hundred thousand mean? But let's say 300,000 and up. His real level, internally, had been in the 400,000 range.
Several days later, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, appeared before a different committee. [He] went out of his way essentially to slap Shinseki in the face, to say there had been some recent estimates that had been wildly off the mark -- using the term, "wildly off the mark." Then he went on to say that it was almost impossible to imagine that it would be harder, and take more troops, to occupy Iraq than it had taken to conquer them; whereas that point, that it would be harder to occupy than conquer, was in fact the central theme the Army had been advancing before the war.
Q: Was this public rebuke surprising?
FALLOWS: The public rebuke of Shinseki by Wolfowitz was probably the most direct public dressing-down of a military officer, a four-star general, by a civilian superior since Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur, 50 years ago. This public confrontation between Wolfowitz and Shinseki must have reflected the really deep disagreements going on within the Pentagon then, and a sign of the civilian leadership's impatience with what they viewed as the lack of cooperation from the uniformed military.
A couple of days later, Paul Wolfowitz was testifying before another congressional committee. He went out of his way, in a gesture that everyone involved recognized as being directly addressed to Shinseki, to say, "Let me address some of the ideas that have been floating around recently." He went on to say there had been suggestions of the levels of troops that might be required that were, quote, "wildly off the mark."
This was not the way that generals and Pentagon superiors talked to each other.
Okay, if he wasn't fired, he was humiliated and effectively neutered. It also fits the pattern of the Bush Gang's treatment of others who strayed too far into candor, such as economic adviser Larry Lindsay, who made the disastrous mistake of offering an honest estimate of the Iraq invasion's costs ($200 billion, which actually turned out to be a lowball), and was quickly thereafter shown the door.