Simmons, Shays Find Fault, But Stop Short Of Seeking Resignation
The Hartford Courant
By DAVID LIGHTMAN
April 20, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Rob Simmons has been at odds with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for years over the Groton sub base, Marine One, protecting U.S. troops in Iraq and the future of the submarine fleet.
Rep. Christopher Shays has been a persistent critic of how the Pentagon planned the war and its aftermath.
Washington lawmakers lately have been in three camps over Rumsfeld. Most Democrats want him out. Most Republicans want him to stay. But some Republicans, while not calling for his resignation, acknowledge that he has presided over a Pentagon in turmoil and are voicing their strong criticisms.
Simmons, R-2nd District, and Shays, R-4th District, are in that small group.
Shays, who this week is making his 12th visit to Iraq since the war began, said Wednesday that Rumsfeld is "very bright and very arrogant; that arrogance led us to make significant mistakes in Iraq that prolonged the war."
Though Shays has consistently supported the mission, he long has been critical of Pentagon strategy and has written several letters after his trips detailing his points. But those criticisms are not necessarily reasons to call for Rumsfeld to go, the congressman said.
"The president does not respond to pressure, so I did not think asking Rumsfeld to resign would get the desired outcome," Shays said. "I felt the best thing I could do was to work to conduct tough oversight of the war and try to help improve the operations in Iraq."
The state's other Republican in Congress, Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-5th District, has not responded to requests for comment.
"Republicans have a political problem here," said Chris Hellman, military policy analyst at Washington's Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Rumsfeld's fights with Congress and military personnel and the widespread criticism of his management of the war have made him an easy Democratic target - and a potential political problem for vulnerable Republicans such as Shays, Simmons and Johnson as they prepare for November's elections.
But at the same time, Hellman said, "You cashier Rumsfeld and you've repudiated everything you've said about Iraq."
Some Republicans around the country have criticized Rumsfeld, but usually stop short of calling for him to step down. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., for instance, said this week the secretary "does not command the respect and confidence" of service personnel, but that it's Bush who "needs to make the call" on the secretary's future.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., earlier this week noted that the Iraq situation is "politically volatile," and "this is a period of frustration." Like Shays and Simmons, he deferred to Bush, saying, "President Bush makes the call." When pressed, he said keeping Rumsfeld is a "good call."
The debate was sparked by six retired generals, who last week criticized Rumsfeld's stewardship of the war and his management style.
Simmons, a Vietnam veteran who served in the military for 37 years before retiring in 2003 with the rank of colonel, was annoyed with the generals.
One critic, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who commanded U.S. troops in the Middle East from 1997 to 2000, "is writing a book," Simmons said, "and he's been quoted that the war in Iraq is a war the generals didn't want. ... I beg your pardon. Since when do generals pick the wars?"
Simmons added that he is "troubled by the idea that these generals are quiet when they're in uniform and noisy when they retire with all their pay and benefits intact."
Simmons noted that when Maj. Gen. John Singlaub openly disagreed with President Carter's plan to phase out U.S. ground troops in South Korea, Carter dismissed him.
At least, Simmons said, Singlaub had the guts to speak out when it mattered. "He did not whisper in the corridors of power and then wait till he was safe and secure in retirement to speak his mind," the congressman said.
Simmons has been a consistent supporter of the Iraq effort, but has clashed repeatedly with Rumsfeld over other matters.
It was Rumsfeld's Pentagon that recommended last year that the Naval Submarine Base at Groton close, a decision reversed by the base closing commission. The Pentagon also awarded the Marine One contract, held by Sikorsky Aircraft for years, to a team headed by Lockheed Martin Corp.
But Simmons declined to characterize Rumsfeld's performance in Iraq. "The president feels he's doing a good job," the congressman said. "You can't have 535 commanders-in-chief." (One hundred senators and 435 representatives serve in Congress.)
Democrats had no qualms about criticizing the secretary.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., and Reps. John B. Larson, D-1st District, and Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, said this week they wanted Rumsfeld out. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., traveling in the Middle East, could not be reached for comment.
Larson wanted Rumsfeld to step down in 2004 after the problems at the Abu Ghraib prison came to light. "The policies in Iraq have failed," he reiterated this week, "and someone's got to be held accountable."
On Wednesday, DeLauro was unequivocal about her views.
"The Bush administration must be held accountable for their lack of pre-war planning, their decision to overrule military advice on the number of troops needed to win in Iraq, the continuing equipment shortages facing the Army, and their failure to define an exit strategy," she said.
"This poor judgment has cost American lives and has happened on Secretary Rumsfeld's watch. The drumbeat on the failures of this war is only growing louder, with six retired generals - some of which were on the ground in Iraq - calling for the resignation of the defense secretary," DeLauro said. "The administration should listen. President Bush must fire Secretary Rumsfeld."