Inside the Ring

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - Bill Gertz Rowan Scar­bor­ough

Vague rules

De­fense of­fi­cials tell us one of the rules of en­gage­ment for U.S. com­bat troops in Iraq is vague and writ­ten by lawyers with lit­tle or no bat­tle ex­pe­ri­ence. The re­sult is that troops are at risk of get­ting killed in ac­tion be­cause of mil­i­tary lawyers’ pen­chant for am­bi­gu­ity.

One trou­bling rule that is among sev­eral printed on the card given to troops go­ing into com­bat is “use min­i­mum force nec­es­sary to de­ci­sively elim­i­nate the threat.” It is viewed by many in the mil­i­tary as am­bigu­ous and con­fus­ing.

“Does it mean you are ob­li­gated to wres­tle with a threat rather than shoot him or her?” one de­fense of­fi­cial asked. “That is how a lot of po­lice of­fi­cers lose their lives each year, as the crim­i­nal gains con­trol of the po­lice of­fi­cer’s firearm. How about ap­proach­ing and/or wrestling a threat who, it turns out, is a homi­cide bomber?”

Bot­tom line: There is no way in law to de­fine “min­i­mum deadly force,” the of­fi­cial said.

It is not known whether the im­pre­cise rules di­rectly led to the deaths in ac­tion of U.S. troops in Iraq, but some say it is likely be­cause the rules are overly cau­tious and vague, an ap­par­ent out­growth of de­struc­tive po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness ap­plied to war.

“A ma­jor part of the prob­lem is that mil­i­tary com­man­ders have sur­ren­dered their re­spon­si­bil­ity for ROE [rules of en­gage­ment] prepa­ra­tion and ap­proval to lawyers lack­ing the knowl­edge, train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence to pre­pare ROE. Un­sure of them­selves, they err to cau­tion and am­bi­gu­ity,” the of­fi­cial said.

Said a sec­ond of­fi­cial: “Only some­one who hasn’t been in a close gun­fight could find that a rea­son­able set of ROE.”

And a third of­fi­cial said of the “min­i­mum” re­quire­ment: “In­ter­est­ing. Some­one did not take the Napoleon Or­ders class” — a ref­er­ence to mak­ing sure that or­ders is­sued to troops are clear.

We’re told that one of the first things Army Lt. Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, the next com­man­der of forces in Iraq, needs to do is de­mand an over­haul of the rules of en­gage­ment by line of­fi­cers, not lawyers, so that am­bi­gu­i­ties will be elim­i­nated and lives saved.

A spokesman for Multi­na­tional Forces-Iraq could not be reached for com­ment.

Pe­traeus pre­dic­tion

Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, asked Lt. Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, the in­com­ing com­man­der in Iraq, what hap­pens if the United States leaves Iraq.

“There is the very real pos­si­bil­ity of in­volve­ment of coun­tries from else­where in the re­gion, around Iraq, en­ter­ing Iraq to take sides with one or the other groups,” Gen. Pe­traeus said at his Se­nate Armed Ser­vices con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing this week. “There is the pos­si­bil­ity, cer­tainly, of an in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion truly get­ting a grip on some sub­stan­tial piece of Iraq. There is the pos­si­bil­ity of prob­lems in the global econ­omy, should in fact this cause a dis­rup­tion to the flow of oil — and a num­ber of other po­ten­tial out­comes, none of which are pos­i­tive.”

World gov­ern­ment

House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Lan­tos, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, an­nounced his com­mit­tee’s or­ga­ni­za­tion this way: “Mem­bers formed sub­com­mit­tees with ju­ris­dic­tions span­ning the Earth and cov­er­ing a range of the most press­ing global chal­lenges.”

Korea, not Viet­nam

Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Vir­ginia Demo­crat and dec­o­rated war hero, gave the Democrats’ re­sponse to Pres­i­dent Bush’s State of the Union ad­dress, and likened Iraq to the 1950-53 Korean War.

Mr. Webb said, “As I look at Iraq, I re­call the words of for­mer gen­eral and soon-to-be Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­how­er­dur­ingthedark­daysof the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stale­mate. ‘ When comes the end?’ asked the gen­eral who had com­manded our forces in Europe­dur­ingWorldWarII.An­das soon as he be­came pres­i­dent, he brought the Korean War to an end.”

We think that is an apt com­par­i­son, but prob­a­bly not for the same rea­son as Mr. Webb’s.

Like Iraq, the U.S. war in Korea was dogged by poor plan­ning, the wrong types of troops, failed tac­tics and ma­jor mis­cal­cu­la­tions, such as China com­ing to the com­mu­nist north’s de­fense. The Amer- ican death toll: 36,000 in theater.

But in the end, Amer­ica won. The north’sin­va­sion­was­re­versedandthe south­wasp­re­served.It­ma­tured­into one­ofthe­world’sgreat­democ­ra­cies, freemar­ket­­lies.Andafree South Korea helped blunt Josef Stalin’s plan for a com­mu­nist Asia. What­some­have­calledthe“forgotten war” was messy and un­pop­u­lar. It drove Harry S. Tru­man from of­fice. But it made the world a bet­ter place. It just took 30 years to re­al­ize it.

Mov­ing on

WordinthePen­tag­o­nisthatEric Ruff, press sec­re­tary to De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld, will leave the build­ing later this year.

Mr. Ruff had worked as a spe­cial as­sis­tant for more than two years in May when Mr. Rums­feld named him press sec­re­tary. Mr. Rums­feld left of­fice in De­cem­ber, suc­ceeded by Robert M. Gates.

Mr.Ruff­forgeda­close­work­ingre­la­tion­ship with Mr. Rums­feld, ad­vis­ing him on com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy.

He is gen­er­ally liked by the Pen­tagon press corps, which finds him ac­ces­si­ble and re­spon­sive.

Mr. Ruff has served in a num­ber of gov­ern­ment pub­lic af­fairs jobs, in­clud­ing press sec­re­tary to Sen. John W. Warner, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, and Sen. Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son, Texas Repub­li­can.

The un-Rums­feld

Our col­league David Sands trav­eled with De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates two weeks ago. He filed this re­port:

Mr. Gates made a quickie post­con­fir­ma­tion trip to Bagh­dad last month. But Sec­re­tary Gates’ sev­en­coun­try, five-day, 13-flight swing through West­ern Europe, Cen­tral Asia and the Mid­dle East last week wasthe­re­al­shake­down­cruise­forthe sec­re­tary,his­gen­er­al­san­dad­mi­rals, his sched­ulers, his staff and the Pen- tagon press corps. All were still re­cov­er­ing from six years of ver­bal and pol­icy jousts with for­mer De­fenseSec­re­taryDon­aldH.Rums­feld.

The­new­boss­re­lieson­notes­from in­dex cards in his pub­lic re­marks, us­ing few of the color­ful metaphors orelo­quen­thandges­tures­fa­voredby his pre­de­ces­sor. For jour­nal­ists, the good news is that low-key, soft-spo­ken Mr. Gates rarely chal­lenges the premises of their ques­tions, an­other fa­vorite Rums­feld tac­tic. The bad new­sisthathean­swer­sonlyas­much of the ques­tion as he wants.

Mr. Gates did let slip a few per­sonal in­sights on the trip. His long years in the CIA served him well, as he could re­call pre­vi­ous vis­its to vir­tu­al­lyev­erysto­pon­the­tour.Heeven rem­i­nisced with Ro­ma­nian jour­nal­ists in Iraq about his 1975 trip there.

He frankly ac­knowl­edged the “risk” to his rep­u­ta­tion in leav­ing a job he dearly loved as pres­i­dent of Texas A&M Univer­sity to head the Pen­tagon in the depths of the Iraq war. But he added, “I think if you put your per­sonal in­ter­ests — in­clud­ing pro­tect­ing your rep­u­ta­tion — ahead of a sense of duty, you’ve got your val­ues screwed up.”

Mr. Gates said one of his “fa­vorite quotes” is a bit of re­al­ist wis­dom about diplo­macy from Prus­sian ruler Fred­er­ick the Great: “Ne­go­ti­a­tions with­out arms are like notes with­out in­stru­ments.”

And the Pen­tagon chief strongly hinted that his fu­ture fact-find­ing mis­sions will fea­ture ei­ther fewer stops or more days.

“I’ve found at least one fact,” he said in Iraq on the trip’s fi­nal full day. “I’m too old to do seven coun­tries in 5 1/2 days.”

Bill Gertz and Rowan Scar­bor­ough are Pen­tagon re­porters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or bgertz@wash­ing­ton­ Mr. Scar­bor­ough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or rscar­bor­ough@wash­ing­ton­

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