Here in this Western outpost that serves as the intellectual center of the United States Army, two elite officers were deep in debate at lunch on a recent day over who bore more responsibility for mistakes in Iraq ”” the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, or the generals who acquiesced to him.
“The secretary of defense is an easy target,” argued one of the officers, Maj. Kareem P. Montague, 34, a Harvard graduate and a commander in the Third Infantry Division that was the first to reach Baghdad in the 2003 invasion. “It’s easy to pick on the political appointee.”
“But he’s the one that’s responsible,” retorted Maj. Michael J. Zinno, 40, a military planner who worked at the headquarters of the Coalitional Provisional Authority, the former American civilian administration in Iraq.
No, Major Montague shot back, it was more complicated: the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top commanders were part of the decision to send in a small invasion force and not enough troops for the occupation. Only Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who was sidelined after he told Congress that it would take several hundred thousand troops in Iraq, spoke up in public.
“You didn’t hear any of them at the time, other than General Shinseki, screaming, saying that this was untenable,” Major Montague said.