Once 'Stormin' Norman,' Gen. Schwarzkopf Is Skeptical About U.S. Action in Iraq
Thomas E. Ricks, washingtonpost.com,
January 28, 2003
TAMPA--Norman Schwarzkopf wants to give peace a chance.
The general who commanded U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf
War says he hasn't seen enough evidence to convince him that his old comrades
Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz are correct in moving toward a new
war now. He thinks U.N. inspections are still the proper course to follow. He's
worried about the cockiness of the U.S. war plan, and even more by the potential
human and financial costs of occupying Iraq.
And don't get him started on Defense Secretary Donald
In fact, the hero of the last Gulf War sounds
surprisingly like the man on the street when he discusses his ambivalence about
the Bush administration's hawkish stance on ousting Saddam Hussein. He worries
about the Iraqi leader, but would like to see some persuasive evidence of Iraq's
alleged weapons programs.
"The thought of Saddam Hussein with a
sophisticated nuclear capability is a frightening thought, okay?" he says.
"Now, having said that, I don't know what intelligence the U.S. government
has. And before I can just stand up and say, 'Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we
need to invade Iraq,' I guess I would like to have better information."
He hasn't seen that yet, and so -- in sharp contrast to
the Bush administration -- he supports letting the U.N. weapons inspectors drive
the timetable: "I think it is very important for us to wait and see what
the inspectors come up with, and hopefully they come up with something
This isn't just any retired officer speaking.
Schwarzkopf is one of the nation's best-known military officers, with name
recognition second only to his former boss, Secretary of State Powell. What's
more, he is closely allied with the Bush family. He hunts with the first
President Bush. He campaigned for the second, speaking on military issues at the
2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia and later stumping in Florida with Cheney,
who was secretary of defense during the 1991 war.
But he sees the world differently from those Gulf War
colleagues. "It's obviously not a black-and-white situation over there"
in the Mideast, he says. "I would just think that whatever path we take, we
have to take it with a bit of prudence."
So has he seen sufficient prudence in the actions of
his old friends in the Bush administration? Again, he carefully withholds his
endorsement. "I don't think I can give you an honest answer on that."
Now 68, the general seems smaller and more soft-spoken
than in his Riyadh heyday 12 years ago when he was "Stormin' Norman,"
the fatigues-clad martinet who intimidated subordinates and reporters alike.
During last week's interview he sat at a small, round table in his skyscraper
office, casually clad in slacks and a black polo shirt, the bland banks and
hotels of Tampa's financial district spread out beyond him.
His voice seems thinner than during those blustery,
globally televised Gulf War briefings. He is limping from a recent knee
operation. He sometimes stays home to nurse the swelling with a bag of frozen
He's had time to think. He likes the performance of
Colin Powell -- chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, now
secretary of state. "He's doing a wonderful job, I think," he says.
But he is less impressed by Rumsfeld, whose briefings he has watched on
"Candidly, I have gotten somewhat nervous at some
of the pronouncements Rumsfeld has made," says Schwarzkopf.
He contrasts Cheney's low profile as defense secretary
during the Gulf War with Rumsfeld's frequent television appearances since Sept.
11, 2001. "He almost sometimes seems to be enjoying it." That,
Schwarzkopf admonishes, is a sensation to be avoided when engaged in war.
The general is a true son of the Army, where he served
from 1956 to 1991, and some of his comments reflect the estrangement between
that service and the current defense secretary. Some at the top of the Army see
Rumsfeld and those around him as overly enamored of air power and high
technology and insufficiently attentive to the brutal difficulties of ground
combat. Schwarzkopf's comments reflect Pentagon scuttlebutt that Rumsfeld and
his aides have brushed aside some of the Army's concerns.
"The Rumsfeld thing . . . that's what comes
up," when he calls old Army friends in the Pentagon, he says.
"When he makes his comments, it appears that he
disregards the Army," Schwarzkopf says. "He gives the perception when
he's on TV that he is the guy driving the train and everybody else better fall
in line behind him -- or else."
That dismissive posture bothers Schwarzkopf because he
thinks Rumsfeld and the people around him lack the background to make sound
military judgments by themselves. He prefers the way Cheney operated during the
Gulf War. "He didn't put himself in the position of being the
decision-maker as far as tactics were concerned, as far as troop deployments, as
far as missions were concerned."
Rumsfeld, by contrast, worries him. "It's scary,
okay?" he says. "Let's face it: There are guys at the Pentagon who
have been involved in operational planning for their entire lives, okay? . . .
And for this wisdom, acquired during many operations, wars, schools, for that
just to be ignored, and in its place have somebody who doesn't have any of that
training, is of concern."
As a result, Schwarzkopf is skeptical that an invasion
of Iraq would be as fast and simple as some seem to think. "I have picked
up vibes that . . . you're going to have this massive strike with massed
weaponry, and basically that's going to be it, and we just clean up the
battlefield after that," he says. But, he adds, he is more comfortable now
with what he hears about the war plan than he was several months ago, when there
was talk of an assault built around air power and a few thousand Special
He expresses even more concern about the task the U.S.
military might face after a victory. "What is postwar Iraq going to look
like, with the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites? That's a huge question, to
my mind. It really should be part of the overall campaign plan."
(Rumsfeld said last week that post-Saddam planning
"is a tough question and we're spending a lot of time on it, let me assure
you." But the Pentagon hasn't disclosed how long it expects to have to
occupy Iraq, or how many troops might be required to do that.)
The administration may be discussing the issue behind
closed doors, Schwarzkopf says, but he thinks it hasn't sufficiently explained
its thinking to the world, especially its assessment of the time, people and
money needed. "I would hope that we have in place the adequate resources to
become an army of occupation," he warns, "because you're going to walk
Just as the Gulf War looks less conclusive in
retrospect, so has Schwarzkopf's reputation diminished since the glory days just
after the war, when, Rick Atkinson wrote in "Crusade," Schwarzkopf
"seemed ubiquitous, appearing at the Kentucky Derby, at the Indianapolis
500, on Capitol Hill, in parades, on bubblegum cards."
Twelve years and two American presidents later, Saddam
Hussein is still in power, and the U.S. military is once again mustering to
Some strategic thinkers, both inside the military and
in academia, see Schwarzkopf's past actions as part of the problem. These
experts argue that if the 1991 war had been terminated more thoughtfully, the
U.S. military wouldn't have to go back again to finish the job.
"Everyone was so busy celebrating the end of the
Vietnam syndrome that we forgot how winners win a war," says one Gulf War
veteran who asked that his name not be used because he hopes to work in the
Schwarzkopf in particular draws fire for approving a
cease-fire that permitted the Iraqi military to fly helicopters after the war.
Soon afterward, Iraqi helicopter gunships were used to put down revolts against
Hussein in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north of Iraq. Only later were
"no-fly zones" established to help protect those minority populations.
"It's quite clear that however brilliant
operationally and technologically, the Gulf War cannot be viewed strategically
as a complete success," says Michael Vickers, a former Special Forces
officer who is now an analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary
Assessments, a defense think tank.
Added one Pentagon expert on Iraq, "With benefit
of hindsight, the victory was incomplete, and the luster of the entire operation
When Army colonels study the Gulf War at the Army War
College nowadays, notes one professor there, "a big part of the class is
discussing war termination."
For all that, few experts contend that Schwarzkopf is
really the one to blame for the way the Gulf War ended. "Insofar as Gulf
War 1 didn't finish the job, blame is more likely and appropriately laid on Bush
41 and, to a somewhat lesser extent, on Colin Powell," says John Allen
Williams, a political scientist who specializes in military affairs at Loyola
Schwarzkopf himself doesn't entirely disagree with the
view that the war was ended badly. "You can't help but sit here today and,
with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say, 'Look, had we done something different,
we probably wouldn't be facing what we are facing today.' "
But, he continues, Washington never instructed him to
invade Iraq or oust Saddam Hussein. "My mission, plain and simple, was kick
Iraq out of Kuwait. Period. There were never any other orders." Given the
information available back then, the decision to stop the war with Saddam
Hussein still in power was, he says, "probably was the only decision that
could have been made at that time."
Schwarzkopf was never as lionized in military circles
as he was by the general public. Like a rock star, he shuns commercial air
travel mainly because he can barely walk through an airport without being
besieged by autograph seekers and well-wishers. But his reputation inside the
Army has "always been a bit different from the outside view," notes
retired Army Col. Richard H. Sinnreich, who frequently participates in war games
and other military training sessions.
Sinnreich doesn't think that many in the armed forces
blame Schwarzkopf for the inconclusive ending of the Gulf War. "I know of
no Army officer, active or retired, who holds such a view," he says. "The
decision to suspend offensive operations clearly was a political decision that I
suspect the relevant principals now profoundly regret, even if they're loath to
But what did sour some in the Army on Schwarzkopf, says
Sinnreich, was his "rather ungracious treatment of his Gulf War
Schwarzkopf raised eyebrows across the Army when, in
his Gulf War memoir, he denounced one of his generals, Frederick Franks, for
allegedly moving his 7th Corps in a "plodding and overly cautious"
manner during the attack on the Iraqi military. He elaborated on that criticism
in subsequent rounds of interviews. This public disparagement of a former
subordinate rankled some in the Army, which even more than the other services
likes to keep its internal disputes private.
"I think his attack on Franks was wrong,"
says Army Maj. Donald Vandergriff, in a typical comment.
"It wasn't meant to be an attack on Fred
Franks," Schwarzkopf responds in the interview. Rather, he says, he was
trying to provide an honest assessment, in the tradition of the Army's practice
of conducting brutally accurate "after-action reviews." "No
matter how painful it is, [when] you do your after-action review, tell it like
The other behavior that bothered some was Schwarzkopf's
virtual absence from the Army after the Gulf War. Many retired generals make
almost a full-time job of working with the Army -- giving speeches at West Point
and at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., visiting bases to mentor
up-and-coming officers, sitting on Pentagon advisory boards, writing
commentaries in military journals.
"The fact that Schwarzkopf . . . did not make
himself available to speak to the many, many Army audiences anxious to listen to
him won him no friends in the Army," notes retired Army Brig. Gen. John
Adds Earl H. Tilford Jr., a former director of research
at the War College's Strategic Studies Institute: "You never saw him at
Likewise, a professor at West Point recalls repeatedly
being brushed off by Schwarzkopf's office.
Schwarzkopf says he avoided those circles for good
reason. After the Gulf War, he says, he decided to take a low profile within the
Army because he didn't want to step on the toes of the service's post-Gulf War
leaders. There were sensitivities about overshadowing those generals, he says,
especially after word leaked that he had been considered for the post of Army
chief of staff but had declined the position.
Seeing that "open wound," he says, "I
purposely distanced myself for a reasonable time."
The Army War College's location in rural Pennsylvania
makes it difficult to reach from his home in the Tampa area, he says. And he
notes that he has done much other work behind the scenes on behalf of the Army,
including meeting with presidential candidate Bush to lobby him on military
He also has been busy with nonmilitary charities. After
a bout with prostate cancer in 1994, he threw himself into helping cancer
research; no fewer than 10 groups that fight cancer or conduct other medical
research have given him awards in recent years.
Perhaps the real reason that Schwarzkopf's reputation
has shrunk has more to do with America and less to do with Schwarzkopf's actions.
American wars used to produce heroes such as Washington, Grant and Eisenhower,
whose names were known by all schoolchildren, notes Boston University political
scientist Andrew Bacevich.
But in recent decades, Bacevich says, "military
fame has lost its durability." Sen. John McCain may appear to be an
exception, he says, but he is someone noted less for what he did in the military
than for what he endured as a prisoner of war.
More representative, Bacevich notes, may be Army Gen.
Tommy R. Franks, the officer who would lead U.S. forces in any new war with Iraq.
Franks "has not ignited widespread popular affection," says Bacevich,
himself a retired Army colonel.
It may be that American society no longer has an
appetite for heroes, military or otherwise, says Ward Carroll, a recently
retired naval aviator and author of "Punk's War," a novel about
patrolling the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. American society may not be
making the kinds of sacrifices that make people look for heroes to celebrate.
"You don't have rationing, you don't have gold stars in the window, and the
other things that made [war heroes] a part of the fabric of American life"
in the past, he says.
Even Schwarzkopf's own Gulf War memoir was titled
"It Doesn't Take a Hero."
Or it just may be that America no longer puts anyone up
on a pedestal. "Even our sports heroes aren't heroes anymore, in the way
that Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle were," says Carroll. "The picture is
a lot more blurred nowadays."
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