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Sunday, December 19, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > Prominent G.O.P. Senators Back Rumsfeld, for Now

The New York Times > Washington > Prominent G.O.P. Senators Back Rumsfeld, for Now: "December 19, 2004
Prominent G.O.P. Senators Back Rumsfeld, for Now
By BRIAN KNOWLTON
December 19, 2004
Prominent G.O.P. Senators Back Rumsfeld, for Now
By BRIAN KNOWLTON

WASHINGTON, DEC. 19 - Influential Republican senators expressed qualified support today for the embattled defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying a change in Pentagon leadership would be unwise at this time of war in Iraq. They made clear, however, that they had serious reservations about his stewardship of that war.

Of acute concern, senators from both parties said, was the failure to more quickly and effectively train Iraqi security personnel, a situation they said had been seriously aggravated by an early United States decision to disband the Iraqi Army in the immediate aftermath of the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

One senator said that the Iraqi security forces trained so far were at the "bottom level" in competence and capability. The senators said that offers from France, Germany and others to provide greater training assistance should now be taken up.

Following a week in which three senior Republican lawmakers expressed serious reservations about Mr. Rumsfeld, the qualified endorsements of two top Republican senators - Richard Lugar of Indiana, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, and John Warner of Virginia, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, seemed likely to carry weight.

"We should not at this point in time entertain any idea of changing those responsibilities in the Pentagon," Senator Warner said on the NBC "Meet the Press" program. Despite past disagreements with Mr. Rumsfeld, he said, "I have confidence in my ability and his ability to continue to work together as a team."

Senator Lugar, on the same program, said that Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership was flawed, but that the answer was not to get rid of him now. Mr. Rumsfeld "should be held accountable and he should stay in office," Mr. Lugar said.

The White House, which has made clear that Secretary Rumsfeld would be among the minority of cabinet members asked to stay on in the coming term, stood firmly behind him today. "Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job, and the president has great confidence in him," Andrew Card, the president's chief of staff, said on the ABC "This Week" program.

Mr. Rumsfeld has of late been the focal point of a number of miscues that together have begun to erode the level of political and popular support he once enjoyed. Most recently, the Defense Department has had to acknowledge that an automated device had been signing Mr. Rumsfeld's name to letters of condolence to families of service people killed in Iraq, and that henceforth he would personally sign the letters.

Just a few days before that, Mr. Rumsfeld was videotaped in Kuwait being asked by a soldier headed for Iraq about shortages of armor and other vital equipment. Critics said his answers - that the country had gone to war "with the army we have" and that even an armored vehicle was not necessarily a safe one - were at best unsympathetic, at worst arrogant.

Mr. Rumsfeld has often been a target of Democrats, but now some prominent Republicans have added their voices. Senator John McCain of Arizona, a member of the Armed Services Committee and a frequent critic of the administration's Iraq war planning, said on Monday that he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld. Other outspoken Republican critics include Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine and Trent Lott of Mississippi. Mr. Rumsfeld has also come under fire from William Kristol, a prominent conservative, who is editor of The Weekly Standard, as well as a notable political independent, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led American forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Senator Evan Bayn, Democrat of Indiana, weighed in today, too, saying that "mistakes have made that have jeopardized our chances for success," mistakes that "have not been admitted, learned from or corrected."

"Reluctantly," he added, "I've concluded that we have to have a different perspective" at the top of the Pentagon.

But Senators Lugar and Warner hold positions of greater influence in Congress than do those who have most strongly castigated the defense secretary.

And as Mr. Rumsfeld's supporters have pointed out, the only backing the secretary truly needs is that of President Bush. White House officials have said the president remains unfazed by the criticism of his defense secretary.

But even those lawmakers who said today that Mr. Rumsfeld should stay on for now were harshly critical of the progress made toward training an Iraqi security force capable of eventually taking over from the coalition.

"The raw material is lacking in the willpower and commitment," Senator Warner said, adding that the Iraqis' competence and leadership capabilities were so far at the "bottom level."

He said he did not fault the current United States training efforts, however. And as great as the need is for a larger military force, he said, there was no chance that Washington would reinstate the military draft.

Democrats pressed for Mr. Bush to accept foreign offers of training assistance, even from countries like France, which had opposed the American-led invasion in 2003.

"We need tremendous support of other nations," said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, adding that the Bush administration had to overcome an apparent reluctance to work with opponents of its intervention in Iraq.

Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, said that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had told him that Egypt could train "many more Iraqis" but that "your administration won't ask me to."

Germany is actually leading a small program in the United Arab Emirates to teach forensics policing techniques to Iraqis, something the senators appeared to ignore. But a French offer made nearly a year ago of training assistance outside Iraq has gone with no apparent response from Washington.table and he shou"

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