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Monday, October 03, 2005

Gen. Richard B. Myers Returns to Civilian Life - New York Times

Gen. Richard B. Myers Returns to Civilian Life - New York TimesOctober 2, 2005
Gen. Richard B. Myers Returns to Civilian Life
By ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 - Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, returned to civilian life this weekend after a four-year tenure bracketed by Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina, a time in which the military launched two big wars, one of which has confounded the Pentagon's expectations.

Perhaps more than anything the military set out to do under his leadership, its grueling battles against a tenacious insurgency in Iraq, which has left the Army stretched and the Pentagon's strategy widely questioned, defined his tenure, overshadowing the speedy defeat of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and the three-week blitz that captured Baghdad.

In his final week in office, the debate came to a dramatic head when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was challenged by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, on the course of the war. The senator accused General Myers of mischaracterizing the political and military situation in Iraq, saying, "Things have not gone as we had planned or expected nor as we were told by you, General Myers."

In an uncharacteristically sharp response, General Myers stared back and said, "I don't think this committee or the American public has ever heard me say that things are going very well in Iraq. This is a hard struggle. We are trying to do in Iraq what has never been done before. This is historic."

But while he has been said to have challenged his forceful civilian boss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in private, in public he has always maintained a unified front, disappointing some in the officer's ranks.

"I think you can be a lot more effective if you stay inside your role," General Myers said in an interview.

General Myers is credited by even his sometime critics in the officer corps with persuading Mr. Rumsfeld, and indeed President Bush, to reverse a decision and instead pledge that the Geneva Conventions would be applied to the war in Afghanistan. General Myers argued that any other decision would put at greater risk American service members who might be captured.

General Myers' expertise also swayed debate over rules of engagement for military operations, for shaping command structures across the armed services and in a number of key personnel decisions.

An important and telling assessment of risks to the military penned in classified form by General Myers became public earlier this year, and it gave a rare example of how the chairman must master a high-wire act to perform his duties. In the assessment, General Myers said flatly that the military can accomplish any mission it is assigned. But he also wrote to Congress that with American forces so heavily engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, any other mission ordered by the president today would be harder, longer and bloodier than it otherwise would be.

On the deployment of active-duty troops on American soil, General Myers treaded carefully around the idea of expanding the military's role in domestic disasters, such as hurricane relief, saying "there are schemes you could think of other than Federal" plans, that would involve closer coordination among states.

Overseas, senior American commanders have expressed frustration that the military is shouldering a disproportionate share of the security and rebuilding missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. General Myers refrained from criticizing other Federal agencies. But he said the way the government harnesses its disparate agencies to prepare for and respond to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and postwar stabilization efforts, like in Iraq, should be overhauled.

It is clear the changes he has in mind would have required the Pentagon, State Department, White House and other federal offices to work together more effectively on war planning and a post-war Iraq, and not allow interagency feuding to hinder that effort.

With 170,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, General Myers rejects critics's complaints that he is leaving his successor with a force overtaxed and doubting its mission. "The men and women we met in Iraq and Afghanistan, of all the people on this planet, understand what's at stake," he said. "They are willing to take the risk that we ask them to take. And they think they are going to be successful."

Taking over the position of the nation's highest-ranking military officer is Gen. Peter Pace, the first Marine Corps officer ever to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

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