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June 23, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

War chieftains
Look for some new combatant commanders to be named later this year.

Army Gen. Bantz Craddock, who now heads U.S. Southern Command in Miami, is slated to move to Europe to be the next supreme allied commander of NATO. He would replace Marine Gen. James Jones, whose term is expiring.

Gen. Craddock, a one-time senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, will be replaced at SouthCom by Vice Adm. James Stavridis, a former warship commander who now serves as Mr. Rumsfeld's top military aide.

Sending Gen. Craddock to Brussels restores to one of its officers what the Army has always felt was its rightful command: NATO. The Army bristled privately when Mr. Rumsfeld handed the prestigious post to a Marine. Mr. Rumsfeld cites his decision as one of the reasons some retired Army officers called on him to quit.

A more intriguing question is the future of Army Gen. John Abizaid, who heads U.S. Central Command, the busiest headquarters in the war on Islamic militants. Gen. Abizaid is overseeing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a critically important deployment of troops on the Horn of Africa, where al Qaeda would like to set up strongholds. The four-star general also is updating options for Iran just in case President Bush decides on military action to stop the radical regime from building nuclear weapons.

Gen. Abizaid and Mr. Rumsfeld have agreed that the general will stay through the summer. But the question is open about whether he will remain at CentCom after that.

Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, is mentioned as a replacement at CentCom. Gen. Moseley ran the air war in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The name of Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq who reports to Gen. Abizaid, also comes up. But there is no clear favorite, we are told.

Stretched Army
The more we talk to the Army retired community, the more we are convinced that recent calls by ex-generals for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to quit were rooted more in the way he has treated the service than in the way he has waged the Iraq war.

A number of retired generals have come to the conclusion that Mr. Rumsfeld has "ruined" the Army by giving it the lead in two major land wars, yet refusing to permanently add two divisions to the 10-division active force. They also say the move to smaller brigade combat teams has damaged the old division command structure that could bring massive unity of firepower against an enemy.

"There are a lot of generals in the Army who do not like what has happened, but they won't say anything," said a senior retired general who asked not to be named.

Some retired officers are hoping Gen. Peter Schoomaker, whom Mr. Rumsfeld brought out of retirement to become Army chief of staff, will retire soon. They want the post restored to a traditional combat arms officer who understands the value of an Army division. Gen. Schoomaker, who is highly regarded by Mr. Rumsfeld, is a career special operations soldier and former Delta Force commander.

No retreat
Army officers back from Iraq express frustration with what they consider the drift of the Democratic Party back to the left-wing days of the 1960s and '70s.

The officers say that a definite departure date for U.S. troops from Iraq, which some Democrats are embracing, would be a clear victory for al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden's terror group will view it as a retreat and spread the word to its followers that it has once again evicted "crusader America," the officers say.

The officers are discouraged by what they see as poor postwar planning by the Bush administration and by the horrible security situation in Baghdad and Anbar province. But generally, they say, the trends are good and victory will be achieved if Washington does not cut and run.

Zubaydah's sanity
"The One Percent Doctrine," a new book by Ron Suskind on the shadowy war on terror, is getting good reviews in the liberal press, which likes its portrayal of the administration as a bunch of bunglers. And conservatives like the parts that show Vice President Dick Cheney and other top Bush administration officials as committed to ruthlessly destroying al Qaeda.

But some in the intelligence community contend the book, which has reached No. 1 on, is riddled with errors.

"A lot of information is simply wrong," said a counterterrorism official who asked not to be named.

One glaring inaccuracy, this official said, is the book's assertion that Abu Zubaydah, whom the CIA captured in Pakistan in 2002, was not a key al Qaeda figure, and was insane to boot.

The counterterror official said Zubaydah is "crazy like a fox" and was a senior planner inside al Qaeda who has provided critical information on how Osama bin Laden's group works.

" 'One Percent Doctrine' is an appropriate title for the book because it appears about 1 percent of the material in the book is right," the official said.

Mr. Suskind rebuts. He told us in an interview that Zubaydah did provide the United States with key pieces of information, such as identifying an al Qaeda code name as that of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who planned the September 11 attacks. The information led to Mohammed's capture.

But the author sticks by his writing that President Bush overstated Zubaydah's role inside al Qaeda as a way to convey progress to the public in the early days of the war on terror.

"He clearly oversold the importance of the first major capture," he said. "That is undeniable." Mr. Suskind portrayed Zubaydah as more of a travel agent for terrorists than a key player.

And Mr. Suskind said he developed evidence that Zubaydah was, in fact, crazy. He said he also documented how the CIA abused Zubaydah to get information. In the end, it didn't work, and more humane methods led to extracting information, he said.

The book attempts to delve behind the scenes to show how the Bush team is waging a shadowy war against al Qaeda, with successes and failures.

"The real debate now is how democracy is really challenged in terms of transparency and accountability when it is fighting a war that will largely be conducted going forward in secrecy," he said.

The September 11 commission report said Zubaydah was a key terrorist recruiter for bin Laden and ran his own al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The CIA is holding him at an undisclosed site.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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