Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has collected "Rumsfeld's Rules," bits of advice and guidelines gleaned during his four decades in government and industry -- nearly 160 items in all when they were published on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page as he took office in 2001.
These days, a small but growing number of retired commanders would like Rumsfeld to think about one he came up with while he was President Gerald Ford's chief of staff: "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance."
The latest to join the chorus was retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-05, now says the Pentagon's civilian leadership needs a "fresh start." He told the Washington Post: "We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork."
While Batiste is not widely known outside military circles, his comments resonate within the Army: He was offered a promotion to return to Iraq as the second-ranking commander, but turned down the third star rather than continue to serve under Rumsfeld.
Earlier, three other top commanders made high-profile remarks criticizing Rumsfeld. In an essay in the current issue of Time magazine, Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, a former top official on the staff of the Joint Chiefs in 2000-02, compared Rumsfeld with Robert S. McNamara, the Pentagon chief during the Vietnam War. Newbold called for "replacing Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach."
Last month, retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who had been in charge of training Iraqi troops in 2003-04, wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times saying that Rumsfeld is "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically. ... Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."
And retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, a longtime Rumsfeld critic who left the military before the Bush administration, has stepped up his attacks as he promotes a new book, "The Battle for Peace."
Approval Rating Still High With President
Rumsfeld has brushed aside these critics who once wore uniforms.
"There's nothing wrong with people having opinions," he told reporters during a briefing this week. "And I think one ought to expect that. When you're involved in something that's controversial, as certainly this war is, one ought to expect that."
Military analyst John Pike agrees.
"There aren't a lot of clear-cut decisions when it comes to military stuff," says Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org. "After all, it's been 150 years and a lot of people are still making money writing about" the Civil War.
But underlying the vocal criticism from retired commanders is the longstanding animosity between Rumsfeld and the uniformed military services. Rumsfeld began his tenure vowing to shake up the military, drawing on his experience as defense secretary in the 1970s.
He said the military bureaucracy had become entrenched in its way of thinking and doing things -- not the kind of talk military commanders take kindly to.
"You don't get to be a three-star or a four-star by bucking the system," says Pike. "You have to think the system is pretty good if you got this far in it."
Add to that a personal style many find arrogant, brusque and dismissive of criticism. "You've got this civilian who thinks he knows a whole lot more than the uniformed forces," Pike says.
But the rising chorus of retired generals calling for Rumsfeld's head is unlikely to have much impact on the length of his tenure, analysts say. Rumsfeld has a constituency of one, serving at the pleasure of the president. Today, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said his approval rating in the Oval Office is 100 percent: "The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history."
The only way that's likely to change, Pike says, is if "the president decides the current policy is wrong and wants to make big changes."