In a continuing war of words between former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Obama White House, a spokesman for Rumsfeld this morning suggested that President Obama owes an apology to an ousted general and assailed the administration for being loose with facts.
Last week during his speech on Afghanistan policy, President Obama said that during the previous administration, “commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive.”
Rumsfeld, who left office in 2006, called that “a bald misstatement, at least as it pertains to the period I served as Secretary of Defense.”
The president had been talking about troop requests made after Rumsfeld left office by then-Gen. David McKiernan, as we covered last month. On Wednesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that “General McKiernan specifically had a fairly substantial request for upwards of 20,000 forces, which we couldn't meet because they just weren't there. They were in Iraq.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on NBC Sunday said "there was, there was, throughout my, my time as secretary of Defense under President Bush, an outstanding request from General McKiernan…Because of the commitment of forces in Iraq, we did not have the, the ability to meet the resource needs in Afghanistan."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, instead of explaining that the president had not been talking about Rumsfeld’s reign and trying to quell the dispute, did the opposite, saying Rumsfeld should answer questions as to “whether he thinks that the effort in Afghanistan was sufficiently resourced during his tenure as Secretary of Defense.”
This morning, Keith Urbahn in Rumsfeld's office continued this back-and-forth, saying in a statement, “White House officials are not credible in denying President Obama’s intended meaning when he said on Wednesday night that ‘commanders’ were ‘repeatedly’ denied additional troops and resources in Afghanistan.
"The administration now claims President Obama was actually referring to denials of troops by his own Secretary of Defense in 2008," Urbahn said. "This is obviously not what the President meant. If it is what the President meant, he owes an apology to General McKiernan for dismissing him, for it was General McKiernan who sought additional forces in 2008.
He concluded: "This looseness with the facts seems to be a pattern in the current administration’s efforts to blame their challenges on their predecessors. Nearly one year into this administration, that approach is wearing thin. Afghanistan has always posed challenges, but in the judgment of the commanders at the time, Afghanistan was properly resourced for at least the first five years of the conflict. Those resources were aligned with proper and achievable goals: eliminating an al-Qaida sanctuary and preventing further terrorist attacks against the United States.”