April 16, 2006 -- In an exclusive interview on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, staunchly defended Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his former boss who is under increasing public pressure to resign his post over his execution of the war in Iraq.
Myers bristled at the suggestion that top military leaders were not given an opportunity to express their opinion prior to the invasion, asserting, "We gave [Rumsfeld] our best military advice. … If we don't do that, we should be shot."
The retired Air Force general, the highest-ranking military officer during Operation Iraqi Freedom, believes criticism of Rumsfeld by several other retired generals is unwise.
"It's inappropriate because it's not up to the civilian bosses to judge our military bosses," he said, suggesting critics who once served in the military fail to live up to the code that supports the commander in chief's decision once it is made.
"They have the opportunity to speak out when they're in uniform," Myers added.
To those who have spoken out against Rumsfeld's directives since their retirement, he contends, "that dialogue never took place when they were in uniform, which is sort of surprising."
Six retired generals -- Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold and Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste -- have called upon Rumsfeld, their former superior, to resign over the war in Iraq.
Despite the protests, President Bush continues to give Rumsfeld his full support. In a statement released by the White House on Friday, Bush "reiterated [his] strong support for [Rumsfeld's] leadership," attempting to quiet the growing clamor surrounding his defense secretary.
When interviewed by ABC News' chief Washington anchor Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Myers, arguably Rumsfeld's right-hand man in the Pentagon for the four years prior to the general's retirement in 2005, insisted he was not intimidated by Rumsfeld, as critics have suggested.
"You can present your arguments," he said, "[But] when it's all said and done, in our system, the civilians make the decisions, the commander in chief makes the decision … and we live by those decisions."
Myers repeatedly contested the recollections of the six generals who have spoken out against Rumsfeld. In press accounts, Newbold maintained that his pre-war criticism made Myers and others "uncomfortable." But on "This Week," Myers rebutted, "That's not my memory of it; I never felt uncomfortable about anything Gen. Newbold said."
Adding that those in power were given ample opportunity to speak out, Myers challenged those still in uniform who have disagreements with potential policy to speak before the decision is final.
"If there are people … who have not spoken out," Myers said, "shame on them."
When asked by Stephanopoulos whether such dissention in the ranks would likely lead to dismissal, Myers scoffed, "No, no. … The senior military officers are not in it for promotion. They're in it to serve."
Rumsfeld, appearing on Al-Arabiya television this past week, made clear his intention to continue to serve "at the pleasure of the president," and charged, "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round."
Several of the generals who have spoken out against Rumsfeld were among a small number of those commanding forces in Iraq. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld's supporters, including Myers, contend the decisions leading up to Iraq were based on the "best military judgment that we got" and that at no time was dissent unwelcome.