Put a lid on it, Myers tells retired generals-turned-analysts
April 3, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has some words of advice for all the retired generals now making a living as television pundits: Put a lid on it.
“It is not helpful to have these comments come out when we have troops in combat,” Myers told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon.
The normally genial Air Force four-star became increasingly agitated as he spoke out against media reports that the war in Iraq is not going according to plan.
“God bless them, [second-guessing war campaigns] is a great sport inside the Beltway,” Myers said.
Yet while “It’s been interesting … it’s not very helpful to the discussion,” he said.
Myers’ comments came after a reporter asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about recent newspaper stories in which current and former military officials have criticized the Iraq war plan.
“I would like to answer that if I could,” said Myers, jumping into the fray ahead of Rumsfeld — something he rarely does. “My view of these reports is that they’re bogus … [they are] absolutely wrong, they bear no resemblance to the truth, and it’s just harmful to our troops that are out there fighting very bravely, very courageously.”
Myers had particularly harsh words for the retired military generals who have been hired by television news organizations to provide expert commentary on the progress of the war, among them Gen. Wesley Clark and Gen. Don Sheppard, who appear on CNN, and Lt. Gen. Dan Petrosky, who provides commentary for MSNBC.
“For some retired military [officers] to opine as aggressively as some of them have done is not helpful,” Myers said. As men who have commanded troops in wartime, these officers should know that “this is not the time to start putting different opinion on the table,” he added.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, backed Myers during a Tuesday evening press conference on Capitol Hill.
Flanked by Rumsfeld and Myers, Warner noted that high-ranking retired members of the military, with their highly specialized knowledge, have an obligation not to publicly voice their concerns, Warner said.
“We don’t want to stifle freedom of speech,” Warner said. “[But] if they have constructive criticism that is at variance from the plan, they should contact their peers in the Pentagon and share it confidentially,” Warner said.
During the Pentagon press conference, Rumsfeld added that most of the unsourced comments appearing in the newspapers “are by people who have never seen the war plan, and probably never will see the war plan, until it’s over.”
Those individuals include the retired generals on television who hold forth on the progress of the war, Myers said in a second round of questions about the negative reporting that came later in the briefing.
“To criticize something they’ve never seen is audacious,” he said.
Some of the generals kicked back, however, most notably retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who appears on NBC and MSNBC.
Appearing on the air immediately after the Capitol Hill press conference, McCaffrey angrily defended his right to express his opinion in public, and said that Myers and Rumsfeld are trying to deflect legitimate criticism.
McCaffrey, who led a mechanized infantry division during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said that he “resented the implication that my voice not have a place at the table and that it shouldn’t be listened to with some deference based on my experience.
“The problem isn’t that … retired senior officers are commenting on television,” McCaffrey said. “The problem is that they chose to attack 250 miles into Iraq with one armored division and no rear-area security and no second front.”
Although Myers seemed genuinely upset by what he perceives as armchair quarterbacking, Rumsfeld apparently takes the issue in stride.
Asked about the retired generals who now are war analysts during Tuesday’s press conference, Rumsfeld said with a grin, “Some of them are pretty good.”
“Yeah, some of them are darned good,” Myers said sourly.