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Myers: Rumsfeld’s style scared the poop out of some of Joint Staffers

Retired Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, who became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a month after 9/11, made several interesting comments about  his experience in working under Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "It’s an adversarial style" that Rumsfeld uses, he said. "It can put you on the defensive very, very quickly." He later noted that, ...

marc.benton/flickr
marc.benton/flickr

Retired Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, who became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a month after 9/11, made several interesting comments about  his experience in working under Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

"It’s an adversarial style" that Rumsfeld uses, he said. "It can put you on the defensive very, very quickly." He later noted that, "I had a person working for me on the Joint Staff who probably should have worn a diaper every time he went to see Rumsfeld."

Retired Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, who served as Rumsfeld’s military assistant before becoming vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  agreed with that assessment of the former defense secretary’s style, saying that, "He’s a wrestler. Wrestlers like body contact." 

Part of Rumsfeld’s problem, Myers said, was that he had a couple of heavy-handed assistants. He said that defense secretaries and other senior civilians need to watch how their subordinates interact with the military. For example, he said, he thought Paul Wolfowitz was out of line for publicly criticizing Army chief Gen. Eric Shinseki for responding when asked by the Senate Armed Services Committee about his views of the number of troops that would be needed in Iraq. Myers said that in his view, just as military advice should be given in private, so should civilian criticisms of that sort. He said that at the time he confronted Wolfowitz about this, and that the deputy Defense secretary agreed that he had handled it badly.

Myers also repeatedly emphasized the need to establish trusting relationships with civilians, not only in the executive but also in Congress. Lack of trust, he added, was a major problem between the military and the CPA early in the Iraq war: "There was a real lack of trust there, and that was unhealthy."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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