Sunday, August 03, 2003


Of GEN Abizaid.
The extent of his influence was made abundantly clear, however, in his first encounter with reporters since taking over the helm at Central Command.

After weeks in which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld repeatedly declined to say that the U.S. military was still involved in a war in Iraq, despite a mounting toll of casualties, Abizaid contradicted his boss during a July 16 news conference at the Pentagon. Baathist die-hards in Iraq, he said, were waging "a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us." For good measure, he added, "It's low-intensity conflict, in our doctrinal terms, but it's war, however you describe it."

Those comments not only made news, but sent several messages. They told the American public that casualties in Iraq aren't a failure of peacekeeping but the necessary cost of combat. At the same time, they spurred Abizaid's subordinates in Iraq to be aggressive and use all the war-making tools available to them. And they showed that Abizaid would speak his mind.

"That was General Abizaid," commented retired Army Col. Joe Adamczyk, a veteran paratroop who served at West Point when Abizaid was commandant there from 1997 to '99. "What you see is what you get -- and you get a proven warrior who combines this with tremendous aplomb, insight and understanding when dealing at the highest levels of our government and the international community."

One reason Abizaid can get away with crossing Rumsfeld is that he worked closely with the defense secretary in 2001 and 2002, as the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism began. As director of the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- a quiet but powerful position inside the Pentagon -- he is said to have forcefully told Rumsfeld on several occasions that he was wrong on an issue. Rumsfeld has the reputation of tolerating such behavior only when his interlocutor has all the facts marshaled...

Then it was off to a white tablecloth lunch at the al Rasheed Hotel with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and a gaggle of reporters and columnists traveling with him.

Showing his inclination to confront the adversary, which sometimes includes the news media, Abizaid looked around the table at the journalists and criticized coverage that said the reconstruction of Iraq was lagging. "The impatience of the press is always of some interest to me," he said mildly. "The progress here is quite remarkable, actually."

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