Récemment, nous avons présenté l'affaire du mécontentement des grands chefs américains de théâtre (les CINCs), notamment l'amiral Blair (Pacifique) et le général Ralston (Europe), lors de leur passage devant le Congrès. Leur mécontentement portait sur une dramatique absence de moyens pour remplir leurs missions respectives, cette absence s'expliquant par la priorité donnée à Central Command (le CINC de Central Command, lui, est en effet très favorisé par contraste, bien qu'il ait d'autres problèmes). Ce qui nous intéressait dans ce petit débat, c'est ce que cette situation nous dit et nous démontre des véritables capacités militaires américaines.
La chose (les témoignages de Blair, Ralston et compagnie) n'est pas passée complètement inaperçue. Les journalistes US, qui songent parfois à poser encore des questions embarrassantes, s'en sont enquis auprès du duo Rumsfeld-Myers (le secrétaire à la défense et le président du comité des chefs d'état-major), lors de la conférence de presse quotidienne du Pentagone, le 28 mars. Nous publions ci-après les extraits de cette conférence de presse qui concernent ce problème (il s'agit de la transcription officielle diffusée par le Pentagone).
Les déclarations de Rumsfeld-Myers du 28 mars ont amené quelques réactions feutrées dans la presse US, qui n'a pu éviter de constater qu'il y avait un réel désaccord entre Rumsfeld-Myers et les grands chefs qu'on avait entendus au Congrès. Il y a eu notamment un article du Washington Post du 29 mars et un autre de USA Today du 29 mars. Les commentaires sont assez neutres mais mesurent néanmoins qu'on trouve dans cette affaire la mise en évidence d'une mésentente sérieuse (« a rare show of discordence », écrit USA Today).
Ce que nous montrent les extraits ci-dessous, c'est un art plus ou moins consommé des deux hommes, Rumsfeld et Myers, pour éviter de répondre sur l'essentiel (tout en notant que les questions sont loin, elles aussi, d'aller à l'essentiel). A la remarque d'un journalistes que les CINCs sont venus à Washington pour réclamer des forces supplémentaires (« I need more »), répondre comme le fait Rumsfeld : « And they do all the time » ; ou bien, à la remarque que le Pentagone donne la priorité à Central Command au détriment des autres, répondre comme le fait Myers : « We prioritize all the time. That's what we do », — tout cela, cette espèce de langue de bois spécieuse, cette généralisation au détriment de toute précision dans la réponse, nous indiquent à suffisance la difficulté pour les chefs du Pentagone de faire un sort aux arguments de leurs commandants de théâtre. On doit tenir cette esquive générale du fond du problème pour la confirmation que les plaintes des CINCs devant le Congrès sont justifiées et que leurs forces sont effectivement insuffisantes pour accomplir les missions qui leur sont confiées. On en tirera les conclusions qu'il faut quant aux capacités réelles des forces armées américaines.
Un autre point, annexe mais pas sans intérêt, est la façon assez cavalière de Rumsfeld de contredire ses officiers généraux, en général sans prendre trop de gants et sans souci des références à la réalité du problème traité. D'une façon plus générale, on pourrait faire l'hypothèse qu'il y a là un problème de personne, qui s'est d'ailleurs manifesté, d'une autre façon, entre Rumsfeld et son chef de guerre, le général Tommy Franks. La conclusion sur ce point, et le “message” contenu dans le comportement de Rumsfeld, c'est que la RP (relations publiques) passe avant toute chose pour lui, y compris avant ses bonnes relations avec ses généraux et avant la situation réelle des forces.
Voici les extraits de la conférence de presse, principalement en deux extraits différents.
Question: Mr Secretary, recently some of the CINCs testified before Congress, saying that U.S. troops are overextended and exhausted. Without getting into where the next step would be, can the U.S. fight a major-theater war simultaneously to current operations in Afghanistan? And what would need to be done before that happens?
Rumsfeld: Well, first, I don't believe some of the CINCs did say, quote, ''that the American troops are overextended and exhausted.'' There may have been a CINC who said it. And there's no question but that if you looked around the world, you could find a troop or two who's tired, and with good reason. They've been doing a great job.
But I think it would be a fundamental misunderstanding for him to think or for anyone to take his words and believe that the men and women in uniform around the world for the United States would even begin to fit that characterization. They don't. Those of you have been out and talked to them, you know that. You know they're up. Their morale is high. They're doing a great job. They're proud of what they're doing. They recognize
the importance of what they're doing. And it's a disservice to them to leave that impression, in my view.
I would like -- a second -- I'll answer the second part of the question. Then I'd like General Myers to comment on it, because I think it's an important question. You can be absolutely certain that to the extent that the United States of America decides to undertake an activity, that we will be capable of doing it.
Myers: Let me take on the first part of the question. You said ''overextended,'' and I think -- to put that in context, I think the question was ...
Rumsfeld: ''Exhausted,'' he said.
Myers: Well, overextended and exhausted.
Q: No, these are not my words.
Myers: No. No, I understand.
Q: Okay. Quote.
Myers: I understand. That's the quote. But I think, to put the ''overextended,'' we -- I think the secretary covered the ''exhausted'' piece -- certainly we have people that are tired. But I think, in general, our force is ready and fit, I mean. And everywhere I go -- and I've traveled -- even during this war on terrorism, I've been able to travel some, and I think if you ask people that travel and if you would ask -- put that question in the right context, you would get a much different answer.
And that -- but let me talk about the overextended piece just a minute. That was in the context of what we do every day around here. I mean, certain unified commanders were asked, ''Do you feel like you have the assets you need to everything you need to do in your theater?'' Clearly, we've made some prioritization decisions here in the Pentagon that have distributed resources perhaps different[ly] than before 9/11. And that's appropriate, we think. And so some unified commanders might feel they don't have everything they need to do everything they want to do. But those were -- to put it in context, that was in very specific -- a question that was asked to the various commanders. So in general and to sum up, I think the secretary's absolutely right.
There should be no doubt in anybody's mind that whatever the president would ask us to do, we're ready to do.
Q: Simultaneous to operations in Afghanistan?
Myers: I would not qualify it. We'll be ready to do whatever the president asks us to do, and it's unqualified.
Q: General Myers, is there one area ...
Q: Mr. Secretary ...
(... Plus loin dans la conférence de presse.)
Q: General Myers, could I go back to this issue of ''exhausted'' and ''extended'' that Brett made -- asked? Isn't it true, though, that the U.S. is almost exhausted and overextended in the use of precision weapons over there? I mean, you've dropped like 5,000 of these satellite-guided bombs and the inventory is depleted. In that respect, isn't the ...
Myers: That's not correct, Tony. The inventory is not depleted.
Q: Give me a sense of how drawn down.
Myers: No, I mean, even my wife understood this one when ...
The Press: Ooohhh!!! (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: You're in trouble everywhere now! When you say ''even my wife'' -- even I know better than to say that! (Laughter.) I'm shocked!!
Myers: Mary Jo, turn off the TV because ...
(Cross talk. Laughter.)
Myers: Thank you for your patience. (Laughter.)
No, the issue is, are we going to stand up here and tell you how many JDAMs we have? No, we are not. But I just told you we are not exhausted -- what term did you use? -- depleted. We're not depleted.
And during Allied Force, there was a big listing of our munitions, some of our precision munitions, and it was Mary Jo who turned to me, my wife, and said, ''Why are we telling the world what our -- the status of our munitions? Shouldn't that be classified information?'' And it should have been, and for some reason we felt obligated to spit it out there. In this case, we are not depleted; let me just say that. It goes ...
Rumsfeld: It also happens that the admiral, who was discussing this subject, was wrong. He -- maybe not wrong; he may have been speaking of something he knew something about but should not -- been speaking about, because the levels of munitions is not everybody in the world's business, to be perfectly honest, and he should have known better. But he may have been talking about what he did know about, in a narrower area, but not a worldwide area. And ...
Q: Mr. Secretary ...
Q: The comments that the -- I think it was from Admiral Blair and General Ralston, as you said, talked about the fact that they were asked specifically, that they do not feel they have the forces and capabilities to conduct the missions that they have now, and that what that means is that, as General Ralston said, ''I do not have the forces in EUCOM to carry out these missions.'' But if asked to do something else, he would come back to you ...
Q: ... and say, ''I need more.''
Rumsfeld: And they do all the time.
Q: And what that means is, then, there will have to be a decision made and a trade-off.
Myers: Right. We prioritize all the time. That's what we do. And ...
Rumsfeld: Every day we're faced with those issues, and he's quite right. No one person is necessarily going to have every single thing they need at any given moment, unless they ask for it and then a judgment's made as to how you want to balance those risks and how -- what priorities you think are appropriate. And that's what General Myers and I do.
Q: Doesn't that also beg the question how long can you maintain the war on terrorism? How long can you even maintain the ...
Rumsfeld: The answer to that question is, how long can you keep doing what it is that is necessary to protect the American people from having more World Trade Center crashes, more crashes into the Pentagon, and the use of weapons of mass destruction? And the answer is, the United States of America is capable of doing that as long as it is necessary, and let there be no doubt.
Q: Can you be more specific on what you said earlier about your forces would be ready, if the president called on you tomorrow, to do anything he called on -- there have been major questions raised about whether there are enough JDAMs and other weapons. To be more specific, about Iraq, what you're saying is that if you were called on to attack Iraq tomorrow or next week, that you would be ready to do it; that wouldn't be a problem. Is
that what you're saying?
Rumsfeld: You have to understand how government works.
Myers: Right. (Laughter, cross talk.)
Rumsfeld: I mean, let me just take a moment and -- (laughter) -- the president is not going to call up the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Defense is not going to ask for the advice of General Myers if -- and ask us if we would please put on our wings personally and fly over to the White House and talk to him. He knows we can't do that. He knows our capabilities. We deal with him every day. We talk about these things. We make investments in advance for things. We arrange forces. Presidents don't ask people to do things that are undoable. And if they do, if they ask -- they more normally would ask, ''Is this doable? On what basis? At risk? And over what time period?'' And that -- that's how things get sorted out in government. I can assure you that anything that the United States needs to undertake and decides to undertake, we will undertake, and we will undertake it successfully.
Q: In that vein ...
(Fin du deuxième et dernier extrait.)