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Rummy, we hardly knew ya

The news that Donald Rumsfeld was leaving as Defense Secretary probably should not have come as a shock, but it was, for whatever reason. Perhaps it was that the President said only last week that both Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney were going to be around until the end of the term. But Tuesday's mid-term election results told the White House that it it was time for a change, I guess. (The Christian Science Monitor called Rumsfeld's departure "Washington shake-up, Part 2.")

There have been a ton o' calls for Rumsfeld's head in recent months. The NYT editorial page just yesterday again called for the President to sack the Defense Secreatary. Apparently I wasn't the only one who was surprised. And in the day since his resignation, there has been much written about Rummy -- most of it fairly critical. See Slate.com's "A catalog of failure" for one example. (Saying that transformation hasn't accomplished much seems inaccurate to me.)

Clearly Iraq will loom large in the history books as one assess his tenure. The LAT said that Rumsfeld was determined not only to remake the U.S. military, but to recast the Pentagon's role in national security.

The NYT headline read, Rumsfeld, a Force for Change, Did Not Change With the Times Amid Iraq Tumult. The gray lady's analysis piece points out that Rumsfeld was a "consummate insider" who, as defense secretary under President Ford, developed a "reputation as a ruthlessly effective bureaucratic infighter."

After a career as a corporate chief executive, he returned to the Pentagon after George W. Bush was elected president. Mr. Bush had vowed during his campaign to appoint a powerful defense secretary with a mandate to overhaul the American military. Mr. Rumsfeld was to be that man.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld's program was called "transformation," and it acquired the status of an official ideology. Mr. Rumsfeld was enamored of missile defense and space-based systems, issues he had worked on during his years out of office. Like many conservatives, he was wary about the Army leadership, which he considered to be too wedded to heavy forces and too slow to change.

And it will be fascinating to see what comes of transformation. It has become part of the DOD mantra. It is difficult to find a military leader who doesn't speak about transformation in one way or another. The concept is so powerful. Essentially Rumsfeld's transformation initiative seeks to bring the efficiencies that technology has brought to so many other areas and apply them to warfighting. That enables the military to fight better, faster and more efficiently with a more trimmed down yet more lethal force.

And, in fact, it worked well in the initial days in Iraq. Remember how quickly U.S. forces were able to defeat the Iraqi forces? At the time, I believe that Iraq had the fourth largest fighting force in the world.

It seems to me, given that the world is increasingly into a different kind of warfighting, this seems like concept that could be abundantly timely. The days of fighting a Soviet style fighting force have probably past. Therefore we will need a new way of fighting, and that will necessitate a new armed force.

Transformation, however, does have its weaknesses. The more trimmed down force can fight more efficiently, but it was not able to contain the looting that ravaged Baghdad in the early days of the war. And, in the book Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, military officials talk about the number of potential sites for weapons of mass destruction. Not only did they not have the intel to assess all those sites -- I don't remember the exact number any more, but there were some 400 potential WMD sites -- they also didn't have the people. So if there was WMD, we never would have known about it.

The series of Iraq books all make similar points. Would we be better off in Iraq if we had more people? It is impossible to say, of course. A larger force may have been able to stabilize the situation more quickly and thereby prevent the various elements that now seem to have created a civil war from finding such fertile ground. But this is also a fractured country that could have just have likely broken into bits regardless of the size of the force. So who knows.

There is one other Rummy issue, and that is how he treated people. Last year when retired generals were coming out and calling for Rumsfeld's resignation seemed to me to be something that is going on across federal agencies right now. In general, feds don't feel that the politicals listen to them -- ever. To the contrary, they feel shoved aside.

This isn't completely shocking, of course. Feds are, generally, more liberal and therefore a conservative administration is probably more skeptical of careers. But under this administration, there is so much top down management, it has often turned into a low grade war between career and politicals. (One example: In the six years of this administration, it has become much more difficult to talk to many feds -- people who would have spoken openly to reporters before. Now they either do not speak, or require all calls go through the press office.)

So many of the retired generals were resisting transformation, and they were also speaking out against how they were treated.

Anyway, history has some work to do on the Rummy legacy.

I'm not military expert by any means, so I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Nov 09, 2006 at 12:15 PM


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