Monday, December 27, 2004

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been under a good deal of criticism lately, mostly of the stupid and opportunistic variety, but vocal enough that it has provoked a vigorous counterattack in Rumsfeld's defense. First, by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on David Horowitz's Frontpagemag website and Newt's own blog (Newt has a blog?). A substantive excerpt:

"Most notably, he[ Rumsfeld] undertook an extraordinarily complicated set of negotiations with our allies to move forces from obsolete and expensive Cold War positions in Europe and East Asia to much more useful and less expensive positions from where they can be more effective in defending America.

Just eight short months into the new Bush administration and just weeks after Mr. Rumsfeld's Defense Department transformation plan had begun, the United States was attacked on 9/11. By now the response to that attack is well known. Mr. Rumsfeld took control and led the remarkably successful campaign in Afghanistan, which led in short order to the defeat of the Taliban and the destruction of its terrorist training camps. Even during ongoing military campaigns, Mr. Rumsfeld never wavered from his transformational objectives.

In the summer of 2003, in order to accelerate transformation in the Army, he brought Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker out of retirement to become Army chief of staff. Mr. Rumsfeld, with the brilliant leadership of General Schoomaker, was able to move personnel from noncombat to combat units, enabling them with additional reorganization to create 15 newly restructured combat brigades.

Also, because of Mr. Rumsfeld's successful plan, our military is more flexible, more agile and better able to fight unconventional enemies. A new civilian personnel system was designed to reward merit, reduce force stress and replace a bureaucratic culture of risk aversion with one of innovation.

Moreover, he was able to move military personnel out of jobs that should be and are now held by civilians. Under this reorganization, Army troop levels increased (by 30,000), as did the number of combat brigades (from 10 to 15), making a draft unnecessary despite some critics' claims that one was imminent.

Today, over at The Diplomad, Secretary Rumsfeld was also the topic where they provided a few useful caveats to conventional MSM wisdom. On Rumsfeld's recent presidential vote of confidence:

"...Reading the NY Times or Washington Post you would get the sense that Rumsfeld was Secretary Powell's arch-enemy, and that foreign policy was not working properly if the two of them were arguing or if, God help us, the President was listening to Rumsfeld and not to Powell. Here's what's wrong with that kind of analysis:

-- The President makes the final call if SecDef and SecState disagree or even they agree. If you don't like the outcome, blame the President. But whoops, it turns out there are not enough voting-age blamers to go around and President Bush just got re-elected, decisively.

-- Secretaries of State and Defense SHOULD disagree. It goes with the territory and is a healthy part of making good decisions. The military view of the world sees areas of responsibility, unified commands and missions; the diplomatic view sees geographic regions and use of force as an element of overall foreign policy. Each has a different constituency of troops or employees and interests both at home and overseas. Diplomads who work a lot with our military counterparts find that we have healthy disagreements all the time. It's not a problem

-- Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld each worked in the other's bureaucracy (the former in a distinguished military career that took him to the Chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs, the latter as Ambassador to NATO); it's not hard to envision them having been named to the other one's position.

[ I interrupt this excerpt to point out that the most qualified successor to Rumsfeld as a wartime DefSec would of course be Colin Powell, which would require a special act of Congress to permit as it did for George Marshall. ]

-- If they come across to foreign audiences as a good cop/bad cop pair, that doesn't mean they're not working towards the same objectives."

The fine folks at The Diplomad are a little too easy on Rummy over Abu Ghraib though. Rumsfeld let that one get away from his usual ironfisted supervisory style where what to my eyes was a psychological warfare operation that ended up being subcontracted to morons. I say this because I've had two people with field experience - real field experience in covert ops - in MI interrogation swear up and down that Abu Ghraib was outside normal practice by a country mile. Even the rough stuff done with a wink and a nod. The results of the scandal were a political disaster of the first magnitude. Let's not minimize what was a boon to our enemies.

I'm glad Rumsfeld kept his job for reasons I'll explain later but first a personal aside. One of my Aunts worked for Don Rumsfeld a long time ago in his CEO days when I was just a boy. She wasn't his right hand by any means but she was a trusted enough corporate subordinate to be asked to come back to work temporarily (she had left to raise a child) to help with his Mideast trip preparations when Rumsfeld was made President Reagan's special envoy. My Aunt was always very impressed with Rumsfeld's intelligence and energy and described him as the toughest, sharpest and most ruthless boss she had ever worked for.

I have no doubt that a President Rumsfeld would have fired Secretary Rumsfeld in an instant for Abu Ghraib.

That being said we need to recall that all the negatives that have occurred during Rumsfeld's tenure in four years would have amounted to perhaps a bad week under Secretary Marshall during the Korean War. Or Henry Stimson, our last great Secretary of War who inadvertently allowed die-hard Nazis the run of our P.O.W. camps. Not one or two camps but over 200 of them. Rumsfeld survived his scandal not simply because of the famous Bush family loyalty but because for all practical purposes he would be very difficult to replace.

The DoD is a very, very difficult Department for a Defense Secretary to get control of - Clinton's administration never did and just let the services run on autopilot except for " diversity and gender" issues. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Weinberger and McNamara were the Secretaries who really ran the DoD with strong civilian control but most others never quite got the hang of corralling the bureaucracy, a process that in the best of times takes years.

These are not the best of times.

The only other former DefSecs with wartime experience are older than Rumsfeld except Dick Cheney, who as sitting Vice-President is not eligible. Aside from the fact that Rumsfeld has the drive, the ability, the experience and the grasp of issues to push through the Revolution in Military Affairs transformation that much of the brass hates and fears, we are in the middle of a war. A new, inexperienced Secretary, assuming that confirmation hearings were not dragged out, would take at least six months to a year to get up to speed on just the war. In the meantime, transformation would go out the window and the services could continue to plan and arm to fight the Warsaw Pact.

It's not that Rumsfeld is without his major mistakes. He's made them. It's that the cold reality is that from President Bush's perspective, the pros of Donald Rumsfeld still far outweigh the cons and that any likely successor would be marking time that the United States cannot afford to lose.
I think President Rumsfeld would Not fire Secretary Rumsfeld over Abu Graib. Reason? Rumsfeld already has the experience to know that taking purely symbolic actions to "send a message" is stupid when you have a telephone at hand. Firing someone because their subordinates screwed up is less effective than telling him to make sure that the ones who screwed up are brought up on charges for violations of the Code of Military Justice -- something that is happening quite well. That it is happening, and started to happen before the MSM ran with the story is good news, and the sign of a well functioning department.

I hear the pause. Abu Graib is a sign of a well functioning department?


Being around Marines, eventually you hear how to evaluate commanders: they are SUCCESSFUL if 30% of their decisions (a little less than one in three), is tragically, bone-headedly, and disastrously wrong (or, conversely, if 70% are right). Rumsfeld has had every decision on which there was a question thrown back to him very quickly, and has kept moving. Keeping the bureaucracy moving away from planning the next war with the Warsaw pact is a lot more difficult than you think: they all want to plan with more divisions than we have, a bigger Navy, and fleets of B-52s: might be intimidating to the Warsaw pact, but not what we need in Iraq.
On the contrary, I agree with you Arnold - Rumsfeld is probably the *only* person right now who is ready and able to force through a Defense transformation while running a war. Which is why he is invaluable.

I might not have been clear enough in my post due to my critical remarks but I have a very high regard for Rumsfeld's abilities - I think he'll be up with Stimson in the history books. It's somewhat ironic though given his previous past as a CEO, SecDef and a politician where Rumsfeld applied very tough standards to subordinates and fired a lot of people for far smaller screw-ups that something like Abu Ghraib occurred on his watch.

I attribute that scandal to the sheer magnitude and scope of Rummy's responsibilities as a wartime SecDef, he's simply had to delegate far more than he ever has had to do in past administrative positions and is " maxed out" in terms of his personal schedule. I would not be at all surprised if he is working an 18 hour day 6 days a week in order to stay on top of things.

In the scheme of things Abu Ghraib simply counts for far less than the other priorities the United States has in terms of fighting al Qaida and Iraqi insurgents.
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