Listen up, countrymen--I come to praise Rumsfeld, not to bury him.
Some thoughts on the resignation of the Secretary of Defense
By AcademicElephant Posted in War — Comments (34) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Donald Rumsfeld resigned as Secretary of Defense on Wednesday, but he will remain in his post for some months while the transition to Robert Gates takes place. And yesterday he suggested that those months of transition (and beyond) may not be devoid of activity--indeed, if I'm reading the tea leaves correctly, Mr. Rumsfeld's most difficult but most important work for the Bush administration may well lie ahead of him.
While a lesser man might have sulked in his tent after resigning in response to a bad election cycle, Mr. Rumsfeld went about business as usual and delivered a noteworthy address at Kansas State University. In a way, Mr. Rumsfeld may feel liberated by his resignation from the day-to-day constraints of running the DoD to start articulating some broader-reaching and long-term policy goals. In the Q&A he declined to give specific advice to Mr. Gates; he didn't have to because his speech sketched out a plan for systemic government reform expanding on the transformation program Mr. Rumsfeld has so ably implemented at the Pentagon.
Secretary Rumsfeld was in Kansas to celebrate KSU alum and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, who is having a new building named for him on campus. General Myers is one of the many among the top military brass who have been rumored in the press to secretly oppose Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership of the Pentagon. That has never seemed terribly likely to me, and General Myers reinforced my opinion yesterday in his introductory remarks:
Let me talk about two things about Secretary Rumsfeld that I think the pundits get very, very wrong.
One is the enormous task of trying to drag the Department of Defense out of the Cold War into the 21st century. This takes enormous physical energy. It takes enormous intellectual effort. The Department of Defense, as you all understand, is a huge bureaucracy resistant to change just by the way it's designed. But the Secretary had the energy, the perseverance and the vision, and he had the support of the senior military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military leaders, to try to change the Department of Defense. And I would say that in his tenure as Secretary of Defense, that the Department has undergone more profound change in the last six years than in any time in its history since the National Security Act of 1947, and I think history will record that.
The second thing I'd like to talk about is the Secretary's relationship with the senior military. Here again, I think the pundits get it absolutely wrong. And I don't know why they do. But bits of information put together without context usually doesn't bring much meaning, and we've had a lot of that lately.
I'll make a couple of statements here that I think are statements of fact. I have worked with several secretaries of defense. I have never worked with one that has spent more time with the senior military leadership than this Secretary of Defense. More time. In fact, he used to quip that he spent more time with me than he spent with his wife Joyce during the waking hours. And I think that is absolutely another fact.
The president yesterday talked about the Secretary's loyalty to him. Another thing that's not understood or talked about is the Secretary's loyalty down the chain of command, which he is squarely in. I remember as (Army) General (Tommy) Franks left the office to go to the Middle East to begin combat operations in Iraq, it was one of the more poignant moments. It was General Franks, Secretary Rumsfeld and myself, as I recall the only three in the office, maybe the military assistant was there as well, and the Secretary said, "Well, we've done all the planning. We've been planning for over a year. The president's given us his decision, and win, lose or draw, we're all in this together and we'll stand together as we take on this adversary."
He has had many opportunities to deflect the arrows coming his way to the military. Many opportunities. He's never taken one of those opportunities. If you go back and read a little bit about Abu Ghraib and people wanting to place blame, it would have been easy for the Secretary of Defense to deflect it to the Department, to individuals. He never did that. He sucked up all those arrows and continued to lead the Department in the way that he knew was right.
General Myers was of course Chairman on 9/11, and both he and Secretary Rumsfeld have remarked on the intensity with which they worked together after the attacks. Mr. Rumsfeld could have given a speech in his honor that focused on commemorating their collaboration, and reflecting on the lessons of 9/11. He didn't. Rather than looking back, Mr. Rumsfeld looked forward. He began with a joking reference to the events of Wednesday ("I hope all of you appreciate how I have managed so skillfully public affairs for this event. I wanted to put the Landon Lecture on the map, so I did my best! I'm glad I could help out."), but the main body of the speech examined the unusual nature of the current conflict, and outlined three areas in which we need to adapt in order to win. Mr. Rumsfeld has drawn connections between the War on Terror and the Cold War before, and he did it again yesterday; however, his main subject was how he has come to understand the circumstances that make this war unique and so require new thinking:
There are some similarities between the Cold War and the struggle we face today, but this long war represents and presents unprecedented challenges for us wholly unlike any that the United States has ever faced. There can be no doubt but that the murderous communist regimes imprisoned, starved and sometimes massacred their own citizens. We know that. But they were nation-states. They had capitals. They had laws. They had five-year plans. They had diplomats to sign agreements, even if they broke them.
Unlike the Cold War, our enemy has no state and no territories to defend. They murder innocent Muslim civilians by the thousands -- men, women and children alike. The enemy cannot be deterred through rational self-interest. Today's threats come less from nation-states, but rather from enemies that operate in the shadows, that strike through asymmetric and irregular means.
In order to defeat this enemy, Mr. Rumsfeld argued, we need to change the way we understand war. This is no longer a clash of conventional armies. In such encounters the modern US military would crush any opposition, but the enemy-without-borders avoids any such confrontation. Mr. Rumsfeld suggested a more synthetic governement approach to this threat:
But to win this global struggle against violent extremists, all elements of national power, all agencies of government, as well as a broad coalition of nations, will have to be brought to bear more effectively. To the extent possible we can no longer afford to have Defense and State Departments, CIA and Homeland Security, Treasury and Justice, Agriculture and Commerce each waging their own campaign with their own rules, their own restrictions, each overseen by separate congressional committees and subcommittees. Defense, diplomacy and development cannot fit neatly into separate compartments today. Success requires that security, governance and development programs progress together.
Our military cannot lose a battle in Afghanistan or Iraq, but our military cannot win all alone. They need the help of the other departments and agencies. They need the help of a broad coalition, and that is a vastly more complex task.
It's quite a proposal--to abolish the traditional divisions of our government and craft a new entity to address in concert "defense, diplomacy and development." Such reform may emerge as the most important "lesson learned" from the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns.
Mr. Rumsfeld also pointed out that the United States cannot win this war alone, and again his argument was for a non-traditional approach. He was not simply proposing increasing the number of our allies that contribute troops and other assests to specific campaigns, but rather a broader global network of strategic partners. In this network, the US would function provide training and resources, but the point would be to enable other nations to control their own security. While Mr. Rumsfeld admitted that stepping back and allowing others to take the lead may be challenging to the American mindset, he believes that only through such a policy can lasting change be effected, particularly in the Muslim world:
...[W]e need to recognize that this struggle against extremism cannot and will not be won by any single country, even the United States of America.
It will be won, over time, by the hundreds of millions of Muslims -- Iraqis, Afghans, Egyptians, Indonesians, as well as European and American Muslims -- who will ultimately be responsible for winning the struggle against violent extremists.
The Defense Department has asked for increases in funding and authority to help to build the capacity and the capabilities of partner nations. This will be a difficult shift in approach for our country. Change is hard, and it's not easy for Americans to teach and assist while others act and do. Ours is a nation and a military with a hands-on, can-do spirit. But today's war against a global enemy requires first and foremost that we enable our friends and allies, especially those in the Muslim world, to confront and defeat the extremists within their own borders and on their own airwaves.
The shift towards building our partners' capabilities requires, for example, some of the best military personnel to become trainers and advisers and embedded with foreign security forces so that they can improve their capacities and their capabilities. And as was indicated, we have a number of those folks here today who are currently training at Fort Riley as part of military transition teams. These teams will be undertaking a critical task when they deploy, to train and stand up and mentor Afghan, Iraqi security forces, and those of other nations. There's perhaps, as we move into this new period, no more important mission.
Mr. Rumsfeld's third point was the urgent need to reform how we understand communications. As he pointed out, the enemy is highly skilled in media manipulation and our government has not kept up:
Today's global, 24-hour media presents new challenges for a government that operates on a -- on a very different schedule. Al Qaeda's second-in-command, al-Zawahiri, has said that, quote, "More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media." This is the number two al Qaeda leader explaining to his people that it's not so much only on the battlefield today, it's in the media.
The enemy we face has skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part, our country and our government have not yet completed the adjustments that will be necessary. The enemy is fast, with headline-grabbing attacks. By doctoring photographs, lying to the media, being trained to allege torture in their training manuals, the enemy successfully manipulates the free world's press, a press that they would never allow to be free -- and they do so purposefully to intimidate and break the will of free people. We need to understand the ruthlessness, the skillfulness of this enemy.
Indeed we do.
It is in many ways unfortunate that one of the few people who truly understand the nature of this terrible foe is now leaving the Bush administration. But I understand the political reality that made Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation nigh on inevitable after Tuesday. Elections happen, and what sets us apart from our enemies is that their ramifications are peacefully implemented in this country. While I do not agree that Iraq was in and of itself the defining factor in this election (voters overwhelmingly named "corruption" as their most important issue), it is the most important issue among the newly-elected congressional majority, who have signalled their intentions:
House Democrats say they plan to set up a new committee next year focused on uncovering abuses in defense spending and policies, and possibly an independent commission to investigate waste and fraud associated with the billions of dollars spent to rebuild Iraq. Implementing unfulfilled recommendations by the 9/11 commission -- such as plugging holes in airport security -- is also on their agenda.
'It's going to be hearings, accountability, trying to restore trust so the people understand what the real facts are,' said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the Marine veteran who last year called for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and helped crystallize congressional opposition to the war.
It seems logical to conclude that Mr. Rumsfeld had wind of this plan in early October and that the "thoughtful discussions" in which he engaged with the President leading up to the election were largely centered on this topic. This perspective makes all the more meaningful Mr. Rumsfeld's decision to boost troop levels in Baghdad in October; he noted in a recent press conference that:
"I remember going up on the Hill and people saying to me, "Oh, what's the October surprise going to be? You're going to reduce a whole bunch of troops or produce Osama or something?" And well, the October surprise was, we increased troop levels. (Chuckles.) Why? Because it was the right thing to do."
It was the right thing to do so Mr. Rumsfeld did it rather than engineer a temporary reduction of forces that might have extended his tenure at the Pentagon, but which would have undermined the mission. And he chuckled, knowing full well how his good deed most likely would be rewarded.
What the re-empowered Mr. Murtha proposes are not policy hearings on Iraq along the lines of what will occur in the Senate Armed Services Committee next week, but rather a witch hunt that will be facilitated by the Byzantine budgeting process that funds the DoD. One can only imagine the mountains of paper that will be subpoenaed. Remember the infamous $436 hammer that inspired former Vice-President Al Gore to create "The Hammer Award?" That's going to be child's play compared to the dissection of the Afghanistan and Iraq books. I'm not suggesting that there is any deliberate or systemic impropriety in the accounting for the war, but there are sure to be such hammers to be found in a campaign of this scale, as well as funding processes that were developed to enable timely progress in both campaigns as conditions on the ground changed more rapidly than the current system could support. Secretary Rumsfeld signaled as much in his KSU speech:
The realities on the ground in the rest of the world do not correspond to the yearly federal budgetary process -- where it can take one year to craft a budget, another to get it approved by Congress, and then a third year to execute that then somewhat stale program.
The resulting expedited budgeting is the sort of activity that will be demonized by the proposed Democrat "independent commission" as some sort of sinister plot to swindle taxpayers during the course of the wars. Stand by for cries of corruption and graft, and sensational revelations of misdeeds by isolated individuals, all of which will be thrown at Mr. Rumsfeld in the course of Mr. Murtha's accountability hearings. If this plan goes forward, we can anticipate having millions and millions of our tax dollars expended so that the Democrats can try to discredit the wars and their architect once and for all. No wonder Mr. Rumsfeld resigned at the prospect; how on earth could he prepare for and participate in such an ordeal while carrying out his duties as Secretary of Defense?
The good news is that Mr. Rumsfeld has a meticulous knowledge of DoD budgeting and is exhaustively familiar with the way money is funneled through the Department. And contrary to what many of his detractors might suggest, he actually cares about the fact that he has been spending the hard-earned money of American citizens, and has done his best to balance what would be nice with what is necessary. I am curious to see if these hearings turn out to be the sort of success Mr. Murtha envisions. As they congratulate themselves for hounding Mr. Rumsfeld from office, Mr. Murtha and his cronies may, in their enthusiasm, be preparing for him a platform from which to defend this mission and the administration's prosecution of it--and this may be a defense Mr. Rumsfeld is eager to make. He certainly has a vested interest in doing so as these hearings will have potentially serious ramifications not only for Mr. Rumsfeld, but for the President, Vice President and Secretary of State, among others. Is this too dire a scenario? Maybe I'm over-reacting. Maybe congressional democrats will be content with Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation and will abandon this investigation and turn their attention to more pressing matters. Maybe so--I hope so--but my hopes are not high. And when and if this happens, there is no more capable and qualified person for the task of defending the Iraq war than Donald Rumsfeld.
General Myers noted yesterday that when announcing Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation on Wednesday, the President singled out his loyalty as one of the Secretary's most important contributions to his administration. It seems to me that Mr. Bush may have cause to value that loyalty more highly than ever in the not-too-far-distant future.