Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Meanwhile, here's a tribute to the departing Secretary of Defense over at TCS:

After returning from Iraq in 2003, I found myself preparing to leave active-duty in 2004. For some reason, I encountered several interesting articles about Donald Rumsfeld and came to be pretty impressed with the guy. I don't mean his leadership style, or his decisions or anything like that. I mean personality-wise. He's got a great bio: elected to the House of Representatives at age 29, worked his way through Washington for nearly two decades before departing for the private sector. There he turned around two companies that were failing, and by all accounts, he did so with panache.

My boss became interested in Rummy too. We started to trade bits and pieces of information we encountered here and there. I told him I had read somewhere that Rumsfeld kept a an old tape deck in his office and when working late, would throw in a cassette of patriotic marches and pick up some dumbbells and do a few sets, just to get the blood flowing. My boss saw an interview on TV conducted at Rumsfeld's ranch in New Mexico. A lifelong friend, who was a successful businessman himself, said that Rummy has the energy of "five successful men." Another article I read noted that Rumsfeld doesn't sit at a desk, choosing instead to stand all day between two tall tables. Another noted his habit of frequently walking long distances to appointments in the capital, instead of hopping in his security vehicle - to the chagrin of his security detail. The man, while in his early 70s, would work 16 hour days, then routinely beat his subordinates at a squash game, then go home and spend his free time . . . writing a book for his wife about what a great person she is. I'm not making any of this up.

The meat of the article is an e-mail to Instapundit:

"The Military cannot change itself. Air Force screams at the Navy, Navy screams at the Army, and everyone screams at the Marines, and the Coast Guard continues to go on unfunded. Congress just sits squirms in its seat every time someone wants to do something simple like close an air force base, Private Industry? Oh sure that will work out fine, no self interest there, right?

"So what do you do? You get a man just exactly like Rumsfeld, who's been around forever, knows exactly what works and what doesn't work, knows where all the bodies are buried at every level of the chain of command and you let him loose by putting him at the top.

"Rumsfeld is uniquely and highly qualified to do exactly what he is doing. He is an institutional nightmare to the lifetime bureaucrat. Think of Rumsfeld as one of those CEO's that gets hired to turn around a company in bankruptcy court, or like Tom Peters without the PR team. This is not to say that the Military is 'bankrupt', but it has lost its way in some places. Do we really need a dozen more Seawolf submarines or should we have 50 more C-17s and C-5s? F-22's or MV-22's?, Airborne Laser Missile Defense or another 10 brigades of Marines and Special Forces? I don't know the answer to those questions, but I know better than to ask Admiral Chuck 'Seawolf' Hardmore if we need more Seawolf submarines.

"That's why we are lucky to have him, and that's why everyone hates him, because in the end Rumsfeld will be remembered as the greatest change agent of all time."

I remain a skeptic of the anti-Rumsfeld conventional wisdom, and of the "incompetence" charge in Iraq.


  • Before I say anything else, I don't think Rumsfeld is stupid. He's a brilliant bureaucratic infighter with tremendous charisma. He even had a fairly good plan for retooling the military to take on second and third tier hostile states. On Iraq, however, he was absout as helpful as Mao's Great Leap Forward.

    I'm trying to remain calm about this, but it's not easy. Let's say that Rumsfeld really did pretty much starve phase IV planning and resources, and was behind Wolfowitz' denial of Shinseki's estimate of several hundred thousand necessary troops. If this is true, then I would say his negligence is more or less directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and a couple thousand US troops. That's an awful lot of prospective blood on his hands. It makes it difficult to accept the "who knew?" defense. You see, he's the one who is suppossed to know. Not Rick Santorum or Sean Hannity or John Kerry or Arianna Huffington. It's the executive branch. Can't blame it on the military - "hundreds of thousands" came straight out of doctrine and the experience of the 90s. Can't blame it on State - they barely got any input anyway. Maybe you can blame GEN Franks for not priming ground commanders for phase IV operations, but it wasn't like he made a secret of declining responsibility for post-war planning. Someone - wonder who? - needed to either change GEN Franks' view, or have a powerful, experienced, and well-funded organization responsible for that phase. Pretending it was not going to be an occupation was so far fetched I can't imagine who was taking that seriously. The CIA knew Chalabi was a crook - I've seen the damned dossiers myself - and yet Rumsfeld and his Pentagon people ignored that, apparently because Chalabi was telling them what they wanted to hear.

    Alright, I could go on all day while getting more and more upseet, but I should probably content myself with concluding that I find the belief that Rumsfeld was *not* incompetent difficult to grasp.

    By Blogger Nato, at 10:37 PM  

  • It appears I'm in between you two on Rumsfeld. I think he was merely mediocre. He really didn't have a great chance to succeed in Iraq. We couldn't have sent that many more troops because we were already over-extended as it was, fighting on two different fronts (Iraq and Afghanistan). We had a lot of war weary troops before we even started the invasion of Iraq. Maybe Rumsfeld could have done better in some ways, but he could have done worse too. I think the main problem with the Iraq war is and always has been lack of international legitimacy and support, and the sole blame for that falls on Bush. If Rumsfeld had been under Clinton, we might be praising him today. Under Bush, on the other hand, he's merely just one more fall-guy in a long string of fall-guys. Every single cabinet position has now been changed. Many brilliant people have now worked under Bush, "failed", and been canned. It could be that they weren't as brilliant as we thought, or perhaps our expectations were unreasonable, but in my opinion, their main handicap was working for the worst American president in history. Great leaders do great things with the personnel and resources they're given. They're supposed to make everyone around them better and more productive. In this case, our "great leader" made everyone around him worse, and I put the blame for all failures squarely on his shoulders.

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 8:01 AM  

  • I blame Bush, yes, but indirectly. Frankly, I just don't think he had the resources in terms of experience, knowledge or, frankly, intellectual vigor to take on something as complex and dangerous as Iraq, while Rumsfeld and Cheney (almost) did. Bush understood that and left it to his very capable "subordinates". Given that he's president already, I suppose that's the best he could do, though his immense, uncritical reliance on two men with the same character and ideological bent was less defensible in a leader, whatever his intellectual resources. It essentially guaranteed that the two veteran bureaucratic infighters would steamroll their peers and completely control what Bush (thought he) knew.

    I guess, though, that Tom's ultimately correct, in the same sense that Bush is ultimately to blame for Iraq. Though I lay proximate blame on Rumsfeld, it's very likely that in (for example) Clinton's hands, played off fairly against Colin Powell and other folks with strategic vision, leading to a synthesized game plan, might have had a large positive role to play.

    But in the end, it is Rumsfeld's moral and intellectual turpitude that most proximally sunk Iraq, and I cannot excuse him because his putative boss failed to manage his weaknesses.

    By Blogger Nato, at 8:33 AM  

  • In unrelated news, check out Jane Harmon challenging Pelosi for Speaker. I'd much prefer Harmon, and supported her over Davis back in the '98 CA governor race. Voters I guess found her too strident, but she's a social moderate-to-liberal and a fiscal moderate-to-conservative.

    By Blogger Nato, at 3:59 PM  

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