TCS Daily


Rummy's Critics Misfire

By James Pinkerton - September 9, 2003 12:00 AM

Should Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld be called, instead, "The Secretary of Stubbornness"? Is he "mulish"? Is he "ridiculous"?

 

Who said those critical words? Howard Dean? Jacques Chirac? Non, those snipes came from The Weekly Standard, from Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute, and from Bill Kristol, the junior godfather of the neoconservative movement. Given the ideopolitical heft of the critics, it's worth pausing to consider whether this divisive rhetoric will detour the Department of Defense in its important work of transformation and modernization. Short answer: let's hope not.

 

The September 15 edition of The Weekly Standard begins nicely enough: "Rumsfeld can claim, as much as any man, to be the architect of victory in Operation Iraqi Freedom." But then, here comes the stinger, and it's a mother-stinger: "History might also tag him as the architect of defeat in the larger war for Iraq." Wow. What's Rumsfeld done wrong? Author Donnelly answers, "The secretary's mulish opposition to increasing the number of Americans in Iraq -- and the narrow understanding of military 'transformation' used to justify that stance -- is a prime reason the Bush administration has had to go begging to the United Nations."

 

In other words, the issue at hand isn't the war -- everyone agrees that was handled brilliantly -- but instead, the post-war management of Iraq. And thus the fault line: Rumsfeld and most of the civilian and military careerists at the Pentagon see the much-vaunted "transformation" as a matter of going totally high tech -- or, as they might say, a fusing of futuristic hardware and software into a "net-centric" vision of dominance across the full spectrum of theaters of operation. Such a transformation might well mean fewer people operating a variety of 21st century wonder-weapons.

 

But there's another faction of activists, clustered mostly in a few thin magazines and think tanks, that sees "transformation" in a completely different light. These folks, many of them identified with neoconservatism, aren't necessarily opposed to new military technology, but they put greater emphasis on another kind of transformation. What kind? They seek to seek to transform the entire world -- in accordance with their vision of triumphant American democratic values. This second group, those in love with world-historical crusading, undoubtedly see the Pentagoneers, who merely wish to reshape the military, as dreadfully dull. So Donnelly dismisses those military transformationalists who "tend to view war as little more than the application of firepower"; he sees war as primarily ideological, not technological.

 

Of course, a military man or woman might respond by saying that the "application of firepower" is, in fact, the bottom line for those in uniform. And other missions, such as nation-building and democratizing, are no doubt a good idea, but soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines do not necessarily make the best missionaries, especially over a long period of time.

 

The flashpoint in this struggle between the Pentagon-transformers and the world-transformers is, of course, Iraq. Rumsfeld toured that de-Saddamed country last week; he made it clear that while he's an optimist about the success of the American mission, he's also a realist. Success, he said, will ultimately depend upon the Iraqi people; the greater participation of Iraqis is much more important, he argued, than the addition of more American GI's. As he put it on September 5:

 

We want more force protection, more site protection, more border protection, more police protection in cities by Iraqis. This is their country. The security of their country, and the political future of their country, and the economic advancement of their country is going to be done by Iraqi people. It is not going to be done by nation builders. It is not going to be done by people coming in and fashioning a template and saying, "Here's how we do it, and therefore you must do it." They're going to figure it out.

 

Lest he be misunderstood, Rumsfeld made the same point the next day as he stood next to Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq:

 

Instead of pointing fingers, it seems to me, at the security forces of the Coalition because there are acts of violence taking place against Iraqi people in this country, it's important for the Iraqi people to step up and take responsibility for the security by providing information to General Sanchez and his people to a greater extent than they're doing.

 

Rumsfeld was saying something significant, and reporters caught on: "U.S. Says Security in Iraq Up to Iraqis Themselves" was the headline from Reuters. To be sure, Rumsfeld declared repeatedly that he was confident that the Iraqi people would rise to his challenge, thus obviating the need for more American soldiers. He also allowed repeatedly that if he ever were to be asked by Sanchez & Co. for more troops, he would provide them. But nonetheless, his message was unmistakable: Iraqis, not Americans, will make Iraq bloom into peace and prosperity. That's the sort of straight talk -- in this case, a blunt warning to the Iraqis to help more -- that has made Rumsfeld into a patron saint of plain speakers.

 

Other conservatives have picked up on this Rumsfeld theme. In the roundtable segment of the September 7 edition of "Fox News Sunday," Brit Hume wondered aloud, "What about the Iraqi people?" He recalled that prior to the war, the more visionary and lyrical of war hawks claimed that Iraqis were "uniquely suited" to the beneficent application of the Bush Doctrine of planetary uplift. Nevertheless, Hume observed, it "might not be the case," that Iraq is ready for such a positive modernization. Then he added slyly, "Don't expect the administration to say it."

 

Whereupon the ubiquitous Kristol, appearing on the same Fox News show, jumped in: "Rumsfeld did say it, and it was ridiculous." The "it" in this instance was Rumsfeld's comment that it was better to seek more help from Iraqis than to send in more Americans. It was this idea of Rumsfeld's that was "ridiculous," because Iraqis are doing as well as anybody could reasonably hope for right now. But Kristol's argument was belied by his own insistence, as he wrote in his own magazine, that "there are too few American troops in Iraq." In other words, even Kristol agrees that something needs to be fixed in Iraq.

 

So the difference between Rumsfeld and Kristol seems to boil down to this: Rumsfeld wants Iraqis to do more in Iraq, and Kristol wants more Americans in Iraq. As Kristol said on Fox, "I don't think it's very intelligent for the American secretary of defense to say, in Baghdad, that the Iraqi people need to do more."

 

Well now. Rumsfeld not very intelligent? What diplomats call a "frank exchange of views" is likely to begin. On the one side is the military, which sees its mission as winning wars the high-tech way. On the other side are some of the neocons, who see their mission as winning the world. And how is that done? By relying upon low-tech applications of young men and women, pulling guard duty in faraway places. In other words, instead of, for example, seizing the high frontier of space, we must doggedly secure the Iraq-Syria border. With American troops. Indefinitely.

 

Some might say that both sides have a strong argument to make.

 

And indeed the two sides, the Rumsfeldians and the Kristolites, might come together on the question of "regime change" in Iraq. But then comes the emerging divergence of emphasis, over a variety of "what next?" questions, starting with the appropriate force level for post-Ba'ath Baghdad. And so while both sides agree that Iraq, in the words of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, is "central" to the war on terrorism, the coming debate over the deployment of future resources is going to be important. What to do about the rest of the "axis of evil"? Right now, it appears that North Korea is the nation that poses the greatest threat of all. Not only does the Hermit Kingdom have nukes, but Kim Jong Il also seems to have the use of long-range missiles. In which case, what's the best use of Pentagon dollars? President Bush put forth his answer on Sunday night: the US needs more help, boots-on-the-ground-wise and cash-on-the-barrelhead-wise, from more countries.

 

In a perfect world, all needs would be met, but in an imperfect world, choices must be made. Rumsfeld has dedicated much of his life to national defense; in his 20s, a half-century ago, he was a Navy carrier pilot. Of late, one of his greatest preoccupations has been missile defense; in the 90s, he was one of the first to ring the alarm bell about the nascent threat from "rogue nations."

 

If Rumsfeld's leadership can push the Iraqis into a more self-help direction, then American resources will be freed up to fulfill the Rumsfeldian transformation vision. Such a vision might include next-gen Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), and the F/A-22 Raptor.

 

There's nothing wrong with a healthy debate about Iraq policy, or any other aspect of national defense. On repeated occasions, Rumsfeld himself has demonstrated a willingness to mix it up with reporters and even his own Pentagon colleagues over matters of national defense. But there's constructive debate, and there's destructive diatribe. Those on the Right who see the world differently from Rumsfeld might be wise to sheath their sharpest rhetorical swords, if they wish to regarded as "friendlies" within the overall Bush coalition.

 

Don Rumsfeld might be many things, but he's neither "mulish" nor "ridiculous." And after his lifetime of honorable service to his country, to proclaim that the two-time Sec Def is potentially an "architect of defeat" is more than absurd. It is a calumny that will only bring disgrace upon its proclaimers.
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