Saturday, April 22, 2006

Not Everyone Wants Rumsfeld Gone

Not everyone thinks Donald Rumsfeld is the Devil incarnate and wants him to be fired or to step down; it just seems that way, due to the intense and overblown media treatment of the Iraq war and the changes in the Bush Whitehouse.

Here are two columns by people who aren’t "Dump Rumsfeld" bandwagoneers:

Bring Me the Head of Donald Rumsfeld

By Clifford D. May
Apr 20, 2006

The question is not whether Donald Rumsfeld should resign. The question is not even who should replace him. The question is: What goals would a new Secretary of Defense set, and what strategies would he implement to achieve them?

If Rumsfeld's critics believe America's military has met its match on the battlefields of Iraq, they should say so forthrightly. But they should talk, too, about the ramifications of an American defeat in the heart of the Arab Middle East.

For example, once al-Qaeda can creditably claim to have driven U.S. forces out of Iraq, is there any reason to believe the line will be held in Afghanistan? And what responses should we expect elsewhere in the region after such an American humiliation?

If, on the other hand, the critics believe we can and should prevail in Iraq, but that Rumsfeld is fighting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's suicide bombers and the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime incorrectly, let them outline a better approach. Last fall, Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., writing in Foreign Policy, did not demand Rumsfeld's head, accuse him of “arrogance” or not being a good listener. He did deliver a blistering critique of what he called a “faltering effort.” But the headline of his article was “How to Win in Iraq” and he offered a coherent strategic alternative.

The question also is not whether Donald Rumsfeld has made mistakes. The question is: What has he learned from his mistakes?

The high-tech, big-blast bombs dropped on Baghdad early in the conflict did not “shock and awe” our enemies as Rumsfeld presumably anticipated. By contrast, the low-tech videotapes of hostages having their heads sawed off did cause something like that reaction in millions of American and European viewers.

There probably should have been more “boots on the ground” following Saddam's toppling, especially since Ambassador Paul Bremer would soon disband the Iraqi army leaving no one to maintain order. But that's history. Who would propose bringing in more troops now? The focus needs to be on the battles being fought today and the battles to be fought tomorrow. (Actually, American forces have never lost a battle in Iraq. Why that doesn't count as winning in this war I'll leave for a future column.)

Rumsfeld is hardly alone in having made mistakes. For more than a quarter century, almost all Western leaders and “experts” blundered badly by underestimating the enemy we now face: his determination, his ruthlessness and, yes, his competence. Worse than that: Many have been slow to recognize that Militant Islamism is the enemy, as serious a threat as were Nazism and Communism in their day.

It has long been observed that generals prepare to fight the last war rather than the next war. Part of the explanation: They know more about the last war than they do about the next war.

In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Pentagon under various secretaries spent little energy preparing to fight the kind of low-intensity conflict now underway in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many generals who don't want to fight wars that rely not on nuclear submarines and stealth bombers but on hard men willing to bloody their hands on the mean streets of cities like Fallujah and Ramadi.

Rumsfeld is the only secretary of defense to have prepared for the job by serving as secretary of defense. Thirty years ago, when he was the youngest man ever to hold the job, he was probably a less difficult boss. This time around, his goal has been to fundamentally transform what he sees as a sclerotic Pentagon bureaucracy. That has not made him popular with those invested in the status quo.

A separate question – one well worth asking – is whether a Pentagon reshaped by Rumsfeld will be all that it can be; whether it will be capable of employing organized violence more effectively than America's adversaries (which is, after all, the mission).

Transforming the military so it can better fight 21st century wars while simultaneously fighting the first 21st century war is a tall order, akin, some would say, to repairing an F-16 during aerial combat. But that's the challenge Rumsfeld has undertaken. A military designed and equipped only to fight yesterday's foes is of limited value.

Retired generals should be welcomed into the debate on military transformation. But they can't make much of a contribution until and unless they start asking the right questions.

Clifford D. May is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and a partner organization.

Copyright © 2006 Scripps Howard News Service

The Rumsfeld Detractors

By Stephen E. Herbits
Published April 20, 2006

Where is the rest of the story on the recent attacks on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by a few in the retired military? The news media will better meet its obligations to the public when it seeks more depth of experience and information about these generals-turned-Rumsfeld critics.

Having had the privilege of participating in Defense Department transitions now for four presidents, with my own experience in military affairs going back to 1967, I can offer such information.

The first observation to be made is that now that these generals have stepped out of their uniforms to make a personal and conscious entry into the political arena by calling for the resignation of a Cabinet official, they are opening their own records and their own performance -- perhaps even their own motivations -- to public scrutiny. This is not only fair game for the media, but absolutely essential for a public seeking to understand the full debate.

My experience points to several relevant issues -- some of which I personally know apply to some of those making the attacks.

First, while Mr. Rumsfeld has worked within the long tradition of civilian control of the military to modernize and strengthen the promotion and assignment system for senior uniformed officers, there are some who have actively tried to obstruct his efforts and could be acting as an extension of that opposition. For instance, within weeks of Mr. Rumsfeld's arrival in 2001, eight nominations -- two from each service -- were sent to the new secretary for one of the nine top senior military officers in command positions.

Upon examination, however, a simple fact leapt off the pages. The secretary had really been given one selection and seven non-comparable alternates, who, if not less qualified, were clearly less preferable than the one. When it happened a second time, the secretary instituted a new process. This new process has been in place for nearly five years and has required significantly more scrutiny, vetting and long-term planning.

Over that time, many generals who might have been promoted under the old system did not make it in the new one. The most telling indicator here is that of the top 40 senior military positions today, the Army now holds the fewest joint positions in its history. For too many years, the Army had simply not produced the needed talent for such critical positions. The effects of such cronyism had taken its toll. Mr. Rumsfeld's changes corrected that problem; they also provoked the resentment of some top Army brass.

There are a group of Army officers who adamantly oppose change, modernization, rationalization, transformation or whatever one wants to call the move to create a military for the future rather than a battery of tank divisions for the past. Many of these former officers stick together on retirement. They obtain the highest-level briefings from the active Army and offer their opinions, if not more, on everything from weapons to promotions. The Army can gain greatly from their experience, of course. But this clique is effectively a powerful, hidden informal force outside the Defense Department structure and outside the national political system.

There is at least one of the attackers who was passed over for promotion because of personal behavior which did not clear a routine morals examination. Not a problem; that is why top officers are vetted at each promotion and each assignment. But shouldn't the public be permitted to know this information about those attacking the civilians in charge so that they may better judge the reasons behind the reasons?

Finally, there is the style issue. Anyone who has worked closely with this secretary will tell you that he is tough. What do they mean? He acts like a prosecutor. It is often said that you had better not present policy options to this secretary if you are not thoroughly prepared. I was held to the same standard -- and it is the right one.

There is no way the secretary can be an expert on every single issue that comes before him. But he can ask questions and he can drive down into the facts and analyses as few others can. It is through that process that he gains confidence in those making the recommendations so he can put his stamp on them. Or the opposite. Some interpret the tough sessions as personally affronting. Others, such as I, believe it is in the best service of this country.

It will also be a service to this country when the media digs a bit below these attacks to examine the generals who wish to play a political role in our civilian society. The public can then understand who is making the attacks and why. Arguably, such an understanding is helpful in any public debate. It is inarguably essential in this one.

Stephen E. Herbits has served five presidents as a military affairs adviser since 1967, including the Defense Department transition in 2001 and post-September 11 reforms.

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