Monday, December 11, 2006

Rummy's Farewell

[posted by Callimachus]

I remember talking to my friends in the military back in 2000, about their impressions of the new Defense Secretary. Their opinions of him were not terribly high, and much along the lines of what Smash writes here:

Donald Rumsfeld is not universally loved in the Pentagon. I'm told that he can be a tough, stubborn, and demanding boss. Rumsfeld is infamous for firing off short memos -- known colloquially as "snowflakes" -- asking next-to-impossible-to-answer questions or demanding revolutionary changes. He came to the building in 2001, promising to transform the Department of Defense from a Cold War force to a more flexible, agile military, better prepared to face the challenges of the Twenty-first Century. Almost six years later, that transformation is well underway, but not yet complete. Along the way, Rumsfeld has stepped on many toes, and slaughtered many sacred cows. Inevitably, he made some enemies, especially among the senior officers and long-serving bureaucrats who were heavily invested in the "old way" of doing things.

Which -- coming as it does in a report on Rummy's "final Town Hall forum in the Pentagon auditorium," is a timely reminder. What a Defense Secretary does is prepare the military to fight future wars, not past ones. It's his job, if needed, to dismantle the old system and replace it with a different one.

Reagan had the luxury of three years to remake the U.S. military before he gave it a fairly easy test in Granada. And even then, severe problems (especially in communications and inter-force coordination) became apparent that would have hampered us in a war on the scale of Iraq.

That act of transformation was what Rumsfeld was about doing when Sept. 11 plowed into us. The job was half-finished, and the military, moulted but not yet reformed, was not in an ideal condition. I suspect that's what he meant when he said, "You go to war with the army you have," or whatever the exact quip was. It was another of those cases where someone in the Bush administration says something that seems to me patently obvious, and the media jumps all over him like he just unleashed a string of racist cuss words.

Then there's this:

Another woman asks what was his worst day, and his best day. I expect him to say "September 11, 2001." But he surprises me.

"Abu Ghraib." He says, and a pall crosses over his face. Most men, having been faced with such a profound shame, wouldn't bring it up voluntarily. But Rumsfeld isn't most men. He seems genuinely, personally ashamed of what happened in that awful place. It has been reported that he submitted his resignation over the affair, but that the President prevailed upon him to remain.