Goodbye, Rummy


A glance at Donald Rumsfeld’s biography will tell you that he is: (1) ambitious; (2) bright; (3) competent; and (4) incredibly experienced in both the private sector and the public sector.

So how did the 74-year-old secretary of defense become the bad guy of the Bush administration? The answer is probably that by his 70s, his ambition and drive had degenerated into stubbornness and arrogance. Richard Nixon described him as a "ruthless little bastard" when he served that administration. Some military people have said meetings with him were pointless, because he had already decided everything before he got there. And his mouth got him into a lot of trouble.

He was, according to some military people, obsessed with the idea of transforming the defense forces into a lighter, more mobile outfit. He forced this on the Iraqi war planners, and what happened proved what his critics had been saying all along. The lighter, mobile force, carefully coordinated with air power, could whip the conventional army, especially one as broken-down and demoralized as Saddam Hussein’s forces, but then it had no staying power.

It was way too short-handed to stop the looting, which all observers agree was the beginning of the downhill slide in Iraq. I’m sure what his generals had been trying to tell him was that you haven’t won the war until you have men standing on the ground with a rifle and saying, "This is my turf." To do what we did in Iraq was to invite exactly the kind of insurrection we have. We went in, as Rumsfeld wanted, with too few men to occupy a country of that size.

Rumsfeld’s lighter, more mobile force will only work if you can zip in, fight a quick war and leave. I don’t know any place on Earth where we can reasonably expect to do that. If you intend to stay, you’d better not be too light or too mobile, because occupation requires a lot of manpower. Look at our present situation. We are fighting guerrilla wars in two Third World countries, and our forces are stretched thin and the equipment is wearing out. Heaven help us if we had to fight North Korea with its million-man army, much less China or Russia.

What we need is a strategic plan designed to avoid fighting wars. That plan should contain a realistic assessment, based on capabilities, of what countries we might have to fight, and then a force structure can be designed to meet that threat. You don’t have to go to West Point to know that your threat is what determines your force structure.

Rumsfeld and the civilians he brought into the Defense Department played a key role in selling the American people on a war based on falsehoods. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. There was no connection between the attacks on 9/11 and Iraq. The whole sales pitch from start to finish was false, and nearly all of it was manufactured in Rumsfeld’s Defense Department.

That’s why he should leave, and why he should have left a long time ago. The bright, young go-getter has become a stubborn, arrogant old man with a closed mind. If he ever felt any regret or sadness over the young lives lost in a war based on lies, he has certainly hidden any sign of it.

We need a civilian head of the Defense Department, but we need a person with an open mind who will listen to his professionals. What is the point of having all those men with military experience if you’re not going to pay attention to anything they have to say?

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.