Thursday, November 09, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld - Best Defense Secretary Since Robert McNamara

President Bush made a surprise announcement the day after the election that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was resigning to be replaced by Robert Gates. Although the President had told the press last week that Rumsfeld would stay until the end of his term, he explained that he had to engage in this bit of misdirection because he didn't want to influence the election, which showed an admirable sense of fair play on his part. Many voters would have been extremely upset by such a shocking announcement before the election and may even have been too disheartened to go out and vote if they had known about his resignation beforehand because Donald Rumsfeld has been one of our greatest Defense Secretaries. He is perhaps the best Defense Secretary since Robert McNamara, who presided over the Vietnam War. Not only did Rumsfeld serve in the office longer than anyone except McNamara, the two men have much in common.

Unfortunately, misconceptions about the Vietnam War and the War in Iraq have led some to criticize McNamara and Rumsfeld, but I think history will show that while they made all the right decisions, the generals and soldiers on the ground did a poor job executing many of their directives so they really shouldn't be blamed. They also would have done better if they didn't have to contend with being second-guessed by the liberal media. Rumsfeld revealed some of his irritation at having to be judged by people who are a lot less intelligent than he is when he said at yesterday's press conference that the War in Iraq is "complex for people to comprehend." But I don't think the fact that they had to deal with so many people who just weren't as smart as they are should be held against them.

Both McNamara and Rumsfeld subscribed to the doctrine of "underwhelming force," that is, using as few resources as possible in prosecuting a war in order to lose less. That is why Rumsfeld and McNamara both overruled their generals, who believed that more troops were needed, in favor of smaller, nimbler fighting forces. Rumsfeld also didn't believe in expending a lot of scarce Pentagon funds on such equipment as body armor or armored vehicles, which would just have drained the funds available for sophisticated weapons systems.

Both McNamara and Rumsfeld came to office vowing to restructure the Pentagon bureaucracy and reassert civilian control, which is probably why they get bad-mouthed by a lot of military men. They both brought a mathematical precision to their decision making since each has a background in mathematics and finance. McNamara pioneered the use of mathematical and financial analysis in military planning and served as the head of the Ford Motor Company before coming to the Pentagon under Kennedy. Rumsfeld has an MBA and has served as the CEO of a number of corporations. Because of their backgrounds they were able to make decisions unswayed by emotion or political considerations. Instead of seeing troops as individuals, they saw them as statistics on a spreadsheet, which made it a lot easier for them to make the tough decisions that were necessary. Numbers don't lie, unlike people, which is why they didn't listen to what people were telling them if the numbers didn't back them up.

In fact, McNamara and Rumsfeld both had a remarkable ability to stay focused and not get distracted by a lot of advice and criticism. Once they made up their minds they could not be diverted no matter how many people questioned their strategy. As former Secretary of the Army Thomas White said, "McNamara was a guy who was absolutely convinced that he was right, even when 99 percent of the world was telling him that he was wrong.... I don't know whether you'd characterize that as intellectual arrogance. What they say about Henry Kissinger was that he was not burdened by a great deal of self-doubt. I think that's true of Don Rumsfeld; that he thinks it through, and he arrives at a point of view, and he will execute to that point of view and get it done. Once he's made his mind up, that's it."

There is one important difference between the two men, however. Unfortunately, toward the end of his service, McNamara did begin to have doubts about the Vietnam War. He was troubled when a war protester immolated himself outside the window of his Pentagon office. He began to suffer from stomach ulcers as his concern about the war mounted. These doubts affected his ability to conduct the war and Lyndon Johnson eventually had to replace him. In recent years he has written books and appeared in a documentary, The Fog of War, detailing the mistakes he thinks were made, believing that future generations could learn from these mistakes. On the other hand Rumsfeld, who has probably not read any of McNamara's books, has never had any doubt about anything he did, and it is unlikely we will be seeing any books of mea culpas from him. It is perhaps this quality that puts him a notch above McNamara and makes him the greatest Secretary of Defense we have ever had.

Yet Rumsfeld's greatness may not be recogized by historians for many years to come. Unfortunately, you sometimes have to go with the legacy you have, not the legacy you want.

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15 comments:

MistahCharley said...

Jon, the Rumsfeld-McNamara comparison is very apt, especially in their ability to avoid distraction and focus on the spreadsheets. I agree with you that Rumsfeld surpasses McNamara in a number of areas. In addition to McNamara's regrettable inability to "stay the course" in his late-career and post-career phases, another superiority that Rumsfeld has is his inspiring and colorful speaking style. He must be, I believe, the most quoted Secretary of Defense ever.

As we mourn Rumsfeld's loss and face the challenging days of a Democratic Congress (with a woman from San Francisco as Speaker of the House! who can believe it?), at least we can count on Cheney to continue as a stabilizing influence.

HopeSpringsATurtle said...

Dear Sir:
I pondered whether to send you this link or not and decided you would prefer, being the upright citizen that you are, to know rather than not know.
Your Mr. Rumsfeld is having a case prepared against him for "war crimes". Link at my place.
http://deepconfusion.blogspot.com/

The Minstrel Boy said...

and "power point presentations" rummy loves him so of them. how the military ever managed to exist, plan and game out problems, much less ever fight without those puppies i'll never know.

NBarnes said...

Republicans' explanation for Iraq; it's not our fault, blame the troops!

Hey, look over there! John Kerry!

Lazarus said...

And now the press will lose another war for us and the terrorist shall be embolden.

Men, get to the bookstore and by an English version of the Koran. You must all learn to beat your cattle and women correctly.

harrogate said...

Well, Mr. Swift, what you might not know is, in addition to being the most brilliant Sec. Defense of all time, Rummy also happens to rank as one of America's finest poets ever. Harrogate has recently brought this to Readers' attention on the blog to which he contributes, linking _The Exostential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld_ as well as providing excerpts.

Compared to Rummy, John Keats was a hack. And yet some question his decisions? For shame!

Chris D said...

So your criteria for judging secretaries of defense is their ability to lose wars?

Anonymous said...

So,,,Rumy so good, why would he possibly want to leave now, when the war is almost won !!!!

Anonymous said...

The answer good friends is that the emporer hath no clothing, not even a fig branch. The absurdity of it all is becoming more frightening each day.. that's right, turn away..its a back car wreck..

Anonymous said...

These two men should never be placed side by side. While McNamara made many mistakes he is a much more intelligent man than Rumsfeld will ever be.

That famous Rumsfeld speech about WOD in Iraq, how did it go again, something like this: we know they are located North, East, South, West of Baghdad. Sure they are what was the reason for invading again?

As for the comments about buying an English edition of the Koran and how the media lost the war, they didn’t the current Administration did. Well you see Iraq was one of the few secular nations in the middle-east before the USA invaded, so it is only now that we must fear the terrorists coming from Iraq, and of course Iran, South Korea and many countries in Africa. Not to mention all the moderate Islamists who have turned extreme since the invasion. And of course Afghanistan, where Bin Laden actual is, that country has become increasingly unstable recently and yet not sign of the bollox.

I’m not say that Iraq was a nice place, it wasn’t and Saddam was an evil son of a bitch, wait no it was a whore. There are many countries throughout the world which have evil dictators and the USA has no problem playing ball with them now or in the past. Look at China for a very good example, but where will Wal-Mart get their cheap labour and good from if we confront them.

The biggest problem for both the USA and Europe in the future is Africa, many countries there are being overrun by Islamic extremist who insist on a Taliban style show. This cannot be won be bullets but by aid to fight, poverty, disease, aids and at the very least get them clean water.

Enough said.

Anonymous said...

I think you're correct in your comparison of Rumsfeld and McNamara; where I differ is I find them to both be terrible Secretaries of Defense. They are both able-minded, that's for sure- McNamara was definitely the 'whiz kid' he was supposed to be, and Rumsfeld isn't a step behind. But I'm not sure how you can justify calling either of them great public officers.

Regardless of your opinion on the motivations behind either Vietnam OR Iraq, I think it's safe to say the US military was utterly unprepared to fight both of them, and that falls largely (if not entirely) to the people in charge.

To the suggestion that the wars are being lost by those people 'on the ground', I don't know that I could disagree more. How can you blame those soldiers who are physically giving their lives while having to deal with inadequate armor, bureaucratic blunders (American. Vietnamese and Iraqi, respectively) at every turn, not to mention an unfindable enemy justified by a seemingly imperialist invasion? I'm not trying to be confrontational, I just honestly fail to see how you come to your conclusions.

Anonymous said...

So, Jon puts Rumsfeld above McNamara in his rankings as Defense Secretary. Yeah, right. McNamara was the epitome of the corporate expert who could solve anything with statistics. He dies knowing and admitting he had made a dreadful mistake with Vietnam. Rumsfeld is no expert at anything and will die wrapped in ignorance.

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