Leadership: Rumsfeld the Unpopular Reformer

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November14, 2006: The departure of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense ends one of the longest periods anyone has held the position. Rumsfeld's service attracted a lot of criticism, but was marked with some undeniable accomplishments. It is hard to imagine a middle ground existing - people will either love the job he did, or they will hate it.

Rumsfeld had a unique perspective, having been the youngest Secretary of Defense (1975-77), and one of the few recent ones with military experience (he served as a naval aviator in the 1950s.) When Rumsfeld returned to become the oldest Secretary of Defense in 2001, he pushed the process of transforming the military into high gear. The U.S. military was still looking for an alternative to decades of Cold War thinking when Rumsfeld showed up. Two of his more controversial decisions on this matter involved the cancellation of the Crusader self-propelled artillery system in 2002 and the Comanche scout/attack helicopter in 2004. It was considered impossible to cancel such large projects, so late in their development. He also pushed the the Army to reorganize, from 48 deployable brigades to 70, via massive changes in doctrine and unit organization.

Initially expecting to face massive beltway battles over transforming the military, Rumsfeld found himself on the site of one of the locations hit during the sneak attacks carried out on September 11, 2001. Initially rushing to the scene to aid survivors, Rumsfeld eventually began to fight a global war against terrorism. Rumsfeld still pushed transformation in how to carry out operations. In Afghanistan, air power and special forces helped local allies drive the Taliban out of that country in record time.

Rumsfeld then carried out the liberation of Iraq. The initial invasion, and collapse of Saddam's regime in three weeks will be seen as a brilliant takedown of a regime that had supported terrorism and was pursuing the development of weapons of mass destruction. The rapid takedowns of regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein were arguably one of the major reasons that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi ceased his support of terrorism and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld's tenure led to numerous controversies, including the handling of captured al Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, and the difficulties during the rebuilding of Iraq. In some cases, much of this was fomented by those who were angered by his decisions, or simply didn't know what they were talking about. For example, those who criticized the disbanding of the Iraqi army in 2003, ignored the fact that this organization was dominated by Sunni Arab officers, many of whom still supported Saddam Hussein. Same thing with criticizing Rumsfeld for not putting more troops into Iraq ("400,000" is the number most often mentioned.) The troops were simply not available. Most of the divisions that participated in the 1991 Gulf War had since been disbanded and the U.S. was barely able to maintain a force of 150,000. The cancellation of big-ticket items nearing mass production, angered many in Congress and in the military. A Secretary of Defense who threatens major weapons projects, quickly picks up a lot of enemies, and these enemies never forget. Rumsfeld also expected the generals and admirals who worked for him to know what they were doing, and be able to get things done. We chewed out those who didn't measure up, which made him more enemies. But the troops loved this, and the fact that Rumsfeld got behind reforms which made it possible for new equipment to get to the combat zones in record time. This offended the traditional contractors and procurement bureaucrats. More enemies.

Despite the controversies, Rumsfeld has accomplished much as Secretary of Defense. In a very real sense, he was able to focus the Department of Defense on a global war, During his tenure as Secretary of Defense, the United States also took three state sponsors of terror off the board. These real accomplishments will be ignored by many in the media as they pile on for investigations by the new Congressional majority. History will be the final judge, but many believe that Rumsfeld will be remembered as a guy who got things done, and didn't worry about whose toes got stepped on along the way. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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