Skip to comments.Don Rumsfeld, Radical For Our Time
Posted on 05/01/2003 7:47:02 AM PDT by DeuceTraveler
Don Rumsfeld, Radical For Our Time
The defense secretary has ushered in a new era, whose contours we have barely glimpsed
By Victor Davis Hanson
The Taliban defeated without American infantry, and at a cost of fewer than ten U.S. fatalities? Ten thousand Special Operations troops turned loose to work independently in northern Iraq? Not one traditional armored division on the ground near Baghdad? Thousands of GIs rumored soon to be redeployed out of Germany? Troops in the DMZ eyeing transfer southward to Pusan? Past draftees characterized as not as effective as present volunteer professionals? A secretary of defense going head-to-head with seasoned and cynical Washington reporters -- and coming off as their moral and intellectual superior?
These are all aspects of the same fundamental question: What exactly is going on with the American military? Not since secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton poked his head into every department of the Union Army and Robert McNamara tried to apply corporate business procedures to the Pentagon bureaucracy has a U.S. official exercised such political and military influence as Donald Rumsfeld. But while Stanton was politically inept and McNamara failed at war, so far -- 27 months into his tenure -- Rumsfeld is showing every sign of success. At home, he is steamrolling angry generals and balky diplomats; on the battlefield, he has crushed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.
But what exactly is Rumsfeld's vision for the future of the U.S. military? The public is unsure, because an array of critics -- out of either self-interest or simple ignorance -- has caricatured his attempt to reform the armed forces. Their reservoir of ill-will broke out into hysteria during the race to Baghdad, when a pause in fighting -- occasioned by horrendous weather conditions and necessary resupply efforts -- touched off an eruption of anti-Rumsfeld rhetoric among a few retired generals who had found employment as TV pontificators. Before 9/11, Rumsfeld's efforts to refashion the American military were largely ignored; but they are now being showcased on the world stage, and will be judged on their effectiveness.
One key Rumsfeld accomplishment is devising a new role for the Army. It is a serious mistake to suggest, as some have, that Rumsfeld favors the Navy, Air Force, and Marines; in fact, his reforms will probably enhance the Army's ground forces. His approach has already paid off in the Iraq war: The Army's Special Forces, 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, and 3rd Mechanized Division played a crucial role in the victory. (It was not Rumsfeld but the Turks who thwarted the efforts to open a northern front with at least two more Army divisions. And the 4th Infantry Division has arrived in Iraq on plan and on time, not -- as some assert -- because of a desperate call-up.)
But while the Army's Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks were vital in smashing Iraqi defenses and preventing Mogadishu-like nightmares, other things were equally important: the speeding motorized convoys that bypassed initial resistance; the air drops; the irregulars who organized the Kurds; and the small squads of highly trained skirmishers who proved masterful house-to-house fighters. In other words, Rumsfeld's plan was creative and successful: Rather than send out tens of thousands of traditional soldiers behind a wall of armor -- which would have been a logistical nightmare, requiring perhaps a year or more to assemble in a vulnerable, confined place -- Rumsfeld allowed the Army to undertake new responsibilities well beyond its traditional role. The Army has been on the cutting edge in mobilizing and deploying the indigenous forces that have been critically important in our recent Middle East wars. Furthermore, thanks to instantaneous electronic communications between ground forces and pilots, the new Army is not replaced by, but rather essential to, successful air operations.
There remains a need for traditional armored and infantry divisions, but not in the old numbers required to fight two traditional wars simultaneously against Soviet-style ground forces. We would surely need tons of steel and shells to stop a North Korea-style onslaught; but to ensure that such a war is not lost at its very beginning, we will need lighter, more mobile forces that can be rushed to hot spots until the heavy muscle arrives.
In a few months, analysts will begin to appreciate the true audacity of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Army had access to firepower to a degree never before seen. No tactician has yet quite figured out the force-multiplying effect of quickly achieved air superiority, GPS-guided munitions, and on-the-ground spotters; but surely the destructive power of A-10 fighters, helicopters, and carrier- and land-based bombers that were in service to small Army tactical units was worth the equivalent of 1,000 tanks. Furthermore, the operation took a number of -- successful -- tactical risks to satisfy myriad political objectives. For example, long, vulnerable supply lines made it possible for U.S. forces to advance rapidly to Baghdad, and thus take momentum away from a growing global antiwar movement; and the dearth of pre-battle bombing ensured a relatively sound infrastructure for rebuilding.
Rumsfeld has discovered how to use the Army in a better way than had been possible before; his analysis of the relative merits of draftees and professional soldiers shows an equally clear apprehension of military reality. His comparisons may have been inelegant, but his larger thesis -- that the effectiveness of highly trained, highly motivated soldiers cannot be measured in mere numbers -- is surely correct. The stories and pictures of soldiers running into burning trucks to save valuable equipment, wounded shooting from stretchers, and women of supply units emptying their magazines before capture suggest that the present generation of professional troops is lethal in ways we can only begin to appreciate.
Indeed, something strange is happening to the American soldier, almost as if current popular culture were being married to 19th-century notions of heroism and sacrifice. Europe, where military service is looked upon with distrust and rarely seen as either consistent with national values or a means of personal advancement, is shocked to see young kids with Ray-Ban sunglasses driving multimillion-dollar tanks, and artillery emblazoned with slogans like "Bad Moon Rising" and "Anger Management."
It is this weird alignment of rap music, counterculture adolescent fashion and diction, and popular movies and videos with selfless and heroic action that so astounds the world. Generals of all races give crisp briefings; Arab-American Marines boast of liberating a Muslim city; women brag of flying three combat missions per day; and bearded, hippie-looking Green Berets on horses prefer the company of medieval tribesmen as they radio in bombs from billion-dollar Stealth bombers. This all suggests that the U.S. military is not so much insidious as postmodern. For someone who dresses so formally and insists on protocol, Donald Rumsfeld, it turns out, is actually quite a radical and has helped to turn our military into something that values efficacy and performance far more than habit, tradition, and procedure.
Just two years ago, the slur against today's infantry was that it was "without a mission." No one would have expected that Army to prove itself a proper successor to Gen. Patton's lightning-quick strike force of central France in 1944. That Gen. Tommy Franks's plan is now called Pattonesque -- and that our new generals are compared to America's most audacious warrior -- is ironic, but understandable, and thanks are due in large part to Rumsfeld.
So he's been a military innovator. But hasn't Rumsfeld played an intrusive and disruptive role in foreign affairs? Wrong again. Here, too, his policy is one of shrewdness, prudence, and realism. The net result of Rumsfeld's military strategies will be greater political autonomy and flexibility for the U.S. -- without the traditional dependency on host countries. And surely this idea -- of a powerful America that can act without granting political concessions to a Germany, Turkey, or South Korea -- is what really bothers our allies. In this regard, however, nothing could be more unfair than to typecast Rumsfeld as a willy-nilly interventionist, who in some romantic fashion wishes to put footprints down everywhere abroad to impose democracy. If Rumsfeld's new, more cost-efficient military comes of age, it will be both more muscular and more independent -- and thus shift the onus of strictly regional defense to our allies.
In any case, what is the exact value of bases in such places as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, when they require political concessions and cannot be fully exploited? When a politically hostile Germany boasts that it allows us to use its airspace, and guards our bases that are purportedly guarding it, or spoiled South Korean youth perpetually damn us for fomenting trouble with an unaggressive North, we clearly need to do some rethinking. In this context, it is perfectly logical for Rumsfeld to be the chief promoter of missile defense, which would liberate us from being held hostage politically by ostensible allies.
The State Department may have resented Rumsfeld's quip about an "Old Europe," and his association of Germany's antagonism with the anti-Americanism of our traditional foe Libya, but once again irony abounds: No secretary of defense in modern history has done more than Rumsfeld to strengthen the hand of our diplomats. Because he has essentially ended the Powell Doctrine of cautious intervention -- using overwhelming force for limited objectives, and with a quick exit strategy -- Rumsfeld has brought a certain unpredictability to American foreign policy. And it is precisely this willingness to act alone that will in turn encourage a new maturity abroad, and expedite the war against the sponsors of terror.
"You can't defend," he remarked in an interview about terrorism, "except by offense." It is not so much that he wishes to invade Iran, Syria, or North Korea as that he wants to make it clear that the U.S. can in theory now act precipitously, yet on principle, to thwart totalitarians and terror states -- without a great deal of dependence on traditional bases, allied contingents, or the consent of the United Nations. The days of a static big target of American troops being blown up in Lebanon or Saudi Arabia without reprisals are over. Our enemies' fear may prompt political reform, or at least second thoughts on sponsoring terrorism -- which, in yet another Rumsfeld irony, will eventually make the use of military force less likely.
It may well be that Colin Powell has more diplomatic leverage than any secretary of state in recent memory precisely because the new military can move so rapidly and unexpectedly with lethal power -- a fact that will bring him a host of obsequious foreign visitors. And of course Rumsfeld's blunt language about controversial nomenclature like the Axis of Evil -- "I think putting the microscope, the floodlight, on what is going on in those three countries is just enormously valuable for the world" -- allows Powell to triangulate: He can press straddling states to deal with him now -- or Rumsfeld later.
What is the source of Rumsfeld's independence and steeliness in face of all the criticism? Plutarch, of course, would respond: "character" and "age." And there is much to be said for both. Rumsfeld's dossier -- Princeton, naval aviation, congressional service, an array of presidential appointments, and personal wealth derived from successful corporate leadership -- suggests that he doesn't much need or want anything from anybody. He has known disappointment -- an aborted presidential bid and participation in Bob Dole's inept 1996 campaign -- and realizes that Washington fame is fickle, often undeserved, and deeply resented.
That at a robust 70 Rumsfeld doesn't care to flatter or network gives him enormous credibility -- and an affinity for bringing in bright, independent people like Paul Wolfowitz and Gen. Myers without fear or jealousy. He is neither a young, ambitious McNamara, swept up in the culture of the best and brightest, nor a worn-out Stanton. Add that his wealth of experience -- including being under attack in Beirut (in 1983, when he was President Reagan's Mideast envoy) and at the Pentagon (on 9/11) -- in part explains why he has been so often right: about the need for an ABM program, about intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, and about deployments abroad to battle al-Qaeda operatives from the Philippines to Yemen. As a Thucydidean, he accepts the role of power; he knows that until the nature of man changes, regimes in the Middle East will respect our force as much as our values.
But there is a final wild card at play, not just where Rumsfeld is concerned but in the administration as a whole. Rumsfeld, as both a Princeton graduate and a naval pilot, is familiar with -- but neither envious nor in awe of -- the Eastern elite that so dominates our universities, government, and media. Like Bush, Cheney, and Rice, who have all either attended or taught at top schools, the former Illinois congressman acknowledges the intellectual richness of our great universities, but nevertheless seems more at ease with the sounder practical judgment of Middle America -- and more than willing to bristle and snap at what he perceives as an overly cynical and skeptical cadre of brainy but foolish people.
His resume reads like a counter-dossier to the 1960s and 1970s. Even his speech -- with its "by golly"'s and "my goodness"'s -- proclaims that the 1950s can endure, oblivious to the chaos: "I've always enjoyed life, no matter what I'm doing. I like people and I like ideas, and I've got a lot of energy, fortunately."
What does the future hold for Rumsfeld himself, and for our new high-tech military? I imagine he will probably retire at the conclusion of President Bush's first administration, once the war on terror that he has fought so successfully has wound down. His legacy will be a far more sophisticated, more motivated armed force, staffed by confident, well-spoken officers who lead a spirited cross section of American youth. The very idea of entirely separate and feuding branches of the military is coming to a close, as the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines all -- at times -- both fly and fight on the ground, under synchronized command. War itself is undergoing a moral reappraisal, as military conflict is shown to save more lives than allowing mass murderers -- Milosevic, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein -- to ply their trade of death without consequences.
Rumsfeld didn't create this renaissance in a mere two years. But at a time of war and uncertainty, he did give those with such missionary zeal and vision the confidence and support they needed to come forward out of the halls of the Pentagon to pursue their reforms. And he did bring back a confidence that militaries ultimately exist not just to launch cruise missiles, but to fight -- and to win. And for that alone we are in debt to this controversial, opinionated man, in ways that will not be fully understood for years to come.
Editor's Note: This article appeared in Monday's Current News Early Bird, but is reprinted today directly next to another National Review article which appeared in Monday's Current News Supplement. The articles are highlighted on the cover of the May 5 National Review as "What We Did Right" and "What We Did Wrong."
Reality is always stranger and more interesting than fiction, although science fiction writers, especially of the "cyberspace" subgenre, have predicted the above for years.
I think the article is correct in general theme, although it gives Rumsfeld a bit too much credit. The military already had those skills and capabilities before he arrived on the scene. But he has the wit to direct and unleash them.
If we have a strong missile defense shield, and continue the policy of lightening our footprints and increasing our speed, reach and lethality the US will be in excellent shape.
The American military will be capable of being everywhere and nowhere at once, almost untouchable but able to strike anyone, anywhere.
A person who earns millions for a great talent of putting a ball through a hoop is no hero to me. Instead, Rumsfeld should have honored men such as Neil Roberts and others who have died for this country.