November 9, 2006 | National Review Online

Two Views on Rumsfeld

When the nation went to war in Iraq in 2003 (with overwhelming popular support) and for a long time after that, Rumsfeld had rock-star status. With Abu Ghraib and his management of this millstone of an occupation, his star fell rapidly.

Some of what Rumsfeld gets blamed for, such as Abu Ghraib, really was his responsibility. But Rumsfeld gets blamed for lots of things he doesn't control. Above all, he gets blamed for the pain of a painful dilemma: what to do about Iraq. Those who have pilloried Rumsfeld from left and right without gaining academic consensus or popular support for their pet answer to that question will now have to face the spotlight.

One of the great benefits of historical perspective is that the reputations of important figures get separated from what people thought of them in their own time. So think of who he is. Flaws and all, Rumsfeld is a visionary with a great sense of history and a great devotion to this country. His tenure has been historic. He helped to end two terrible dictatorships and began a process of military transformation that will stay in motion long into the future. He served the president loyally, and in my opinion, he will be remembered for having served us well.

Mario Loyola, a former consultant to the Department of Defense, is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Read full symposium.

The Fall Guy
By Andrew C. McCarthy 
National Review Online 
November 9, 2006 

With democracy’s seductive melody lilting in the background, the Bush administration and its petulant partner, the new Iraqi regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have waltzed into chaos. On Tuesday night, the piper finally presented the bill. With Democrats sweeping into power, and erstwhile march-of-freedom advocates suddenly carping that the experiment soured because things weren’t done their way, ‘tis the season for scapegoats.

When the music finally stopped yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld was the one left without a chair.

In scapegoat season, the high-fliers are laid low. None flew higher than this secretary of Defense. “The Stud” of a jaunty National Review magazine cover in his late 2001 salad days, Rumsfeld once bedazzled an overmatched media, playfully parrying their thrusts with the easy confidence of a titan who’d swiftly routed al Qaeda and made short work of the Taliban and Saddam.

Except that’s not quite how it played out. The terror network endures. In Afghanistan and Iraq, alas, the wars have not yet been won after all. Or was it the war? The administration with a maddening resistance to explaining the right thing even while doing it, has never been very clear on that. It maintains that Iraq and Afghanistan are phases of the same conflict. But, cheerily “looking forward, not back,” it has abdicated from the duty of connecting those dots — the duty a wartime president owes to a nation craving constant reaffirmation that its resort to force is just. In the void, campaigning Democrats made like the 9/11 Commission, decoupling Iraq and terror, painting the former as a diversionary debacle — Bush’s oriental Katrina.

Worse, the president has been equally elusive in describing “victory.” The suppression of militant Islam has been conflated with the democratization of cultural Islam — as if one were unattainable without the other. In fact, they are different objectives, not nearly as intertwined as the administration rhetorically insists without persuasively showing.

None of that is a Donald Rumsfeld problem.

Of course, that’s not how the history will be written. Conventional wisdom holds that the bumbling in Iraq simply must be military bumbling. After all, the world’s lone superpower seemingly cannot get it done against a rag-tag assemblage of ousted Baathists, sectarian militias and jihadists — all willful, all determined to kill us and each other … not necessarily in that order. Surely the fault must lie with the Pentagon. Rumsfeld had to go.

Reality, as usual, is more complicated. President Bush didn’t simply tell his Defense Secretary to go win a war. The instructions were to win while simultaneously creating a novus ordo seclorum for the Muslim world. Imagine FDR ordering Eisenhower to begin the Marshall Plan right after Yalta instead of after the enemy was defeated — and oh, by the way, Ike, to the extent remaking Europe may interfere with quelling those pesky Nazis, tell the war-fighters to stand down while the diplomats “dialogue” our way to victory.

Those were Rumsfeld’s marching orders.

And that apart from another basic disconnect. Anything but the shortest military engagement is certain to fail if it does not enjoy public support. The American people are all for deploying our military to rout jihadists and their enablers. They do not, however, favor endangering their sons and daughters for a “hearts and minds” experiment of uncertain utility in a faraway land.

Most Americans don’t care whether Iraq is democratic. They want it to be stable and favorably disposed toward the nation that has sacrificed so much blood and treasure to free its people from tyranny. They want it to be inhospitable to al Qaeda, and a partner — rather than a growing obstacle — in the real war on terror. The war consumed with undermining jihadist facilitators like Iran and Syria, not with remaking the world.

The president says, over and over again, that American national security is dependent on the spread of democracy throughout the world. A mantra, however, is not a truth. This particular article of faith is just a theory — and one subject to much dispute given the skill with which jihadists have exploited democratic societies. Regardless of who’s right, though, Americans were certain to have limited patience for a mission that appears more about building another nation than securing our own. And that limit is overtaxed when our forces’ heroism seems squandered on a regime growing more hostile, and a people who seem ungrateful and hell-bent on slaughtering one another.

Defenders of the president’s Wilsonian impulses argue that the democracy project has always been a core part of the post-9/11 Bush agenda. That may be. But it hardly follows that democratization, the president’s priority, has been a priority for the public. After all, the George Bush elected by the American people in 2000 had this to say about nation building:

I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I’m missing something here. I mean, we’re going to have kind of a nation-building [corps] from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war. That’s what it’s meant to do. [Emphasis added.]

I mean no elegy for the Rumsfeld way. I’m not qualified for that. There are critics aplenty who are. When the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan or National Review’s own Mackubin Thomas Owens find fault with the secretary’s vision of a 21st-century military, those critiques seem abundantly valid. Still, as applied to Iraq, Mac Owens made this telling observation in a recent New York Post op-ed: “America’s ground forces are too small for what our foreign policy demands of them” (Emphasis added).

Yes, they are insufficient to execute a policy. That, however, does not make the policy sound. Rumsfeld is now the fall-guy for poor execution. Fine. That still does not address the policy, which is the president’s. Certainly, we should be fighting in Iraq — that’s where the enemy is. But should we be committing 140,000 troops (or, as some claim, two or three times that amount) to occupy Muslim countries in the hope that they will democratize? Is there a real benefit here worth the cost?

Perhaps more importantly, it may soon be in the nation’s vital interests to confront Iran. Are we going to have the stomach — the public support — for doing what must be done if the American people think the price tag includes another Iraq-like democracy experiment?

On that score, it bears remembering not only that President Bush was initially elected on a no-nation-building platform, but that Rumsfeld’s vision was an actuation of that policy. Indeed, the policy was already set in motion, after eight months of hard work, when Rumsfeld’s Pentagon completed the 2001 quadrennial defense (QDR) review. That was about a week before 9/11 happened.

As AEI’s Tom Donnelly has observed, it was only after 9/11 that “[c]onstabulary ‘nation-building’ missions” went from being regarded as “the feckless squandering of U.S. troop strength,” to being “embraced as key struggles for ‘hearts and minds’ in the global war on terror.” Not only did the administration’s first QDR fail to account for this; as Donnelly adds, “had the course plotted in the 2001 QDR been pursued more fully, it is arguable that the United States would be even less prepared for the post-9/11 world than it is today.”

The military we have is the president’s, not the defense secretary’s. The mission in Iraq today is traceable to Bush’s evolution, not Rumsfeld’s vision. Did Rumsfeld make mistakes? If not, he’d have been the first war secretary not to. But that may be too flip. If, as some insist, he incorrectly foresaw key aspects of the emerging threat mosaic, it may be high time, after six grueling years, for fresh eyes and open minds.

Let’s be clear, though: If the military is not structured with democracy-building as its Polaris, that’s because (a) the military’s size was drastically reduced after the Cold War; (b) the current administration, in its formative period, was dead set against deploying the military for nation-building, and (c) it has yet to be established, after a thoughtful consideration of real democracy and real war-fighting, that building the former should be the work of those trained for the latter.

So let’s wish Don Rumsfeld’s successor luck. If this remains the mission, he’s going to need it.

Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.