In Greek tragedies, the outcome is foreshadowed long before the final act, but the protagonists are powerless to avert their fate because they cannot change their natures. So it is with Donald Rumsfeld. For four years, friends have warned the headstrong secretary that he could not ignore the feelings of Congress and senior military officers without eventually getting into trouble. But Rumsfeld didn’t listen. In fact, his arrogance proved infectious among subordinates, who have managed to alienate just about every political player that Rumsfeld didn’t get to first. As a result, the isolated defense secretary will probably depart not long after his March budget testimony on Capitol Hill.
Rumsfeld’s apologists will say that the system was unwilling to accept change. But the system actually has changed a lot on his watch. What hasn’t changed is the poor judgment and atrocious political skills of Rumsfeld’s team. From the disarray of 9-11 to the decay of the western alliance to the debacle of Iraqi occupation to the disorganized oversight of Pentagon procurement, Rumsfeld has served the President badly. The golden boy who was supposed to lend weight and credibility to the President’s defense policies has turned out to be less thoughtful on military matters than Bush himself. Bush saw the weakness of the case for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld did not.
It is a paradox that the political system’s early verdict on Rumsfeld — that he was in over his head — was eclipsed by the terrorist attacks of 9-11, because lack of military preparedness was a key reason why that day became the most traumatic in modern times. Rumsfeld should have gone then. Instead he remained in place, eventually creating even worse problems for the President and the nation. And now, as he contemplates a final exit from public life, Rumsfeld’s angry and beleagured team is getting ready to bequeath one more embarrassment to the White House. They want to slash spending for virtually every major weapons program in sight in order to fund their ill-conceived Iraqi campaign.
The scale of the proposed cuts is breathtaking. The Navy would reduce the number of aircraft carriers and air wings it maintains by a quarter (from twelve flattops to nine). The Air Force’s next-generation Raptor fighter, sustained through five previous administrations, would be terminated on the eve of production (squandering $40 billion already spent). The Army would see its modernization plans reordered and delayed despite obvious signs of exhaustion for much of its arsenal in Iraq. And what of all the leap-ahead transformation projects that Rumsfeld said would replace “legacy” systems? They’re disappearing too, mostly into the maw of Iraq and rising personnel costs.
This isn’t a defense posture, it’s a meltdown — the latest sign that Rumsfeld and his aides have no coherent view of future military requirements. When defense secretary Dick Cheney did something similar a dozen years ago, he could plausibly argue that the demise of communism made many Cold War programs unnecessary. Rumsfeld doesn’t have that excuse. His choices are the product of previous mistakes and current mismanagement. If the administration carries this sorry excuse for a defense program to Capitol Hill, it will have its head handed to it by outraged members of its own party — a final gift from the departing Donald Rumsfeld.
Find Archived Articles: