Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, that is. The Democrats have been after his scalp for years. Now some influential Republican Senators, along with Bill Kristol, have joined the anti-Rumsfeld cause. In the latest development, Rumsfeld is being criticized for not personally signing letters to the families of those killed in action in Iraq.
From where we sit, it’s difficult authoritatively to assess Rumsfeld’s performance — there’s just an awful lot we don’t know. Nonetheless, the publicly-made case against Rumsfeld does not strike me as persuasive. Looking at the big picture, two major Rumsfeld projects — the campaign to overthrow the Taliban and the campaign to overthrow Saddam — were overwhelmingly successful. A third project — defeating the insurgency and securing Iraq’s future — seems to be neither a success nor a failure at this point. The final Rumsfeld project, reforming and revamping the military, is beyond my expertise to assess, but does not seem to be the stated basis for the calls for his dismissal.
The Republican/conservative case against Rumsfeld is based on specific decisions with which he is associated, such as troop levels and “disbanding” the Iraqi army, and on procurement issues. Here’s where it becomes difficult for me to pass judgment. Military procurement is a technical issue about which I know very little. The quality of Rumsfeld’s decisionmaking in post-invasion Iraq seems closely related to the question of whether we are succeeding, and will succeed, there. I don’t know the answer to that question.
Military analyst Jack Kelly takes a closer look at the controversy over Rumsfeld’s decisionmaking. He finds that the decision to “disband” the Iraqi army was sound and that the troop level for the invasion was correct. (I made similar arguments here). As to post-invasion troop levels, Kelly concludes:
The [CIA’s] failure to detect Saddam’s plan for protracted guerrilla war was largely responsible for Rumsfeld’s big failure, the failure to have more peacekeeping troops. . . .It isn’t Rumsfeld’s fault that the Army is too small to provide many more troops — we can thank the Clinton administration for that — or that Kuwait’s port facilities were inadequate. But we could and should have sent three or four more brigades into the country shortly after Saddam fell.
Kelly may well be right about this. But when you add it all up, I don’t think the case for dismissing Rumsfeld has been made.
UPDATE by Hindrocket: Glenn Reynolds has some excellent thoughts which are generally consistent with Deacon’s views. Here is an excerpt:
Greg Djerejian thinks we need enough American troops to physically protect all the polling places in a country the size of California. That strikes me as a very unwise allocation of military assets. McCain and Hagel think we need a bigger army, and they may be right. But as I noted, the way you get a bigger army is to create one, and if McCain and Hagel think the need is that screaming why haven’t they introduced legislation to do that, instead of simply calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation? I don’t think that getting rid of Rumsfeld is likely to yield any additional troops.
I remain unconvinced that we need more troops in Iraq. Afghanistan saw successful elections with far fewer U.S. troops. I’m not convinced that we don’t, but we’d need a million troops to blanket all the polling places,and we’re not going to have that. So what’s the mission? Just as one seldom wins a war by slapping armor on everything (and no army in history has armored all its soldiers and transport vehicles), one seldom wins a war by dispersing forces to lots of locations in a “prevent” defense. That seems to be what the “more troops” crowd has in mind, but it strikes me as a poor idea.
It’s quite hard for me to judge Rumsfeld’s performance, but it’s not so hard for me to see that a lot of the attacks on Rumsfeld seem to be opportunistic and dishonest (something that Greg freely admits). That has no doubt colored my evaluation of the case for his resignation, but I’d welcome some explanation of why, say, a Secretary McCain would do a better job.
Does someone have a better plan than Rumsfeld? I’d love to hear it, instead of hearing about armor and condolence letters. When people stress those issues, it tends to make me think that they don’t have much else.