Thursday, April 13, 2006

Iraq is not the only reason 'the Generals' and Rumsfeld don't get along

The past month has seen perhaps the most ferocious attacks on and calls for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. What makes these different from the calls heard during the past five years is that they are coming from senior Generals (all retired though) and conservatives (many of whom still support the war, though often not how it has been executed). The key theme among all is that the McNamarian micromanagement of the planning and execution of the war in Iraq – and the subsequent failures – are Rumsfeld’s fault. The common wisdom, therefore, is becoming that Generals at the Pentagon hate Rumsfeld because of Iraq, and his abrasive style (harshly criticizing them in front of junior officers, not wanting dissenting opinions etc.). As often is the case, conventional wisdom is only part of the story. There are other reasons why ‘the Generals’ and Rumsfeld do not get along:

Rumsfeld entered his office determined to reestablish true civilian control of the Pentagon. In his view the military had done little to genuinely change itself since the end of the Cold War, making it dangerously incapable of engaging with the security threats identified in the late 1990s U.S. National Security Strategies. Rumsfeld, therefore, determined that his primary job was to shepherd the Pentagon down a path so that its strategic, operational and tactical capabilities could more effectively contribute towards addressing the threats identified in the national security strategies.

In practice this required changes at all levels of the armed forces, and a level of civilian oversight/control that the Pentagon Generals were not used to. Some of the more public changes have had to do with canceling (or trying to) programs that the various services had designated as ‘key’ or ‘flagship’ projects. The Army’s Crusader mobile artillery system serves as a good example of such a project (picture courtesy of U.S. Army).

The Crusader (if only someone culturally aware could name platforms at the Pentagon) was designed for and during the Cold War. More dangerously, in Rumsfeld’s mind, the platform contributed little to countering the threats identified in the NSS documents. Yet, significant resources were expended by the Army, Congress and lobbyists representing the military industrial services complex to try to keep the project alive. Thankfully the $11Bn project was eventually cancelled (but only after promises from the Bush administration that the money would be redirected to the Army’s next flagship project, the FCS project).

While the Crusader serves as an example here, the point is that Generals at the Pentagon have many reasons to distrust or dislike Rumsfeld, one of which is the fact the he has forced people, organizations and bureaucracies to change – always a painful process to some, even if they do carry three or four stars on their shoulders.


Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to see how Rumsfeld could conceive of trying to “reestablish true civilian control” of the Pentagon when the office under which he works is a result of a process that did not nor does not reflect the democratic electorates wishes for civilan control!

Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to see how Rumsfeld could conceive of trying to “reestablish true civilian control” of the Pentagon when the office under which he works is a result of a process that did not nor does not reflect the democratic electorates wishes for civilan control!

helsinkian said...

So you're basically saying it is because of Rumsfeld's innovative ideas that he's so disliked? Rummy has always wanted to be disliked for making the tough decisions.

The key thing really isn't anymore how the part of the war that brought down Saddam was planned and executed. The big question remains whether Rumsfeld had been planning for the aftermath in a realistic way. At least when it comes to assessing the economic cost of the war, Rumsfeld didn't seem to have a clue in the beginning of what the expenses of a prolonged war would be.

Not making personnel changes while the war is on was so important that relieving Rumsfeld of his job after he'd done the bit that he knew best would've been seen as defeatist. But Tony Blair has changed Secretaries of Defence twice since the war started and that may be a smarter strategy in a constantly changing situation, whereas Rumsfeld might be unduly influenced by the assessments he made three, four or five years ago.

Rumsfeld is really good at questioning the judgment of others. It is certainly said he wants the people who work for him to tell the cold truth rather than to say something to please him. But have the people who work for him really dared to question him? If Rumsfeld is so good that it's worth to keep him in this job for this long, he should be more than capable of questioning his own judgment and making adjustments as the situation goes on. Is he that good or has he severely overestimated his capability to put his own judgment into question?

My guess is that the people who work for him are put off by Rumsfeld's style. He may want to renew the military but his way of communicating seems old-fashioned. It is also incredibly hard for such an old guy to make people believe that he really stands for new ideas. I also suspect that the ideas he stood for at the beginning of the Bush Administration were a product of that very different geopolitical situation and it may be humanly impossible for Rumsfeld to adjust his thinking according to what is required in 2006.