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Rumsfeld Prepares for War - 2003-01-23

Many have doubts about war with Iraq, but not U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He is planning for every aspect of it and its aftermath. And he is considering all the things that could go wrong. He keeps generals and admirals hopping to provide the answers he needs. "I am never satisfied," he says. "It is genetic with me."

He has to make sure he knows what he is doing because he has so much at stake in a war with Iraq. Along with President Bush, he takes the administration's toughest stand against Saddam Hussein. Either show you have surrendered all your weapons of mass destruction, he continually warns, or face war with or without U.S. allies. As Time magazine recently noted, "Win or lose, this would be Rumsfeld's war."

He is the man to direct it, says Richard Kohn, Military History Professor, University of North Carolina. "He has become the voice of the war on terrorism," the professor says. "He has managed to speak often and to say very little, which is helpful in a war. He has tried to teach the American people that this is a different kind of war. His iterative exchanges with journalists, I think, has tended to make him a dominant figure in the news, virtually a rock star. And I think he has been very credible as far as the American people are concerned." He adds that Secretary Rumsfeld has challenged the sometimes conventional military mind and energized his department. It is ready for war, if it comes.

Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst of Brookings Institution in Washington, agrees. He does not share Mr. Rumsfeld's urgency for going to war, but admires his planning for it.

He said Mr. Rumsfeld “has actually been very constructive. He has challenged the military to ask them if there are not more clever innovative ways they could go after Saddam and try to overthrow his regime without simply relying on brute force alone. And yet at the same time, he has not tried to be too clever," Mr. O'Hanlon says. "He has not tried to mount an operation that would be very small or overly independent on high precision weaponry. So we are going to go in with a big force. We will have a lot of people just in case things go wrong. But we will try some tactics to overthrow Saddam with minimal loss of life and hopefully without the need to storm Baghdad.”

Mr. O'Hanlon says the defense secretary is at the same time conservative and innovative, a healthy combination.

But some of the top military are grumbling. According to Time magazine, retired army General Norman Schwarzkopf, who led U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War, thinks the secretary interferes too much. "It looks as if Rumsfeld is totally in charge, deeply immersed in the operational planning to the chagrin of most of the armed forces," the general told the magazine.

Merrill McPeak, U.S. Air Force chief of staff during the Gulf War says Mr. Rumsfeld is frustrating many military leaders with his micromanagement. “If I were still in the service,” said General McPeak, “I would be contemplating resignation daily.”

Professor Kohn says this is a drawback of Mr. Rumsfeld. “His leadership style is so micromanaging and so intrusive and often so peremptory that he has alienated large numbers of the military. He is a very difficult boss, which of course, can be useful in some cases, but he leads a huge complex bureaucratic structure, and he needs to get people on his side and helping him and persuading them,” he said.

Professor Kohn said Mr. Rumsfeld has angered members of the U.S. Congress, including leaders of his own Republican Party, by not sharing information with them. But this, too, can be considered part of the war effort. “Secretary Rumsfeld has cracked down ruthlessly on leaks, and that is very positive also. As the United States gets ready to make war, it should not be second-guessed by its own military leadership, and it should not have the confidence of the American people in the government's effectiveness and plans called into question by its own military professionals,” he said.

An article in The Christian Science Monitor newspaper traces the secretary's tactics to his days as a wrestler at Princeton University where ‘Pin your opponent fast’ was a common motto. But a more prominent trait may be the talent for organization he demonstrated in his first stint as U.S. Defense Secretary in the Ford Administration and later in a successful business career.

He missed the political arena and made a few attempts to return, including an unsuccessful bid for the Presidency in 1988. Then, while living quietly with his wife on an elegant estate in the state of New Mexico, he was recalled to the defense department by President Bush.

At 70, there is no sign of slowing down. "He is a constant source of energy," asserts Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. "Where he goes, a storm is sure to gather."

Whatever happens with Iraq, says Professor Kohn, Secretary Rumsfeld wants to leave as his legacy firm civilian control of the military. "He has been, I think, the most assertive senior defense official on the subject of civilian control since Robert Macnamara (defense secretary under President John F. Kennedy), and that has been a very positive development. How much control he really exercises is uncertain because of the complexity of the job and the dispersion of power between the Congress and the White House and the very depth of the bureaucracy,” he said.

Michael O'Hanlon said this reassertion of civilian control is overdue. “The basic way in which he challenges the military services and the pentagon to do better and rethink their approach is actually necessary. We have not had a lot of that in recent years, especially during the Clinton period when the administration was a little reluctant to challenge the uniformed military. Rumsfeld does not have that shyness or that nervousness about challenging the military,” he said.

Mr. O'Hanlon says the military may complain even while Secretary Rumsfeld is increasing their budget by 70 percent over the coming decade. Confident often to the point of arrogance, he is never going to win a popularity contest. After disparaging the draft of civilians into the armed services, he was forced to apologize to indignant veteran groups.

"If you are timid or shy or just try to be polite with the military, you will not change that huge institution and the huge gobbler of federal dollars," Mr. O'Hanlon said. "If I had to choose, I would not want to spend a weekend with Rumsfeld on the beach or on the baseball field, but I am glad he is my secretary of defense because he will be tough. And that is what's needed if there is war," said Mr. O'Hanlon.

He and others agree Donald Rumsfeld is the man to lead it.