Wednesday, May 12, 2004
And this, in turn, brings us back around to the question of Rumsfeld.
Let me dispose, first of all, of the most recent reason people are calling for Rummy's resignation: the prisoner abuse scandal. Rumsfeld's position has become untenable, and for this reason he ought to resign. Rumsfeld is far less culpable for the tortures at Abu Ghraib than Janet Reno was for the deaths at Waco - Reno, after all, actually gave the order to sic tanks on American citizens (or is it too black helicopter of me to bring this up?) - and yes, the military is and was doing the right thing by investigating before anything came out (indeed, the story broke because of the military's internal investigation). But Rumsfeld's at the top of the chain of command and the bulk of the abuses were quite clearly policy - that is to say, those on the receiving end were overwhelmingly detainees perceived to have real intelligence value, and the purpose of the humiliations, etc. was not wanton sadism but to extract information. That's policy, not wayward conduct by a handful of sadists, though it seems the latter took advantage of the former as well, as should have been expected. We shouldn't blow the incident out of proportion, but at this point a defense of Rumsfeld is a defense of the policy that led to Abu Ghraib, and I just don't see the Administration mounting that defense, nor do I see even Bush toughing this out simply for the sake of toughing it out, which would be, admittedly, his preference. I think Rummy will do the right thing and go quietly. But what do I know? I'm almost always wrong about everything.
In any event, there are three far more substantive raps against Rumsfeld. First, that he was the prime mover in advocating this war. I think this is just wrong. Powell was the prime opponent of the war; virtually everyone else in the Administration was an advocate: Cheney, Rice, Tenet, Rumsfeld and the President himself. Even blaming Bush for the fact that we are in Iraq must reckon with the fact that the pre-war situation was unstable and untenable long-term, and that Clinton went to the brink of war in 1998 that had as its objective pretty much the same outcome that Bush sought in 2003 (ending the WMD threat and regime change). Blaming Rumsfeld is just silly.
Second, that he's recklessly and needlessly pissed people off - the Army brass, foreign leaders, the State Department - with his high-handed arrogance and browbeating manner. Well, he's guilty of that; I don't have a defense for him. The fact is, lots of us indulged in a taste for Rumsfeldian condescension in the months after 9-11; it was wonderful to glory in a guy who was hard-charging, aggressive, unapologetic. Well, that thrill is gone. Frankly, I don't think it's the Secretary of Defense's job to be a diplomat; I think it's a measure of the failure of our diplomatic corps that we assume he needs to be. But he needn't take pleasure in making their job harder than it already is.
Third, and most significantly, he's damned for refusing to allocate sufficient troops to the war in Iraq, and for refusing to expand the size of the armed forces generally. This attack comes from all directions, right, left and center, and it's worth examining in detail.
Let me start by saying that I think our force structure is too small, simply because I think the burden of global security falls so disproportionately on the United States that we must maintain an outsized force structure to be prepared for multiple, simultaneous contingencies and deter the emergence of major rivals. It would be wonderful to have a robust alliance structure to magnify American power and I think we've done too little in the last 10 years to bolster that structure, most particularly in the western Pacific. But the fact is the largest allied military - Britain's - is a fraction of the size of America's armed forces, and always will be.
That said, there are a few problems with this critique of Rumsfeld. For one thing, there is a yawning gap between what the anti-war Rumsfeld critics think was necessary to secure Iraq, and what the pro-war critics think. Bill Kristol thinks we need 30,000 more troops. General Shinseki thought we needed 300,000 more troops than originally allocated - essentially, the entire force - and for an extended period of occupation. Shinseki's numbers aren't crazy; they are a reasonable extrapolation from the size of the army needed to keep the peace in places like Bosnia and Kossovo. If that's the kind of force you'd need for 2-3 years to nation-build in Iraq, then no politically conceivable American Administration could contemplate occupying Iraq. But if the Kristol's of the world are right, then Rumsfeld looks inexplicably stubborn in refusing to up the force structure at least later in the game; if 20,000 or 30,000 troops would turn things around, why on earth wouldn't he send them? Something doesn't compute.
The bottom line is that Rumsfeld does not believe in nation-building. That's not what he thinks the U.S. armed forces are for, and it's not clear he believes it can even be done. I'm not sure he's wrong. I'm mystified why he's identified as the epicenter of the clique of "hard-Wilsonians" or "Jacobins" or "right-wing Trotskyites" or whatever cuss-word is used these days for the folks who want to spread democracy at gunpoint. This is just not what the man believes, whatever his deputies might say.
If you are opposed to "American Empire" and want this country to defend its vital interests with a minimal footprint in foreign countries, with minimal risk of being held hostage to foreign powers, then you really want Rumsfeld to be right. He doesn't care whether we keep bases in Iraq; he wants to have such a mobile, expeditionary force that we don't need many in-theater bases at all. Almost the last thing Rumsfeld wants is to be bogged down in an endless counter-insurgency; the absolute last thing he wants is to have ten times as many troops bogged down in an endless peacekeeping effort. Is he so wrong?
Well, he looks like he was wrong on the facts. Whether he drank the Kool-aid or just played along, he backed the folks who backed the wrong horse. He read the local culture and power-structure totally wrong. He did not want to get us into a guerilla war. He got us into a guerilla war.
But the folks baying for his head need to seriously think about the alternatives to the Rumsfeld Doctrine of quick, light and mobile. The Powell Doctrine amounts to looking for your keys where the light is: don't fight based on whether our interests are at stake, but based on whether it's an easy war to win. (Remember, "we do deserts, not mountains"? And he didn't want to do deserts, either.) If the Rumsfeld Doctrine did not take the threat of insurgency seriously, and we're not simply going to refuse to fight wars that might involve counterinsurgency (are we going to acquiesce as Islamist groups take over the southern Philippines, for example? I hope not), then we need to build the force structure in part around such contingencies. But otherwise, it seems to me the things Rumsfeld got wrong were mostly things that shouldn't have been his job; Rice and Powell should have had at least as much to say about the political management of the postwar as Rumsfeld did, and if they didn't then they should be faulted at least as much as Rumsfeld is.
Rumsfeld should go. But whoever replaces him has got to build on what he was doing, not trash his work and go back to the fantasy that big, heavy armored divisions are what we most need to fight the wars of the future. That's what a Powell Doctrinaire will build, while a Shinseki would focus on a force designed to be subordinate to a UN peacekeeping mission. (And if Senator McCain wants to be Kerry's SecDef, I'd love to know what he thinks our force structure should be.)