If only he could show us the memo.
"It's still classified, I suppose?" says Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, looking toward his assistant.
"It's still classified," Lawrence DiRita replies, "along with a lot of the underlying planning."
Rumsfeld nods, apparently disappointed. He is interested in sharing the memo because the memo, as he outlines it, demonstrates that his critics are utterly mistaken. He did not dash heedless and underprepared into Iraq. Rumsfeld foresaw the things that could go wrong -- and not just foresaw them, but wrote them up in a classically Rumsfeldian list, one brisk bullet point after another, 29 potential pitfalls in all. Then he distributed the memo at the highest levels, fed it into the super-secret planning process and personally walked the president through the warnings.
It's not all that surprising that Rumsfeld would morph into the administration's version of Terrell Owens, aggrandizing himself at the expense of his quarterback and his teammates when things go south. Think back to those Pentagon briefings, the ones the Press just couldn't get enough of. The days when Rummy was the cantankerous star of the wildly successful, seven-nights-a-week ratings powerhouse, The Shock and Awe Show.
So now it turns out he wasn't 100% on board with this war thing. Well, Mr. Secretary, let's take a look at TO. He's a cog who imagined himself to be the whole Swiss movement. He's a man who plays a boy's game for a living. He shouldn't have said what he said the way he said it, and he was justifiably suspended, but I think we can all agree that he was under no obligation to resign. You sir, on the other hand, are the Secretary of Defense, with direct responsibility for the most powerful military force in the world. If you didn't agree with the way the war was planned you did have an obligation to resign.
Sure, we can still find a few useful idiots to speak up in your defense:
Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution chalked up America's troubles in Iraq to the huge cuts in active-duty troops that were begun by the first President Bush and continued under President Clinton. "In reality, [Rumsfeld] has carefully allotted troops in Iraq because he has few to spare elsewhere -- and all for reasons beyond his control," Hanson argued.
but the game is up. We know the ability to fug the facts is part of the playbook. That too went spectacularly wrong. And you have seen it, even if Hanson can't focus for having spent twelve years in close-up examination of the former President's genitals.
Previous administrations did not cut our standing troop strength in a vacuum. We produced a lighter-weight military (the one you've tried post-facto to take credit for) as part of a new strategic alignment with a new world political situation. We had no need to maintain an Army that could take on the Soviet Union on two fronts when there wasn't one anymore. We didn't need sufficient troops to occupy a sizable chunk of the Middle East because the idea was absurd and obviously self-destructive.
We know, for example, that you're the one who overruled the professionals' request for more troops. We know you saw Iraq as a laboratory for your ideas. What we don't know is why we would commit our citizens to a war where we'd planned for only the rosiest of rosy scenarios.
And we don't know exactly how many of the 2200 and rising coalition deaths should be laid directly at your office door, to say nothing of the Iraqis we've liberated from all earthly care.
It's the modern American disease, the Big Idea. You were going to transform the military, "bring it into the 21st century" in that smarmy catchphrase of Republicans everywhere who want to ignore the unpleasant realities that interfere with their Vision. But every Tom, Dick, and Sheila in this country has a Vision. The smart guys--and you're supposed to be one of them, Mr. Secretary--are supposed to understand that there's also nuts and bolts that have to be tightened and gears to be kept oiled. The DoD is not a fantasy football league. At least it's not supposed to be.
Von Drehle implies, to say the least, that Colin Powell was brought on board largely to buoy what many saw as an illegitimate presidency, and was immediately tag-teamed by Rumsfeld and Cheney. So we can certainly add part of the blame the smug refusal to build an international coalition before the invasion to the list.
Anything Powell favored, the Defense Department opposed. Powell suggested more allies; Rumsfeld announced he was ready to go it alone. Powell favored a larger force; Rumsfeld weeded out troops unit by unit. Ultimately, the invasion was a repudiation of the Powell Doctrine in U.S. military affairs. The force deployed was light and lethal -- but not, history has clearly shown, the master of all contingencies. Nor was there a clear exit strategy, merely the hope of garlands and easy reconstruction -- a point war critics have often made and Rumsfeld has never rebutted in detail.
Still, there's one thing to be said for the wanton destruction of our international standing...we can travel even lighter.
And we haven't even touched on the over-reliance on National Guard and reserve troops, the logistical failures, the reduction in training, and, of course, the use of torture, all of which passed across Rumsfeld's desk, though there can be little doubt the last of those came from above.
The final irony is that Rummy's leaner, meaner, fighting machine has wound up costing us uncounted hundreds of billions of dollars, flushed recruitment down the drain, and fractured our manpower and materiel, probably for a generation. Some laboratory.