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Farewell Mr. Rumsfeld

December 15, 2006

I have always liked Donald Rumsfeld. I understand why he can upset some people, but I have found his candor refreshing and his intellect agile and courageous. He has shown himself to be a tough leader in a time of image-conscious consensus builders spouting banalities. A lot of people made fun of it, but I found his riff on The Known to be quite a pithy ontological summation of our intelligence capabilities:

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

I also found that when I read his actual words in their full context they came off as quite nuanced, although he did ask a lot of tough questions. Tough questions was his daily bread, to be sure. (Here’s a good example of what I mean).

So, here’s a great interview with Rummy on his last day. I try to put myself in his shoes and think how I would do faced with the world we know live in. As he says:
‘I worry we are in a gathering storm’:

People who argue for more troops are often thinking World War II and the Weinberger Doctrine, which is valid in a conflict between armies, navies and air forces. The problem with it, in the context of a struggle against extremists, is that the greater your presence, the more it plays into extremist lies that you’re there to take their oil, to occupy their nation, stay and not leave; that you’re against Islam, as opposed to being against violent extremists.

People who argue for more, more, more, as I would in a conventional conflict, fail to recognize that it can have exactly the opposite effect. It can increase recruiting for extremists. It can increase financing for extremists. It can make more persuasive the lies of the extremists that we are there for the oil and water and want to take over their country. There is no guidebook, no map that says to General Abizaid or General Casey what they should recommend to the secretary of defense or the president as to numbers. It is a fact, whether or not it flies in the face of the popular media, that the level of forces we have had going into Iraq, and every month thereafter, are the number of troops the commanding generals have recommended. I have not increased them or decreased them over the objections of any general who is in a position of authority with respect to that decision.


There are two centers of gravity. One is in Iraq and the region; the other is here. The more troops you have, the greater the risk that you will be seen as an occupier and that you will feed an insurgency. The more troops you have – particularly American troops, who are so darn good at what they do – the more they will do things and the more dependent the Iraqis will become and the less independent they will become. If there’s a ditch to be dug, an American does not want to sit down and teach an Iraqi how to dig the ditch. He’ll go dig the dadburn ditch. But that is not what the task is. The task is to get the Iraqis to dig the ditches.

On the one hand, you don’t want to feed the insurgency, and on the other, you don’t want to create dependency. So at some point, you’ve got to take your hand off the bicycle seat. You’ve got the bicycle going down the street. You’re pushing and holding it up, and you go from four fingers to three fingers to two, and you know if you let go, they might fall. You also know if you don’t let go, you’ll end up with a 40-year-old who can’t ride a bike. Now that’s not a happy prospect.

Simultaneously, you have the problem here at home. The more troops you have there, the more force protection you need, the more food you need, the more water you need, the more convoys you need, the more airplanes you need, the more people get killed, the more targets there are. If part of the center of gravity is back here in the United States and they constantly see more Americans getting killed, they ask, ‘Where are the victories?’ ‘Where’s the land warfare victory?’ ‘Where’s the sea victory?’ ‘Where’s the air victory?’ ‘Where’s the body count?’ ‘How many of these people are we killing?’ ‘How many are we capturing?’ ‘How do we know if we’re winning or losing?’ The more people you put in, the more you’re going to get killed.

The argument has been unimpressive, not terribly thoughtful [or] multidimensional and a bit narrow in this regard. Do I know that the right number is there? No. Do I think it is? Yes. Is there anyone who is smart enough to prove it is or isn’t? No.

This is a pretty concise description of the paradoxical challenge our non-imperial hyperpower nation faces. Just the right amount of force must be used for optimal success… so optimal will not be easy to maintain, and any shortcomings will be broadcast daily by your enemies our your own media.

I think he was a tremendous asset at a time of great import for our nation. I can’t say I’m sad to see him go, because he has become such a controversial figure, but I do wish him well, and thank him for the service given to our Nation. You couldn’t pay me enough to put up with all the crap he faces on a daily basis- no not just the media, but what it must be like to try to steer a massive and complex organization as our military during a time of epic change.

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