The Corner

Re: What Do You Call a Defense Secretary…

Michael, I completely agree.  It is obvious to me that the opposition to Rumsfeld consists of people who do not understand what he has accomplished and how enormous (and enormously positive) his legacy will be — magnified by the natural tendency of many to blame their leaders for the the current state of history. 

The transformation of a nation’s military is the rarest of historical accomplishments — vested interests almost always win, leading the nation into the great danger of increasing vulnerability.  As Rumsfeld likes to say, “weakness is provocative,” and as the Russians learned in World War I and the French in World War II, an untransformed military can look good on paper and prove worthless on the field of battle.  In this case, the vested interests are angry at Rumsfeld because they have lost so many battles in their effort to cling to a military capable of defeating a Soviet Union that no longer exists.  Rumsfeld understands what his critics don’t–as Charles de Gaulle said, no institution lasts unless it is constantly renewed. 

People howl that the military is now overstretched because he failed to plan the postwar peace.  But by my count, there are at least 10 combat brigades (in addition to those already deployed around the world) ready to roll at any given time — on the order of 100,000 troops — enough for a campaign of massive proportions in addition to what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many experts then wail that these units are “not ready” because many or most are reporting at the C-3 and C-4 levels of readiness (the lowest ones) because of the Iraq war’s drain on resources.  What people need to understand about the readiness targets is that they are the Rumsfeld’s military’s futuristic assessment of what would ideally be needed for any of the 39 combat brigades of the U.S. military to enter any of the currently conceivable combat scenarios with their entire wish list — which means all the uparmored Humvees they would need in a theaterwide counterinsurgency environment AND all the artillery they would need in a big mass-on-mass engagement with another army AND all the maneuver forces it would need for massive mobility under fire.  The units reporting at C-3 and C-4 many not have the latest and most high-tech equipment in the numbers they want–there might be more casualties and more collateral damage–but they have all the equipment they need to go into combat today and fight and win with overwhelming power.

What Rumsfeld has created is a fully modular, rotational “total force” that achieves division-size effects with brigade-size formations, is vastly more lethal, agile, and integrated than what we had before, and has spread its capabilities across a spectrum of possible challenges.  That’s how Rumsfeld has helped the country prepare for a future of unknown unknowns.  We saw the results in the rapidity with which the U.S. military responded to the Indian Ocean tsunami, orchestrating almost over night one of the largest humanitarian relief operations in history.  This saved countless tens of thousands from thirst, disease, and starvation in the critical early weeks after the disaster.  It was totally unexpected — but we were ready.

In my opinion, we will have reasons to thank Rumsfeld many decades into the future.  And as invariably happens in history, people will quite forget what folks thought of Rumsfeld in his own time–especially those who did not understand what they were looking at and had essentially had nothing to say. 

Mario Loyola — Contributing editor Mario Loyola is senior fellow and Director of the Center for Competitive Federalism at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. He began his career in corporate ...

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