American Enterprise Online | 5.1.06
By Alan W. Dowd

The vultures are circling over the Beltway, with their sights again on Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. They’ve given us plenty of reasons he should go, but there are also plenty of reasons he should stay. Here are just a few.

1. As he shows every waking hour, he ardently believes in civilian control of the armed forces. That’s a good thing for this republic, no matter how many retired generals wish Rumsfeld and the civilians would just sit down, shut up and get out of the way.

2. He has the distinction of being the youngest and the oldest man to serve in one of the hardest jobs on earth. Indeed, at 74, Rumsfeld seems more energetic and tenacious, more curious about the world, more optimistic about tomorrow and more open to change than the 30- and 40-somethings who cover him in the press.

3. For evidence, just consider his forward-looking work on missile and space defense. In 1999, Rumsfeld led a blue-ribbon panel in warning that ballistic missiles and WMDs posed “a growing threat to the United States, its deployed forces and its friends and allies.” The panel cited North Korea and Iran by name. High-level officials in Washington disregarded the findings as alarmist. Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff dismissed the possibility that a rogue country could rapidly deploy a long-range missile as “an unlikely development.” But less than a month later, North Korea did exactly that, launching a three-stage rocket over Japan. Today, as Iran and North Korea mate long-range rockets with nukes, Rumsfeld is overseeing the deployment of an international missile shield that enfolds allies in Europe, Asia, Australia and the Pacific.

As chairman of a similar panel in 2000, Rumsfeld lifted America’s sights towards the heavens. “We know from history that every medium—air, land and sea—has seen conflict,” this second Rumsfeld commission warned in 2001. “Reality indicates that space will be no different.” Hence, the United States needs to be prepared to “conduct operations to, from, in and through space in support of its national interests.” During the Ford Administration, Rumsfeld warned that space would become a battleground. Today, he is helping to ensure that the US military dominates space in the same manner it dominates the skies, seas and land.

4. Although he takes his job seriously, he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. For instance, when US Special Forces rode into battle on horseback in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld first praised them for their adaptivity and courage, and then skewered himself about transformation, jokingly calling the horse-powered mission “the first cavalry attack of the twenty-first century.”

And this sense of humor was evident long before he served in the Bush administration. In 1974, Rumsfeld began collecting little morsels of common and not-so-common sense. Dubbed “Rumsfeld’s Rules,” the catalogue of wit and wisdom became required reading in Washington in the early days of the Bush presidency. After listing more than 150 aphorisms, the collection concludes with a self-deprecating grin: “If you develop rules, never have more than ten.” 

5. The location of a press conference is usually irrelevant; but on September 11, 2001, it made all the difference. At 6:42 p.m., with the Pentagon still smoldering, Rumsfeld stepped in front of the cameras to send a message to the world. “The United States government is functioning in the face of this terrible act against our country,” Rumsfeld announced. “I should add that this briefing is taking place in the Pentagon,” he noted, his voice conveying a mix of grit and defiance. “The Pentagon is functioning. It will be in business tomorrow.”

6. And function it did, as Rumsfeld and the generals conceived a war plan that has prevented, preempted or deterred every enemy attack—and protected every inch of US territory—since September 11. Neither his detractors nor his defenders thought this would be the case on that terrible Tuesday.  

7. Rumsfeld may or may not be a good defense secretary—a job which requires a mix of diplomacy, nuance and politicking—but as retired Gen. Tommy Franks said, “He is a hell of a secretary of war.”