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Published: Saturday, 10/1/2005

Days of war and Rumsfeld

IT SADDENS me to write these words, because I respect and admire him so. But it's time for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to move on.

Rummy, on balance, has been a terrific secretary of defense.

Mr. Rumsfeld's efforts to reform a baroque, wasteful, and frequently corrupt Pentagon procurement process have been heroic.

What Mr. Rumsfeld has done to seize the high ground in space and to advance ballistic missile defense will benefit this nation for decades to come.

Mr. Rumsfeld shook the military out of Cold War thinking and an obsolescent Cold War basing structure. He has been the driving force behind a long overdue and badly needed transformation.

And those of us in the heartland will always fondly remember Rummy for demonstrating so vividly, in their interchanges in the early stages of the Iraq war, that the Pentagon press corps is "stuck on stupid."

But the balance is shifting. Mr. Rumsfeld has always had flaws (as do we all), and his flaws have caught up with his many virtues.

My concerns about Mr. Rumsfeld are both stylistic and substantive.

Mr. Rumsfeld's management of the Department of Defense has been highlighted by two techniques - "wire brushing" and "snowflakes" - that have long since passed the point of diminishing returns.

"Giving someone the wire brush means chewing them out, typically in a way that's demeaning to their stature," explained Thomas Barnett in a favorable profile of Mr. Rumsfeld in Esquire in July. "It's pinning their ears back, throwing out question after question you know they can't answer correctly and then attacking every single syllable they toss up from their defensive crouch. It's verbal bullying at its best."

"Wire brushing" was at first arguably necessary to shake generals and admirals out of parochial service concerns and Cold War modes of thinking, but it is inherently disrespectful of general officers, the most competent and dedicated public servants we have.

Another characteristic of Mr. Rumsfeld's management style are memoranda asking pointed questions to which subordinates are supposed to drop everything in order to respond. There are so many of these that people in the Pentagon refer to them as "snowflakes."

The sheer volume of "snowflakes" makes all management in the Pentagon crisis management. This is exhausting, hard on the morale of subordinates, and detrimental to long range planning. Not even Eskimos can tolerate "snowflakes" every single day.

Mr. Rumsfeld is almost always the smartest man in any room he enters. The problem is, he is too well aware of this.

In this way, Mr. Rumsfeld reminds me of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a gifted military man too well aware of his own gifts. In the end, he accomplished less than Dwight Eisenhower, a man of more modest (though still substantial) gifts, but who was modest about them.

Mr. Rumsfeld was a terrific CEO in the private sector, but this, too, is sometimes a problem in the Pentagon. In business, efficiency and effectiveness overlap so much they are virtually synonyms. This isn't true in the military, where efficiency is often the enemy of effectiveness. It's efficient to use just enough force to accomplish what you need to do. But that's not what's effective in war. If your enemy shows up with a knife, bring a gun. If he has a gun, bring a howitzer, preferably two.

On the substantive level, I don't think Rummy "gets" ground warfare. He was hugely wrong - and "wire brushing" victim Gen. Eric Shinseki completely right - about the number of troops required to pacify Iraq. Still, he persists in trying to fight the war on terror with too few troops.

In a war that's being fought almost entirely by the Army and Marine Corps, this is a big failing. Army officers think Mr. Rumsfeld has it in for them. I don't think that is true. But when a perception is as widespread as this one is, it becomes a reality.

Mr. Rumsfeld has, on balance, been a great secretary of defense. But the longer he remains in office, the less likely it is that he'll be remembered that way.



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