Rich Lowry gloats on behalf of Don Rumsfeld as the wily SECDEF disproves his critics.

The charges against Rumsfeld, and his creative war-making, always had a counterintuitive ring. He was being accused by liberals of not being hidebound enough, and by critics of the U.S. military of not showing enough deference to military officers. Why can’t this dinosaur from the Ford administration start acting like a dinosaur from the Ford administration?

A frequent lament has been that generals are cowed by Rumsfeld. Well, guys with stars on their shoulders aren’t supposed to be so easily intimidated. But if they are rocked on their heels by Rummy — good. The defense secretary’s charge through the Pentagon China Shop represents a necessary adjustment in civil-military relations.

For the past 15 years, the military has been shown extreme deference, to the point of giving generals control over foreign policy. The first President Bush allowed Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to dictate his own — disastrously generous — surrender terms to the Iraqis. And the generals ran roughshod over Clinton administration officials, intimidating them, for instance, out of an early intervention in Bosnia.

The post-Vietnam U.S. military was risk averse, haunted by the failure of the Desert One hostage-rescue attempt in Iran and eager always to fight the last war, namely the rumbling, 500,000-troop-strong cakewalk over the Iraqis in 1991.

Rumsfeld’s sin has been to confront that innate conservatism. When initial airstrikes weren’t effective in the Afghan war, Rumsfeld challenged the military to get Special Operations spotters closer to the action.

He has been trying to wrench the Pentagon toward a “Revolution in Military Affairs” that emphasizes a lighter, more mobile force, taking advantage of technological innovation and preparing for new, unconventional military actions. Critics say this approach, which seemed vindicated in Afghanistan, made Rumsfeld skimp on ground troops in Iraq (where, it must be noted, Rumsfeld’s prized Special Forces and precision weapons have performed brilliantly).

I must confess that, upon first hearing that GWB had appointed Rummy, my reaction was, “What the $*(#?! Some warmed-over guy from the $*(#ing FORD ADMINISTRATION?!” Rather like my reaction to his choice of Dick Cheney as his running mate, although somewhat more so. In both cases, I happily and quickly learned that Dubya in fact had a clue and that I was wrong.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.