Iraq has been Mr. Rumsfeld’s war. It was fought on his terms, and the victory has made him an unusually forceful defense secretary at a pivotal moment for the American military.
Waging two wars in less than two years has drawn Mr. Rumsfeld into the inner circle of a president he did not know well until after the 2000 election.
It is a striking turnabout for the 70-year-old defense secretary, whose assertive style fueled rumors before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that he was a short-timer. He now has fresh leverage to press his vision of a 21st century fighting machine prepared to use force not just in retaliation, but to head off perceived threats. His chin-out performance as war briefer to the world has made him the face of American strength Ã¢€” or, alternatively, American arrogance.
“We’ve never had a cabinet official, possibly with the exception of Kissinger, with that high a profile,” said Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary to the first President Bush
Similarly, WaPo’sThomas Ricks observes:
After two years in office, he has his own people in top slots across most of the military establishment. He has triumphed in a military success in Iraq that featured an audacious war plan he helped to shape. He also looms large outside the Pentagon, injecting himself far more into intelligence matters than his predecessors and playing an unusually large role in shaping Bush administration foreign policy. He even has turned around a sour relationship with Congress.
He now is in position as never before to reshape the U.S. military along the lines he has talked about since taking office, “transforming” it into a more agile and precise force built not around firepower but around information, and willing to take risks to succeed.
Most notably, he is pushing the Special Operations Command from the sideshow niche it long has occupied to center stage in the “global war on terrorism” and other U.S. military operations. After the Iraq war, which featured one of the biggest missions ever for Special Operations forces, that command “is going to be the flavor of the month,” said one defense official.
As someone who wrote a doctoral dissertation on why defense transformation efforts never work and as recently as a year ago was delivering academic papers saying Rumsfeld, despite the rhetoric, was also failing, I find this turnaround simply stunning. Rumsfeld has, virtually without leaving a footprint in either the budget or major doctrinal publications, affected fundamental cultural changes in the armed forces virtually overnight that have been successfully thwarted by military bureaucrats and their congressional allies for literally decades.