Rumsfeld Bids Farewell to Pentagon

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said his goodbyes to his team at the Pentagon, although he doesn’t officially step down for a few more days.

PHOTO Rumsfeld Bids Farewell to Pentagon Rumsfeld choked up briefly while recalling a woman in Alaska giving him a bracelet last August as a reminder of the sacrifices by soldiers of the Army’s 172nd Stryker Brigade, whose year-long tour in Iraq was extended by four months to help try to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad. Showing it still on his wrist, Rumsfeld recalled that he told the woman he would wear the green bracelet until the 172nd came home to Alaska.

He spoke at length about his concern that the United States not let Iraq and Afghanistan collapse. “We have every chance in the world of succeeding in both those countries, but only if we have the patience and only if we have the staying power,” he said. Asked about the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendations for a change in approach to the Iraq war, Rumsfeld said none of the suggestions were new. “I can’t think of a thing that anyone’s thought of that General (Peter) Pace and General (John) Abizaid and those folks have not been working on and analyzing and studying and adjusting to over time,” he said, referring to the top two generals overseeing the Iraq war. He said the Pentagon had sent its advice to the White House on possible new approaches.

In a question-and-answer session, he was asked what were his best day and his worst day. “Clearly, the worst day was Abu Ghraib, seeing what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened,” he said without hestitation, referring to the scandal in the spring of 2004 that triggered worldwide condemnation and prompted him to twice offer his resignation to President Bush at that time. Bush rejected those offers.

“I guess my best day, I don’t know, may be a week from Monday,” he said with a big grin, referring to the fact that his successor, Robert Gates, is scheduled to take over at the Pentagon on Dec. 18.

Rumsfeld went from being a sensation during the press conferences after 9/11 to one of the more controversial figures in recent American history because of his handling of the war in Iraq.

It should be recalled, though, that he certainly didn’t need this job and has sacrificed mightily in adding six more years of public service after a long career. The man gave up a cushy, high-paying job outside the limelight to take over a job he had had a quarter century earlier.

His efforts to transform the Pentagon were controversial but, mostly, dead-on. The military is much more joint than ever in its history and he managed to bull his way through a moribund bureaucracy to kill some ridiculously expensive weapons systems that we surely did not need.

Of course, all that has been overshadowed by Iraq and, especially, the perception that he is the man responsible for allocating too few troops for postwar stabilization operations and for the policies that led to Abu Ghraib. In the first instance, I think Gregory Scoblete is right that Rumsfeld sent in the force we could sustain over the long haul. And Abu Ghraib is attributable to many things, most of which can not be laid at Rumsfeld’s feet.

With the election lost behind us and a push to salvage our Iraq policy ahead, it was time for Rumsfeld to go. But, by all accounts, he poured every bit of his considerable energy into his job for these past six years. For that, he deserves our sincere gratitude.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. legion says:

    In the first instance, I think Gregory Scoblete is right that Rumsfeld sent in the force we could sustain over the long haul.

    I’ve heard this excuse offered up before, and it just doesn’t hold water. If the force we sent was/is flatly incapable of doing the job (stabilizing & rebuilding, that is; obviously not the initial combat phases), then it doesn’t bloody matter how long we can “afford” to keep them there. They’re going to die there. They will die in vain. To keep them there with no plan save hope is to insult their dedication and sacrifices.

  2. Steven Plunk says:

    Rumsfeld was a good leader. But in a world with 24 hour news and everyone looking to armchair quarterback the war how could he get a fair shake?

    I believe history will treat him well and deservedly so.

  3. Anderson says:

    Ah, Legion, you beat me to it. The WHOLE DAMN POINT was to send in *lots* more boots early on, make a big impression, and then draw down.

    It’s like teaching a class: if you’re not a hardass the first week of the semester, you cannot get tough later — the students will have you figured out. Scare ’em the first week, and halfway through, you can get along like colleagues.

  4. Anderson says:

    Rumsfeld was a good leader. But in a world with 24 hour news and everyone looking to armchair quarterback the war how could he get a fair shake?

    Varus was a good leader. But in a world with carrier pigeons and everyone looking to armchair-gladiator the war, how could he get a fair shake?

  5. Tano says:

    Rumsfeld had some good ideas, about transformation, but, like so many people who are so convinced of their own brilliance, and who have bulldog-like personalities and the powerful positions in which to exercise them, he pushed his idea too far, without considering the extent to which his lean and mean modern force would need to complement, rather than replace the heavier force.

    And of course, he couldn’t resist using the Iraq war as a demonstration project for his new force, revealing dramatically the failure to see the larger picture – using appropriately sized and weighted forces for the particular mission at hand.

    His tenure has led to an utter disaster. But he probably has been the target of more criticism than he really deserves. The true incompetent in this whole sorry mess has been his boss.

  6. Carter says:

    It will be interesting to see if the media covers Rumsfield as much as they have covered Powell after the end of his stunt as secretary of state.

  7. Stormy70 says:

    Rumsfeld pulled victims from the Pentagon on 9/11. He deserves respect for his bravery and I loved him for it.
    Iraq is not lost, and anyone who thinks the Sunnis were not going to eventually face a reckoning for the violence against the Shia are dreaming. Casualties are extremely low in this war, compared to history. The news media is relying on stringers who lie to the AP and Reuters, and are just making up stories about the violence. See Jamil, nonexistant AP reporter.

  8. legion says:

    I believe history will treat him well and deservedly so.

    Tano already beat me to this bit, Steven, but I could not disagree with you more. Rumsfeld’s incredible hubris, not his incompetence, will be what history remembers. He is the utterly classic case of a guy who assumes that because he’s the boss, he knows more about the job & how to do it than anyone who works for him. His arrogance alienated legions of competent senior officers… all you have to do is go back and look at the circle-jerk that went on to find someone, anyone, willing to pin on a 4th star and take over as Army CoS after Shinseki’s clouded departure. Franks retired rather than take the job. Abizaid bailed & said he needed to stay in CENTCOM. The Vice-Chief (IIRC) retired rather than take the promotion. In the end, they brought Schoomaker back from retirement.

    Let me say that again – they couldn’t find a single 3- or 4-star general in the entire active US Army who was both willing and competent to become Chief of Staff and work with Rumsfeld on a daily basis. What does that say about the man’s leadership abilities?

  9. James Joyner says:

    Legion:

    This that’s a bizarre and recent myth. Hell, 99% of the 3-stars and 90% of the 4-stars would have GLADLY taken it had it been offered. You seriously think they went around offering it and getting NO’s?

    The reason Schoomaker was brought out of retirement was to get a guy not Army to the Service bureaucracy, not because nobody would take the job. He was not only a SOF lifer but someone who shared Rumsfeld’s vision on Transformation.

    Schoomaker took over as COS in August 2003. Abazaid had been CENTCOM CC for less than a month.

    Given what we see of him in FIASCO, Tommy Franks and Rumsfeld were peas in a pod. And he was then riding high in the public opinion polls, having led victorious armies in Afghanistan and toppling Saddam. He wanted to get out and cash in.

  10. MrGone says:

    James,

    Remember, you go to war with the generals you’ve got, not the ones you wish you had….

  11. spencer says:

    No — you guys have it all wrong.

    We are losing the war because we did go to war with the troop we had.

    That is stupid. We should have waited until we could have built up the forces until we could put the 400,000 to 500,000 men in Iraq that we needed to provide security. In WW II we waited over two years until we could expand and train the army before we invaded North Africa. but this is the first war in US history that three years into the war the army is weaker then at the start of the war. This administration will not even allow the pentagon to budget the funds to replace the equipment being destroyed in Iraq..

    But you guys had to go to war right now with the forces we had. So now we are losing the war because of that.

    So why did you decide to go to war without giving the military the resources they needed to win?

    In economics there is a concept called revealed preference. You want what you are willing to pay for. So don’t claim you wanted to win the war because your revealed preference is that you wanted something else.

    It s very simple, if you had given the military the resources they needed to win you would have had to give up your tax cut for the wealthy.

    Remember, one of the first casualties of the war was Larry Linsey for trying to make an honest estimate of the cost of the war.

    We are losing the war because the Republican revealed preference is that their tax cuts for the wealthy was more important then winning the war.

    I challenge you to show me one fact that disproves this argument.

    And now we have a President that rants and raves about the cost of losing the war. But it is his policies, and his policies alone, that are losing the war and he refuses to change them. PURE STUPIDITY AND YOU TRY TO BLAME LIBERALS FOR YOUR STUPIDITY.

  12. I thought about reading the post and commenting, but thought instead, what the hell, I’ll just make up some fantasy about what really happened that requires utopian hindsight, a remarkable ignorance of history and an assumption of venality tempered only by incompetence by those responsible — and posit it as undisputable fact. Hey, it works so well for others commenting here.

  13. geezer says:

    Maybe I’m getting senile, but I seem to remember two wars in Iraq. The first one, to topple Saddam and defeat his regime was over pretty damn quick. The second one, wherein we have to not only battle enemies in the field, but their enablers in other countries, including our own precious media and “loyal” opposition party continues to this day.

    Ask yourself one question: is it even remotely possible Iraq would be more stable today if the enemy knew we were united and weren’t going to quit until they were defeated? Put down your baggage for just a minute and think about that. Is it possible?

    I consider it a privilege to have served the last 3 years of my career under Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, mainly because they made me feel clean again after 8 years of you-know-who. I’ve spoken with enough folks currently serving who feel the same way to know I’m not alone.

  14. Uncle Pinky says:

    Godspeed, Mr. Rumsfeld, and may your future burdens be lighter than this one has been.

  15. Anderson says:

    utopian hindsight

    Mr. Austin, why make yourself look ignorant?

    The Army had *foresight*, based on experience & professional caution. They warned Rumsfeld that a large force was needed to keep order. He didn’t care. Rumsfeld is smart, masterful, and a fool.

  16. JJ says:

    Rumsfeld sent in the force we could sustain over the long haul.

    That doesn’t make any sense. Rumsfeld’s plan – or rather lack of plan – was to go in and get out again quickly. There was no “long haul” in his plans for Iraq.

  17. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Rumsfeld was a loyal trooper who faithfully carried out the policy of his boss when he could have been living the life of the idle rich. Whether he did it correctly or not history will decide. But he should be given respect for his long years of loyal service, service to his boss, to our military, and to our country.

    May God bless you Mr. Rumsfeld.