Rumsfeld Redux: He Doesn’t Get It

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Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld emerged from the woodwork last week to warn Leon Panetta not to do the wrong thing. He should know; his stewardship of DOD was an almost unmitigated laundry list (should we say “snowflakes”?) of wrong things.

But I wouldn’t recommend Panetta take his advice. Rumsfeld has no idea of how to manage the inevitable build down that is starting at DOD. Instead, his article provided a scatter-shot list of ideas, like “oppose any and all earmarks.” Only shows he has a tin ear when it comes to the Congress. And if the administration could eliminate all earmarks, it would hardly touch the defense budget. The $80 billion in earmarks he claims Congress “shoved down the Pentagon’s throat” over the last ten years were a whopping 1.4% of the defense budgets he asked for and spent over that period. Not much of a savings to be had.

And he suggested garrisoning US forces away from Europe into “smaller, forward bases.” But where would those friendly countries be that are willing to garrison our forces, and why would we want to do so? No answer from Rumsfeld. And since we get host nation support for those forces in Europe, how would moving them elsewhere save any money?

He proposes cutting spending on military health care and personnel. He acknowledges this is hard, but even if we cut health care cost growth and trimmed civilian pay at the Pentagon, the savings turn out to be trivial, as well.

He gets closer to the real world in arguing that the civilian infrastructure at DOD is bloated. But he ignores the reality that more than 500,000 active duty military personnel are also part of that infrastructure and never deploy overseas, according to the Defense Business Board.

The bottom line is strategy, and Rumsfeld offers us no insight into strategy. Instead he goes to that old shibboleth that we build down in defense, and then regret it and have to build up again.

Sheer balderdash. We built down after Korea and then chose to back the corrupt government of Vietnam in a losing proposition. Nobody surprised us and nobody made us do it; we did it to ourselves. We built down after Vietnam and then, when Team B inflated the Soviet threat, we elected a government to expand the defense budget; nobody surprised us; we did it to ourselves.

And at the end of the Cold War, we built down, again, starting with President George H.W. Bush. It was a pretty good build down, too, as they go. And it left in place a force that Rumsfeld used to take down Saddam Hussein. (Contrary to his assertion, he did not have to “scramble to rebuild our defenses;” the defenses were already there for him to use, thanks to a reasonably well-managed build down). But, bottom line, we chose that war, too. Nobody surprised us.

Step off the stage, Mr. Rumsfeld; you have too little to offer to the important rethink of US national security strategy that now must happen. We have to square our strategy with our resources and do it smartly, rather than try to score irrelevant and inaccurate points.