Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Rumsfeld Factor

The firing resignation of Donald Rumsfeld is being described in some quarters as offering a sacrificial lamb after the referendum on Bush's Iraq policy returned the worst possible results for the administration.

The truth is, Rumsfeld should have been dismissed long ago.

Bush dealt with the departure of Rumsfeld with his usual fumbling and corrupted English and further provided proof that, while his signature goes on the paper, he possesses no power of independent thought. He waits for others to fill his empty head with ideas and then repeats them.

Rumsfeld came to the Pentagon intent on transforming the military from an organization, in his view, of large, cumbersome, manpower intensive units to a lightweight but extremely powerful techno-military relying less on large, heavily-manned units and more on small, high-tech, maneouvre forces - armed to the teeth and protected by layers of sensors and push-button weapons.

It may have even been a workable idea. If it hadn't been for Iraq.

Rumsfeld's major failing was in attempting to do two completely incompatible things at once: transforming the structure and culture of the military in the midst of an all consuming combat deployment.

At a time when the US military, fully engaged in two major theatres, required cultural and materiel stability, Rumsfeld was busy trying to make major alterations in structure, materiel support and manpower. When the service chiefs were asking for more money to do the job with which they had been tasked, Rumsfeld was playing hatchet-man with both budgets and the military hierarchy.

If that was Rumsfeld's only mistake, it still would have resulted in the Mesopotamian quagmire.

Rumsfeld's personal goal was to transform the military without changing its ability to project power. Of the things he wanted to change, none of it involved changing what the US military actually does.

The US military is a battlefield supremacy force. In the past it achieved that reputation, both in action and in being, through weight in numbers of personnel and materiel. Rumsfeld was attempting to produce an organization that could achieve the same level of battlefield supremacy with fewer numbers and less materiel, notwithstanding one with a harder, faster punch.

That's just fine if the military's only role is to take the field, vanquish the opposition and then leave. Without boots on the ground and the ability to administer to the civilian population an army might as well hand all won ground back to the enemy.

It goes without saying that any occupation army will find it difficult to subdue a country without the cooperation of the population. Gaining that cooperation requires an immediate shift from battlefield supremacy to administrative and logistical efficiency. It's all well and good to have that administrative and logistical support of one's own forces, but unless it focuses on the population of a defeated country that population will drift away.

From the time the US military achieved battlefield supremacy in Afghanistan and Iraq, the only way to achieve supremacy off the field was to immediately generate an environment which made it not just unlikely but, impossible for opposing elements to gather support.

Rumsfeld, the man who should have had a detailed plan for the period after the combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, did nothing. He played the War On Terror game and concentrated on areas that provided little in terms of results. His focus was directed, not at the average Afghani or Iraqi, but in the hunt for terrorists and the interrogration of prisoners. When the battle was over, he continued the battle.

Rumsfeld wasn't alone. Indeed, there was an administration full of people who can be held culpable for the conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, it was Rumsfeld who failed to field a force which understood the role and thus failed to secure the peace.

Rumsfeld's high-tech military didn't know how not to fight.

He should have been fired for that two years ago.

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