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Savaging Donald Rumsfeld

It’s lonely. Far as I know, I’m the only conservative defense analyst/journalist in the country supporting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (whom I’ve never met and from whom I seek neither funding nor employment).

Mr. Rumsfeld’s been getting a lot of unsolicited advice of late from my colleagues – up to and including “resign now.” Rumor has it that there are even Pentagon betting pools. Lost amid all the vitriol is the possibility that maybe, just maybe, he’s played the last six months more right than wrong. He’s certainly discovered the enormity of the smallness of some of his critics. In fact, he can still whup ’em all (should such be his intent) and do this country a wonderful service thereby. Provided his boss goes along.

When the Bush administration arrived, everybody expected a Reagan-style build-up; lots of money spent up-front with minimal scrutiny, except perhaps for an occasional entertaining scandal. It didn’t quite happen that way. Mr. Rumsfeld convened a klatch of in-house committees to reconsider every aspect of defense prior to tacking a few score billions onto the basic $300 billion a year. The MICE – the Military-Industrial-Congressional Empire – went shaky, then resentful, then ballistic. The media loved it. Six months went by. The MICE trashed every proposal, every concept, every stray thought emanating (or presumed to emanate) from Mr. Rumsfeld and his study groups. That the reviews were intended as points of departure only: no matter.

Two items of note here. First, the resistance reeked of the entitlement mentality. No conservative worth his or her Vast Conspiracy ID Card would ever tell an education or health care bureaucrat, “Yes, you’re right. The way to solve the problem is to give you all the money you want. Here. Go spend it. Call us when you need more.” But for the MICE – anything goes. Some even propose the “Four Percent Solution,” pegging defense spending at 4 to 4.5 percent of GDP. A modestly robust economy would yield defense budgets approaching a trillion within ten years. But for the MICE – they’re entitled.

Second, nobody considered it the least bit odd that a man of Mr. Rumsfeld’s stature should be publicly savaged for six months before he even did anything. Just business as usual, Beltway-style.

But now it’s late August, and it’s clear that there’s a way to trap the MICE. The study phase, which admittedly took a couple months too long, is winding down. Mr. Rumsfeld must decide exactly what he wishes to accomplish. Then he needs a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who will support him ardently. Fortunately, President Bush met this need last week by nominating the current vice chief, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, to the post. Mr. Rumsfeld gets a bonus goodie here: Mr. Bush nominated a Marine, Gen. Peter Pace, as the new vice chairman. A fighter jock/Space Command veteran and a mud Marine – good combo.

Next, Mr. Rumsfeld needs to see what the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review – a congressionally-mandated study due out by Sept. 30 – comes up with, by way of support and opposition. Then he needs to persuade Mr. Bush to make a major defense speech around Veterans’ Day, laying it out for the American people. The speech might offer something like this:

“No, we don’t know whom we’re going to fight, or where. But we’ve got a pretty good idea what we’re going to need. First, homeland defense – full-speed ahead on missile defense and counter-terrorism. Then we absolutely positively must maintain aerospace supremacy. That means space-based operations and an accelerating shift from manned to unmanned aircraft. Next, we need a reconfigured Army of unsurpassed lethality, flexibility, and mobility. Next, a serious peace-enforcing capability would be nice, reserved for those ugly moments when we have no choice save to mess in other people’s domestics. Finally, we need a Navy built on attack submarines and new kinds of surface ships, capable of supporting land operations in ways that seriously relieve the stresses of the ground troops.To get there, everybody’s going to have to give something up. Personnel end strengths will have to shrink by a couple hundred thousand. Not every ship or unit can or should be recapitalized or transformed. A few dozen bases will have to go. But everybody will also get what they need to face the 21st century. Nobody will get everything they want. Many specific issues can and should be debated thoroughly and passionately. But nobody’s entitled to anything. And we’ll be keeping track of who’s with us and who’s not. Most of all, we’ll be taking this show on the road. The conventional wisdom holds that Americans don’t care about defense until some disaster grabs their attention. My administration is committed to proving that bit of so-called wisdom wrong.”

Should Mr. Bush decline the opportunity to speak thus to the American people, and to provide this country with the tools of a 21st century defense before the disaster, Mr. Rumsfeld should resign. And then let the world know why.

Philip Gold is director of defense and aerospace studies at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.