Tuesday, August 18, 2009

# Posted 6:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE INCOMPREHENSIBILITY OF DONALD RUMSFELD: Last week, Christopher Caldwell reviewed Bradley Graham's new book about Donald Rumsfeld. As soon as I have time to digest 800 pages of Graham's prose, I'll let you know what I think of the book. For now, I'll just say that Caldwell picks up on one of the central challenges of studying Rumsfeld. Washington now dismisses Rumsfeld as a tragically stubborn ideologue. Yet when Rumsfeld took charge of the Pentagon in 2001, at the age of 68, he had an extraordinary career of successful leadership behind him. There was every reason to believe that he could master the facts of exceptionally complicated situations and transform failure into success. Caldwell writes,
Elected to Congress in 1962 at age 30, Rumsfeld, Graham writes, was a reformer who “never met an organization he didn’t want to change.” He co-sponsored what became the Freedom of Information Act, and reliably fought for civil rights legislation. He was a darling of this newspaper [the NY Times] and so skeptical about the Vietnam War that when Henry Kissinger saw Rumsfeld and his wife, he would sardonically flash the peace sign. Rumsfeld also had what Graham calls “a deep moral streak.” While running the Pentagon, he refused on ethical grounds to meet with defense-industry executives...

Such talents served [Rumsfeld] well as chief executive of the pharmaceuticals company G. D. Searle, where he turned a $28 million loss into a $72 million profit and brought aspartame to market; he got similar results in the early 1990s as C.E.O. of the General Instrument Corporation, a pioneer in high-definition television that needed a favorable hearing from the Federal Communications Commission.

Rumsfeld’s ability to work Congress and the regulatory bodies helped him in business. By the end of the 1990s he was worth between $50 million and $210 million. But he was more than a glorified lobbyist. He amassed information patiently and thoroughly, and would not be bullied into acting before he had mastered it. And he has never lost his ruthlessness in questioning structures kept in place by mere inertia.
It's not hard to understand why Bush chose Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. If Rumsfeld hadn't been the one to bring such misery to the Pentagon by the end of his tenure in 2006, the most logical candidate to save the Pentagon wouldn't have been Bob Gates. It would've been Rumsfeld.

So what happened between 2003 and 2006? I guess I'll have to read the book.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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