Thursday, July 2, 2009

By His Own Rules

Considered among the best and brightest of his generation, Donald Rumsfeld was exceptionally prepared by successful careers in politics and biz to assume the Pentagon’s top job in 2001.

Yet six years later, he left office as the most controversial Defense Secretary since Robert McNamara, widely criticized for his management of the Iraq war and for his difficult relationships with Congress, administration colleagues, and military officers.

Was he really the arrogant, errant, over-controlling Pentagon leader frequently portrayed—or as his supporters contend, a brilliant, hard-charging visionary caught in a whirl of polarized Washington politics, dysfunctional federal bureaucracy, and bad luck?

Bradley Graham (long time WaPo reporter guy), closely covered Rumsfeld’s challenging tenure at the Pentagon, offers an insightful biography of a complex personality.

Revealing a portrait of the ultimate Vulcan whose impact on Great Satan's Nat'l Security and Foreign Policy will long outlive him, "By His Own Rules" is journalism at it's best.

Those who dislike Rumsfeld will find plenty to stoke their anger; those who admire him -- much that is praiseworthy. Those few with an open mind will learn a great deal about the man, his gifts and his flaws.

The anonymous "former senior defense official" makes a few appearances in the book's eight hundred pages, but as a rule he cites his sources by name, and everything contained in quotation marks is a direct quote. He presents the story, but ultimately gives the reader the opportunity to make his own judgments.

Especially delish are the bits that shed on the Vulcan who wiped clean and rew again the operational methodologies of Great Satan's military and shed some light on a number of Rumsfeld's unheralded successes.

Like the effort to realign the armed forces' basing structure across the globe away from a structure optimized for the Cold War past in order to position Great Satan better to respond to current and future threats.

And Rumsfeld, confronted with a war planning process that was cumbersome and unresponsive to strategic direction, championed the Adaptive Planning Initiative, which has led to plans that are developed more rapidly, feature more options, and benefit from greater guidance from senior leaders.

A few stereotypes get flat busted up in "By His Own Rules". Like that Rumsfeld was pure neocon. Actually, the avuncular Vulcan really didn't have any interest in building wonderful Disneyland like societies around the world.

He thought democracy was desirable and a long term guarantee of peace and stability for any nation liberated but his main interest was to make Great Satan's enemies scream "GOD! PLEASE! STOP!"

Didn't matter if they were non state actors like Al Qaeda or long time nation states like Iraq or Iran. He wanted to position Great Satan to strike fast, hard and annihilate her enemies in the least amount of time, visiting righteous payback on their heads, inflicting the most casualities while suffering the least casualities and liberating the most turf.

And he didn't really give a dang what all anybody (save the Commander in Chief) thought about it.

History will render its own verdict on Donald Rumsfeld's second tenure at Pentagon, but "By His Own Rules" contains tons of evidence for both the prosecution and the defense and will most likely remain the essential piece (along with James Mann's "Rise of the Vulcans") to go to for future historians.