Rumsfeld wins the doctrine war
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates's retirement last week was accompanied by warm praise for his leadership style, his political acumen, and his judgment on critical policy issues. Gates left office widely regarded as one of the most effective defense secretaries since the office was created in 1947. This repute is in sharp contrast to that of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who left the Pentagon in 2006 under a cloud of scorn from Capitol Hill, the media, and inside the department he ran. Indeed, Gates was brought in specifically to reverse many of Rumsfeld's policies, which many believed were causing the United States to lose the war in Iraq. Gates restored collegial harmony and got the Pentagon through a dark period.
But Gates's departure, the wide-ranging overhaul of Barack Obama's national security team, and, most importantly, the president's decision to withdraw 33,000 soldiers from Afghanistan by next summer shows that the "Rumsfeld Doctrine" is now the accepted standard operating procedure for current and future policymakers. In the end, Rumsfeld won the Doctrine War.
During the first Bush term, and even before the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld struggled with the Pentagon, and especially the Army, to create faster, lighter, more flexible, and more expeditionary military forces. Planning for the Iraq campaign in 2002 exposed the rift between Rumsfeld and Army planners, who preferred to replicate the slow massive buildup of armored divisions that had crushed the Iraqi army in the Desert Storm campaign in 1991. Buoyed by the success a handful of intelligence operators, special operations soldiers, and precision air power achieved in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld forced Central Command planners to rip up their Desert Storm-inspired war plan and opt instead for a much smaller force that would be supported by precision firepower and special operations forces.
Even as the Iraqi insurgency negated the campaign's initial success, Rumsfeld persisted in institutionalizing the "faster, lighter" expeditionary doctrine. In 2003, Rumsfeld brought Gen. Peter Schoomaker, who had spent most of his career in special operations, out of retirement to be Army chief of staff. Charged with implementing Rumsfeld's vision, Schoomaker's most notable innovation was the Army's conversion from the large division as the basic deploying unit to the smaller and easier-to-deploy brigade. As the insurgency worsened in Iraq, Rumsfeld resisted pressure to build up a larger and heavier U.S. ground commitment. He also resisted pressure to add to the Army and Marine Corps headcounts to relieve the strain on deploying soldiers, preferring that Pentagon funding remain committed to research and equipment modernization rather than be diverted to personnel accounts. The Iraq campaign had become a distraction to Rumsfeld's transformation agenda and, in his view, feeding more resources into it would only create Iraqi dependency.