After returning from Iraq in 2003, I found myself preparing to leave active-duty in 2004. For some reason, I encountered several interesting articles about Donald Rumsfeld and came to be pretty impressed with the guy. I don't mean his leadership style, or his decisions or anything like that. I mean personality-wise. He's got a great bio: elected to the House of Representatives at age 29, worked his way through Washington for nearly two decades before departing for the private sector. There he turned around two companies that were failing, and by all accounts, he did so with panache.
My boss became interested in Rummy too. We started to trade bits and pieces of information we encountered here and there. I told him I had read somewhere that Rumsfeld kept a an old tape deck in his office and when working late, would throw in a cassette of patriotic marches and pick up some dumbbells and do a few sets, just to get the blood flowing. My boss saw an interview on TV conducted at Rumsfeld's ranch in New Mexico. A lifelong friend, who was a successful businessman himself, said that Rummy has the energy of "five successful men." Another article I read noted that Rumsfeld doesn't sit at a desk, choosing instead to stand all day between two tall tables. Another noted his habit of frequently walking long distances to appointments in the capital, instead of hopping in his security vehicle - to the chagrin of his security detail. The man, while in his early 70s, would work 16 hour days, then routinely beat his subordinates at a squash game, then go home and spend his free time . . . writing a book for his wife about what a great person she is. I'm not making any of this up.
When I finally left active duty, at a small gathering of officers, my boss presented me with a nice plaque which read, "1st Lt Joshua Manchester: Like Rumsfeld, only smaller." I thought this was hilarious (I am only 5' 7") and a great compliment. He meant it in the manner of the hard-working, energetic, successful individual we had come to follow a little.
Since then, as the plaque has sat on my bookshelves here at home, I've often wondered how people would interpret it now that Rumsfeld's stock has fallen. If people ever ask me about it, wondering why I'd like to be identified with such a devil, as Rumsfeld has now been demonized, I'll have the privilege of telling some of those stories above.
Last week, a reader of Glenn Reynolds' blog Instapundit wrote him this email:
"The Military cannot change itself, no organization can do that. Imagine your company or organization suddenly saying that it needs to change to meet business challenges because that's what the CEO read in a magazine over the weekend. How's that work? You spend months on 'Mission statements' and going on useless employee retreats and in the end, the same lame-o fatass managers run the same asininely redundant departments only with different titles and cost centers. How do you get a company to change? You don't change because you want to, you change because the competition forces you to change. You get creamed in a quarterly result, or you get merged with the competition. So what happens to us if our Military gets creamed in combat or 'Merged'? In that respect, Rumsfelds transformation doest seem so bad now does it?
"The Military cannot change itself. Air Force screams at the Navy, Navy screams at the Army, and everyone screams at the Marines, and the Coast Guard continues to go on unfunded. Congress just sits squirms in its seat every time someone wants to do something simple like close an air force base, Private Industry? Oh sure that will work out fine, no self interest there, right?
"So what do you do? You get a man just exactly like Rumsfeld, who's been around forever, knows exactly what works and what doesn't work, knows where all the bodies are buried at every level of the chain of command and you let him loose by putting him at the top.
"Rumsfeld is uniquely and highly qualified to do exactly what he is doing. He is an institutional nightmare to the lifetime bureaucrat. Think of Rumsfeld as one of those CEO's that gets hired to turn around a company in bankruptcy court, or like Tom Peters without the PR team. This is not to say that the Military is 'bankrupt', but it has lost its way in some places. Do we really need a dozen more Seawolf submarines or should we have 50 more C-17s and C-5s? F-22's or MV-22's?, Airborne Laser Missile Defense or another 10 brigades of Marines and Special Forces? I don't know the answer to those questions, but I know better than to ask Admiral Chuck 'Seawolf' Hardmore if we need more Seawolf submarines.
"That's why we are lucky to have him, and that's why everyone hates him, because in the end Rumsfeld will be remembered as the greatest change agent of all time."
There seems to be a lot of truth in that. And there seems to be a lot of truth in the idea that an individual such as this would make everyone upset. Six years is a long time to be Secretary of Defense. It will take a while to see the true impact of Rumsfeld's changes and to judge them.
For the moment though, perhaps it's best just to be glad we had someone who was willing to shake things up so much, in a government that is all too often too moribund to escape its own inertia.
"Like Rumsfeld, only smaller." Before the war is over, we might find ourselves wishing we had another Secretary of Defense more like him than less.
Josh Manchester is a TCSDaily contributing writer and a veteran of the march to Baghdad. His blog is The Adventures of Chester (www.theadventuresofchester.com).