The release of Donald Rumsfeld's November 6 memorandum of options for U.S. forces in Iraq, written on election eve to the White House, ought to remind every American — especially his opponents and enemies — what the country is losing with Donald Rumsfeld's retirement. I fear we are trading a Grant for a McClellan. Grant made a bundle of mistakes, including many costly ones, but he never abandoned the idea of victory. McClellan never reached for the big win. I hope I am wrong, but Secretary-designate Gates does not strike me as the sort of man to write the sort of memo that Secretary Rumsfeld leaves as his testament on Iraq.
The memo, often referred to in the past few days, but only infrequently read, is a case study in the Rumsfeld approach: To question, cajole, probe and — critically — examine every problem from a number of angles. Reading through his 15 preferred options, and his half-dozen "Below The Line" (meaning "less attractive") options, and any fair reader will immediately see that not only was the SecDef on top of the challenges in Iraq, but he was anything but a "stay the course" rigid ideologue.
Whether suggesting the initiation of a "reverse embed" program, or bluntly arguing that the U.S. had to "[s]top rewarding bad behavior," the Nov. 6 memo is an external version of the "snowflakes" which Rumsfeld would send flying around the five-sided building. Notice as well that in the memo there is no posterior-covering or bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Rumsfeld is using the terse, pointed language of leadership, the sort of blunt talk that earned him enemies by the hundreds inside the Pentagon, and which before long will be missed by the senior uniformed services if the war accelerates again, as it almost certainly will.
In Bob Woodward's most recent book State of Denial — like Rumsfeld's memo, often referred to but little read — there is a compelling portrait of a radical Secretary of Defense unwilling to be sold a bill of goods on his second tour as Secretary of Defense. In the abrasive, brilliant, compulsive, and confrontational Rumsfeld, senior military officers encountered a military veteran and an experienced civilian who would not take "no" for an answer, nor accept excuses for bad briefings or for being left out-of-the-loop. I have had conversations with two-star generals and many officers of lower grade who were candid in their intense dislike for Rumsfeld, and especially for his often brusque refusal to accept staff work as good enough or thorough enough in its exploration of options.