Stop the lynching party! Donald Rumsfeld was briefly being pilloried as another Robert McNamara, the disgraced Vietnam-era secretary of defense who interfered with the military. With American tanks now in Baghdad, Rumsfeld criticism feels -- as the kids say -- like, so four days ago.
The charges against Rumsfeld, and his creative war-making, always had a counterintuitive ring. He was being accused by liberals of not being hidebound enough, and by critics of the U.S. military of not showing enough deference to military officers. Why can't this dinosaur from the Ford administration start acting like a dinosaur from the Ford administration?
A frequent lament has been that generals are cowed by Rumsfeld. Well, guys with stars on their shoulders aren't supposed to be so easily intimidated. But if they are rocked on their heels by Rummy -- good. The defense secretary's charge through the Pentagon China Shop represents a necessary adjustment in civil-military relations.
For the past 15 years, the military has been shown extreme deference, to the point of giving generals control over foreign policy. The first President Bush allowed Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to dictate his own -- disastrously generous -- surrender terms to the Iraqis. And the generals ran roughshod over Clinton administration officials, intimidating them, for instance, out of an early intervention in Bosnia.
The post-Vietnam U.S. military was risk averse, haunted by the failure of the Desert One hostage-rescue attempt in Iran and eager always to fight the last war, namely the rumbling, 500,000-troop-strong cakewalk over the Iraqis in 1991.
Rumsfeld's sin has been to confront that innate conservatism. When initial airstrikes weren't effective in the Afghan war, Rumsfeld challenged the military to get Special Operations spotters closer to the action.
He has been trying to wrench the Pentagon toward a "Revolution in Military Affairs" that emphasizes a lighter, more mobile force, taking advantage of technological innovation and preparing for new, unconventional military actions. Critics say this approach, which seemed vindicated in Afghanistan, made Rumsfeld skimp on ground troops in Iraq (where, it must be noted, Rumsfeld's prized Special Forces and precision weapons have performed brilliantly).
Was the Iraq invasion plan the most militarily effective imaginable? No. As Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic argues, that is not because Rumsfeld wanted to prove his theory. It was mostly because political considerations -- minimizing civilian casualties, making a quick assault on the seat of Saddam Hussein's power in Baghdad -- trumped the military advantages of weeks of bombing followed by a deliberate armored advance.