William F. Buckley

That was an august assignment for an executive now accustomed to dealing with bureaucracy with the shears available in the private sector. Ms. Decter tells us of the creeping immobilization of the Defense Department in 2001. No money appropriated by Congress could be used by the DOD other than for the specific purpose designated. The Department had to submit 905 reports to Congress every year, to respond to 2,500 weekly inquiries or complaints from members of Congress. It was monitored closely by 24,000 outside auditors and inspectors. The overhead was such that only l4 percent of DOD manpower was directly related to combat operations.

And so on. What evolved was the Rumsfeld widely admired and ever so widely resented — by some in his staff, and by many in the press and in Congress — for his directness of style, for his willingness to face his critics with his contentious self-confidence, and, of course, for his identification as supreme military actor in the Iraq war.

But now suddenly, the ever-confident Rumsfeld privately confesses to eleven hundred and eleven people that he can't be sure it is all working, our war against terrorism. He asks that question in the same spirit as, in other careers, he'd pause to ask basic questions, causing in him not paralyzing ambiguity, but hardheaded, Yankee inquiry into what was being accepted as his standing commission in life, like congressional service, service abroad, service in the private sector, service, one more time, in the Pentagon. There his fidelity to the commander in chief is whole, but his powers of inquiry are unimpeded.

We can expect more discussion on that basic question, are we winning in Iraq? If not, what is to be done? It is by no means inconceivable that the answers here will be by Donald Rumsfeld.


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

Be the first to read William Buckley's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.