George W. Bush’s selection of Donald Rumsfeld to serve as his
secretary of defense is momentous, not only because of the extraordinary
capabilities the nominee will bring to the job, but because of what this
choice says about America’s president-elect.
Don Rumsfeld is one of the most accomplished policy practitioners of
our time. Like his one-time protégé, close friend and colleague, Vice
President-elect Dick Cheney, he is a seasoned leader. The two share
impressive credentials as White House chiefs of staff, secretaries of
defense and, since leaving Washington years ago, corporate executives in
some of the nation’s best-run and most lucrative companies.
What is more, Secretary Rumsfeld has remained an active and
influential figure in national security affairs. Particularly
encouraging is the prospect that his tenure in the Bush II Pentagon will
give policy impetus to the work of two congressionally mandated,
blue-ribbon commissions he has chaired: the 1998 panel on the ballistic
missile threat and the panel currently finishing up its work on space
Missile defense: Both the president-elect and his secretary of
defense-designee underscored at their joint press conference on Dec. 28
the impression the findings of the first Rumsfeld commission had made on
them and on the debate about national missile defense.
It is no exaggeration to say that, thanks to Mr. Rumsfeld’s
leadership, that debate has been wholly transformed by the bipartisan
panel’s unanimous finding that — contrary to claims by the Clinton
administration and its politicized intelligence community — the United
States is indeed at risk of missile attack from rogue states like North
Korea, Iran and Iraq, as well as from Russia and China.
This was an extraordinary accomplishment, noteworthy as Sen. Jon Kyl,
R-Ariz., has observed, both for the commonsensical approach it took to
the available evidence, and for the virtually immediate turnaround it
caused the CIA to make when its contention that such threats would not
emerge for at least fifteen years became untenable.
In the wake of the Rumsfeld Commission’s report in July 1998 — and
its validation one month later by a long-range, three-stage missile
launch over Japan by North Korea, the Congress adopted by overwhelming
majorities legislation making it U.S. policy to deploy effective
national missile defenses as soon as technologically possible. This
creates the bipartisan basis for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to fulfill
the president-elect’s campaign promise to do just that: On Inauguration
Day, the new president should announce that, in six-months’ time, he
will begin deploying such a global anti-missile system aboard existing
Navy Aegis ships.
In this fashion, the incoming administration can get defenses that
leading Republicans and Democrats alike agree would be more effective,
can be deployed faster and at far less cost than the Clinton alternative
in Alaska; it can provide protection most quickly to U.S. forces and
allies overseas — doing much to allay the latters’ stated concerns; and
it can provide ample opportunity for discussions with the Russians and
Chinese, but in the context of our impending deployment, not an
open-ended excuse for delaying such a step.
Space power: The work of Mr. Rumsfeld’s present commission is
likely to prove no less important. The United States’ future security
and economic competitiveness depend critically upon the nation’s ability
1) to have ready, affordable access to and use of space and 2) to be
able, if necessary, to deny potential adversaries the ability to exploit
that strategic high ground against U.S. interests.
While this panel’s final report will not be completed until
mid-January, it is a safe bet that it will find perilous deficiencies in
all these areas. A no-less-sure thing is that this commission’s
recommendations will be taken to heart by senior policy-makers.
The defense budget: A third area on which Don Rumsfeld will be
bringing his enormous expertise and authority to bear will involve the
Pentagon’s budget and programs. While the president-elect has clearly
signaled his determination to pursue defense modernization and reform,
it will fall to Secretary Rumsfeld to give him some bad news: There is a
$50-100 billion annual shortfall over each of the next five to 10 years
in the funding available to recapitalize the armed forces.
This bill — incurred by deferring for most of a decade needed
purchases of modern equipment and spare parts — will have to be paid,
even if ways are found to: streamline how the Defense Department does
business; make the military more mobile and combat-effective; and reduce
the costs of missile defense by using the Navy’s existing
The really good news about George W. Bush’s selection of Donald
Rumsfeld is that he has — with this key personnel choice — established
that he is not only willing to hear such advice, but that he will insist
upon doing so. This is a huge development. It may mean that, instead of
a national security team dominated by a single personality, whose
principal product would likely be a homogenized
lowest-common-denominator of policy mush, the new president will get the
benefit of the best, and usually, competing ideas concerning the
formulation and conduct of U.S. defense and foreign affairs.
Such a process can sometimes appear messy to outsiders, as was the
case when Cap Weinberger and George Shultz squared off over arms
control, foreign interventions and other matters during the Reagan
years. But the fact that President-elect Bush has chosen a man who is
“no shrinking violet” to run his Defense Department suggests he himself
will not shrink from the hard facts and the best counsel about how to
deal with them — and that he is willing to allow the dynamic tension
necessary to ensure that’s what he gets.
If Don Rumsfeld is now given a free hand — including in the choice
of personnel to help him — his nomination means that we will not only
have a terrific secretary of defense but, in the incoming president and
vice president, men whose good judgment, self-confidence and secure
personalities are up to the daunting national security and other tasks
that await them.