home > archive > 2004 > this article
The man behind the war
By Steven Martinovich
It's remarkable to think that prior to joining the George W. Bush administration that Donald Rumsfeld was an unknown quantity to many people. Rumsfeld had began his political career in the early 1960s as a member of Congress and served in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, including a stint as America's youngest secretary of defense. Since September 11, 2001, however, Rumsfeld has become popular with the American public for his no nonsense attitude and defined himself as a reformer of the military and a leader in the war on terrorism.
Rowan Scarborough's Rumsfeld's War: The Untold Story of America's Anti-Terrorist Commander goes behind the scenes to explore the way that Rumsfeld has prosecuted the war and the challenges he has faced along the way. Utilizing classified documents, Scarborough paints a picture of a single-minded man who has dedicated himself to battling terrorists and anyone who gets in his way to achieving victory.
Those struggles included the military establishment, which, like every other government organization, was a slow moving bureaucracy. Rumsfeld returned to public life with the stated goal of reforming the military and turning it into body capable of rapid action. The events of September 11, 2001 added urgency to that mission. Scarborough recounts how Rumsfeld convinced senior military staff to begin employing their special operations units -- such as the Green Berets, Delta Force and Navy SEALs -- in the war against terrorism. Rumsfeld's ultimate goal was create a military structure that allowed the United States to be proactive against terrorist threats, not merely respond after the fact.
Rumsfeld's other challenges were in the White House and against people like National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rumsfeld is of the opinion, as Secretary of Defense, that the war on terrorism was his responsibility, a belief that wasn't universal in the days after the terrorist attacks. Those clashes occasionally erupted onto the pages of America's newspapers as everyone fought to protect what they viewed as their turf. History, and Rumsfeld's War, records that it was the defense secretary who came out on top.
Rumsfeld's greatest contribution, however, may have been his belief that terrorism was not a question of law enforcement. The new goal was to kill terrorists, not capture them. That attitude was best typified when Rumsfeld asked now retired Air Force general and former Special Operations Command chief Charles Holland, "Have you killed anyone yet?" Those unable to answer the question to Rumsfeld's satisfaction, such as Holland, typically found themselves reassigned. Under Rumsfeld's watch the American military was loosed to bring the war to the terrorists.
While Rumsfeld's War is a valuable contribution to the growing library documenting the Bush administration, it also suffers from occasionally turning hagiographic and not fully fleshing out how Rumsfeld came to believe what he does. While Scarborough does explore Rumsfeld's life in and out of public life, including his successful career as a chief executive at G.D. Searle & Company -- the corporation responsible for Metamucil and aspartame -- little time is spent on the decades it must have took Rumsfeld to design and hone his philosophy. As James Mann's recently released The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet illustrates, the roots of the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism goes back to the early 1970s.
Those warts aside, Rumsfeld's War is an interesting look at Rumsfeld, how he is guiding the war on terrorism and the challenges the United States faces. It's undeniable that many Americans are opposed to how the Bush administration has reacted to the events of September 11, 2001. It's almost impossible, however, not to admire the sense of purpose that Donald Rumsfeld has brought to the fight. As Scarborough argues, Rumsfeld may very well be the right man at the right time.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
Buy Rumsfeld's War: The Untold Story of America's Anti-Terrorist Commander at Amazon.com for only $19.57 (30% off)
Other related articles: (open in a new window)
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2018, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.