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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Situation Normal 

I started my career at Salomon Brothers, just past its zenith as a bond trading and investment banking powerhouse. To the extent that a Company can actually breath, Salomon was a fire-breathing, competitive juggernaut. Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker takes some license, but all in all, it's a pretty good reflection of Salomon. And Salomon's number 1 competitive target was Drexel Burnham Lambert, Michael Milken's firm. Oh, the hate was passionate.

Well, in 1989, Drexel was indicted and eventually taken down for all manner of impropriety. And there was much rejoicing around the bullpens of Salomon Brothers. Our nemesis was dead.

One shrewd and experienced Salomon leader counseled the celebrants to zip it up, the news wasn't to be rejoiced. Drexel had driven forward entrepreneurial capital in a way that the traditional Wall Street oligopolists could never fathom. The resulting economic and commercial activity levels -- and all that meant for Wall Street, i.e. increased personal disposable income -- would be sorely missed.

So too might one mourn the retirement of Donald Rumsfeld. I'm with Chester on this one. He was hated and reviled by many congressional Democrats, a lightning rod for all the challenges associated with the War that came after 9/11. But that wasn't all. He was hated by the institutional, bureaucratic military. Ralph Peters, a columnist with whom I often agree, detested Rumsfeld -- his contacts inside the Army routinely lambasted Rumsfeld's style, competence...well, everything about him, really.

He managed to be that person who everybody loves to hate. But remarkably, he stood the test of time, lasting longer in his role as Secretary of Defense than anybody else, ever.

In my judgment, he will be particularly missed by those that value (or should value) civilian control of the military. He was a Marine (correction from commenters - Naval Aviator); he was a CEO; he was incapable of being intimidated by the institutional military. He was equally unimpeachable in the face of the money flows of the military industrial complex General Eisenhower warned about. No amount of brass could mess with Rumsfeld, and that made him an invaluable leader at Defense. On this subject, it may be that TH and I disagree.

One further thought. There is no shortage of schizophrenia on Iraq these days. We want out; we want to redeploy; we want more troops. Rumsfeld accomplished the primary objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq with a modest amount of casualties by any sensible historical comparison. More deployed troops means more dead and wounded ones. Generals don't worry all that much about resource consumption or casualties; they rightly care about objectives. Rumsfeld forced the military leadership to do more with less, including far fewer troops, and fewer casualties, than anybody has ever done. And it is not tautologically true that we would accomplish more with more. It has not been proven so. In Vietnam, we did not capture Ho Chi Minh with many more troops and more casualties. By making the Generals do more with less, we also make the Iraqis do more with less..of ours.

So I will today say I will miss Secretary Rumsfeld. He carried out the President's policies in a way which ensured strong civilian control of the military, allowed the US to achieve its primary objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq and minimized troop footprints and therefore casualties. I hope Secretary Gates and their successors are equally effective.

12 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Nov 14, 05:35:00 PM:

Nitpick: Rumsfeld was a Navy pilot, not a Marine  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Nov 14, 05:51:00 PM:

naval pilot or naval aviator?  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Tue Nov 14, 05:52:00 PM:

I think the Commander in Chief is ultimately responsible for civilian control of the military, and he has been about as detached as any President could be. Perhaps he just doesn't "understand" things? LOL Perhaps his Uncle Dick said "just leave things to Rummy and me...and maybe we'll call Henry Kissinger in and have a little 'no more Saigons' reunion." People act like he was some sort of loose canon. There was no such thing in this current Administration, and people on the right and/or still rationalizing the hell out things since Election Day now want to paint the guy as some sort of modern day Bob McNamara, micromanaging what is now a civil war/Huns vs. Visigoths quagmire (hell, wasn't Saddam Hussein our ally once when Iran was the bad guy?).

That the generals disliked the guy is axiomatic, however, they should despise themselves, as the President truly gave THEM the ball and said run with it while I have a tailgate party in the parking lot and cheer you on. Rummy was just one of the pressbox coaches, not quarterback!

Time to get the whole damn team off the field and pick another sport...  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Nov 14, 05:53:00 PM:

Marine pilots are naval aviators. but his official bio at the DoD puts him in the navy. Nitpick is hereby supported!  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Nov 14, 06:04:00 PM:

Oh jeeze, can Mr Chambers fit any more unfounded cliches in a single post?

My goodness  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Nov 14, 06:56:00 PM:

Maybe there's a minor league for political commentary, where you have to get your cliches in order, as in Bull Durham.

I'm still trying to work out that tailgate-pressbox one to see how it applies. Maybe it needs a sportswriter and some cheerleaders.  

By Blogger DEC, at Tue Nov 14, 08:21:00 PM:

Rumsfeld doesn't remind me of Michael Milken. Rumsfeld reminds me of Preston T. Tucker, entrepreneur and creator of the innovative, unsuccessful 1948 Tucker automobile.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Nov 14, 09:10:00 PM:

There is a difference between civilian control and civilian management. A large proportion of our troubles in SE Asia could be traced back to Washington, not to Beijing, HCM City, or Moscow. I wonder if Rumsfeld was a manager? More than a few of our actions in Iraq since 2004 smell of politics and not of warfare...  

By Anonymous davod, at Wed Nov 15, 08:14:00 AM:

Transformation is dead. Look to the special forces being put back in their box and the resurgence of armor first and large divisions.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Wed Nov 15, 01:55:00 PM:

Don't write off transformation yet. I listened to the Landon Lecture he did right after his retirement announcement, he is a most impressive man and will leave large boots to fill.
Speech link: http://ome.ksu.edu/lectures/landon/past.html  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 15, 04:17:00 PM:

Remember, the Generals who pissed and moaned about Rummy are the ones who were successful in their career advancement under a Clintonian military.

JLW III  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Nov 15, 07:48:00 PM:

True that. We still have a lot of dead weight to jettison from the old military. And they're all in leadership positions now.  

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