Rums­feld out, Gates in

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pres­i­dent Bush and the in­com­ing Demo­cratic con­gres­sional lead­er­ship are headed for a col­li­sion over Iraq. Pres­i­dent Bush says he con­tin­ues to be com­mit­ted to vic­tory in Iraq; the Democrats seek an exit from Iraq which does not nec­es­sar­ily fol­low vic­tory. The man­age­ment of this col­li­sion will be the first chal­lenge of the new sec­re­tary of de­fense, re­plac­ing Don­ald Rums­feld. Af­ter what we hope will be a swift con­fir­ma­tion, Robert Gates, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the CIA and the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, will face an in­tense two years dur­ing which suc­cess on the ground in Iraq will be his ul­ti­mate test.

We are con­fi­dent that Mr. Rums­feld will be re­mem­bered among the best sec­re­taries of de­fense of our time. The con­tin­u­ing vi­o­lence in Iraq prompts many crit­ics to con­clude that he is a failed sec­re­tary whose tac­ti­cal mis­judg­ments, rows with gen­er­als and fail­ure to fore­see the re- silience of Iraq’s in­sur­gency are to be his lega­cies. We think not. His­tory will judge, but even at the nadir of Mr. Rums­feld’s pop­u­lar­ity we see im­por­tant achieve­ments that his de­trac­tors min­i­mize for rea­sons of con­ve­nience, po­lit­i­cal ef­fect or my­opia.

Mr. Rums­feld en­gi­neered the top­pling of the Tal­iban in Afghanistan, re­mov­ing a dan­ger­ous haven of al Qaeda and in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism from which the mur­der­ers of Septem­ber 11 drew aid, com­fort and safe har­bor. Mr. Rums­feld drew de­served praise for or­ches­trat­ing a swift and suc­cess­ful de­cap­i­ta­tion of a blood­thirsty Iraqi dic­ta­tor­ship, which some have called the most ef­fi­cient com­plex mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion ever.

His rows with the gen­er­als were hon­or­able and nec­es­sary. Find­ing wartime ex­cel­lence among the many Wash­ing­ton peace­time gen­er­als was — and re­mains — vi­tal. Three or four stars plus cock­tail­party skills do not nec­es­sar­ily equate with wartime lead­er­ship abil­ity.

The man’s lesser-noted ac­com­plish­ments are con­sid­er­able. Mr. Rums­feld presided over a mil­i­tary trans­for­ma­tion aimed at de­vel­op­ing sys­tems for a lighter, faster, less man­power-in­ten­sive mil­i­tary and which try to max­i­mize the na­tion­alse­cu­rity ben­e­fit of the United States’ tech­no­log­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity — a process which has gen­er­ated its own mo­men­tum. His suc­ces­sor will need to con­tinue build­ing on that. He presided over the re­vamp­ing of the Pen­tagon’s per­son­nelman­age­ment sys­tems and the dis­card­ing of weapons sys­tems ill-suited for the ir­reg­u­lar and asym­met­ric war­fare of the age of ter­ror­ism.

Mr. Rums­feld’s record on post-in­va­sion Iraq hangs on a res­o­lu­tion to the cur­rent war. Just about ev­ery­thing de­pends on what the com­ing months of the new and volatile po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in Wash­ing­ton bring once he’s gone. If the prob­lems in Iraq are re­solved, fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will see things very dif­fer­ently than his con­tem­po­rary crit­ics do. A large num­ber of the sec­re­tary’s Iraq prob­lems re­late to di­vided author­ity over gov­ern­ment func­tions in Iraq. One day the U.S. gov­ern­ment must see the wis­dom of hav­ing a gen­uine pro-con­sul with unity of author­ity.

Bob Gates is a ded­i­cated pub­lic ser­vant whom the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion is en­trust­ing much of its legacy. His decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in intelligence and na­tional se­cu­rity, his fair­ness and metic­u­lous­ness, his skill­ful­ness as a man­ager of large bu­reau­cra­cies and his bi­par­ti­san ap­peal are valu­able at­tributes a suc­ces­sor needs to move for­ward ef­fec­tively. His acu­men in intelligence earned through years of ded­i­cated la­bor opens doors and mit­i­gates in­ter­a­gency ten­sions.

This is a try­ing time for those who care about Amer­i­can na­tional se­cu­rity. Mr. Gates de­serves con­fir­ma­tion, and quickly.

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