Don Rumsfeld’s Media Honeymoon

It is good news that President Bush has asked Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld to stay.

If you listen quietly, however, you can almost hear the gnashing of teeth in certain quarters.

David Limbaugh has an excellent piece up about this. I agree wholeheartedly with most of it, save David’s apparent view that Rumsfeld enjoyed a honeymoon with the press after he first took office. As I recall it, the honeymoon began only after 9/11, coinciding with the birth of “Rumstud,” the septuagenarian sex symbol.

To check my memory, I did a quick lookup of articles in the mainstream press between 3/1/2001 and 9/10/01, using only the word “Rumsfeld” as a search term.

The result is not scientific, but I found scant evidence of a pre-9/11 honeymoon:

Rumsfeld: Older but Wiser? The infighter who tried to change the Pentagon has failed so far. Here’s why (Time Magazine 8/27/01):

In seven months as Pentagon chief, Rumsfeld has managed to spook the military, alienate defense contractors, mobilize much of Capitol Hill against him — and even make some in the White House question his toughness.

Rumsfeld on High Wire of Defense Reform; Military Brass, Conservative Lawmakers Are Among Secretive Review’s Unexpected Critics (Washington Post, May 20, 2001):

In his first four months at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld… [has] rallied an unlikely collection of critics, ranging from conservative members of Congress and his predecessor as defense secretary to some of the generals who work for him. In dozens of interviews, those people expressed deep concern that Rumsfeld has acted imperiously, kept some of the top brass in the dark and failed to maintain adequate communications with Capitol Hill.

‘He’s blown off the Hill, he’s blown off the senior leaders in the military, and he’s blown off the media,’ said Thomas Donnelly, a defense expert at the conservative Project for the New American Century. ‘Is there a single group he’s reached out to?’

… Many of those interviewed said they are worried that the future of the [military] institution to which they have devoted their adult lives is being decided without them. One senior general unfavorably compared Rumsfeld’s stewardship of the Pentagon with Colin L. Powell’s performance as secretary of state. ‘Mr. Powell is very inclusive, and Mr. Rumsfeld is the opposite,’ said the general, who knows both men. “We’ve been kept out of the loop.’

Added another senior officer: ‘The fact is, he is disenfranchising people.’

Some noted that the Bush administration came into office vowing to restore the military’s trust in its civilian overseers. ‘Everyone in the military voted for these guys, and now they feel like they aren’t being trusted,’ a Pentagon official said.

The Army, which has the reputation of being the most doggedly obedient of all the services, appears to be closest to going into opposition against the new regime. Army generals are especially alarmed…

If anything, Rumsfeld’s relations with Capitol Hill have been even more tumultuous…

For Rumsfeld, Many Roadblocks; Miscues — and Resistance — Mean Defense Review May Produce Less Than Promised (Washington Post, 8/7/01):

…six months into an administration that campaigned on a promise to rebuild the military, Rumsfeld’s ambitious plans are under fire from all sides….

“There’s a strong sense of alienation between the uniformed leadership and the civilians,” said retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who supported Bush during the campaign.

Why someone as savvy as Rumsfeld is having such difficulty has become a major topic of conversation at the Pentagon and in national security circles…

‘How bad is it? I think it is pretty bad,’ said Larry Seaquist, who worked in the Cheney-era Pentagon. Seaquist said that senior career officials at the Pentagon, who had expected to work with professionals, ‘now fear they’re shackled to incompetence.’

…Others argue… the new administration picked the wrong people for the Pentagon. Some people criticize Rumsfeld personally, saying he was not heavily involved during the campaign in formulating the Bush defense policy he was later asked to carry out. Others point to Rumsfeld’s failure to recruit Richard L. Armitage for the No. 2 job at the Defense Department…

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Rumsfeld’s second tour at the Pentagon has been his sour relationship with Congress — not just with the Democratic-controlled Senate but also with Republicans in both chambers…”

Rumsfeld’s Overhaul Struggle (Newsday 5/28/2001):

More and more, Rumsfeld appear[s] to be isolated, and [Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI)] has questioned whether he is in over his head. That image has blunted Rumsfeld’s reputation as a decisive corporate executive with personal experience in Congress, the White House and as Pentagon chief during the Ford administration.

Levin, who is opposed to defense increases that will jeopardize social programs, seemed to take the wind from Rumsfeld’s sails after the committee meeting last Thursday. ‘I don’t have a good grasp of where the secretary is headed,” Levin said. “I don’t think the secretary has a good grasp of where the secretary is headed.’

Why the Hawks Are Carpet-Bombing Rumsfeld (Business Week 8-06-2001):

When George W. Bush unveiled his Administration team, three Washington veterans stood out as guaranteed superstars: Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Six months in, two of the three have lived up to expectations. Then there’s Rumsfeld.

But inside a May 25, 2001 Washington Post story containing ample quotes from Rumsfeld’s critics was this, three and a half months before 9/11:

To convey his view of the world, and especially of the necessity to change the military to meet the threats of the 21st century, Rumsfeld distributed to [Senators on the Armed Services Committee] a four-page handout. A major theme was the inevitability of strategic surprise — the notion that threats will come from unexpected directions.

‘History should compel planners to humbly acknowledge that 2015 will almost certainly be little like today and certainly notably different from what today’s experts are confidently forecasting,’ the document said. ‘And recent events suggest that [the Department of Defense] at least give some thought to the flexibility of a capability-based strategy, as opposed to simply a threat-based strategy.’

That jargon-laden sentence basically means that the U.S. military needs to move away from a Cold War structure designed to counter one large, clear threat — from the Soviet Union — and to develop capabilities to respond to everything from ballistic missiles to terrorist attacks.

Sounds like Rumsfeld hit the nail on the head with that one.

David Limbaugh says he admires Rumsfeld — that it “takes mighty broad shoulders to agree to put up with what promises to be more abuse from these armchair quarterbacking naysayers. But Rumsfeld strikes me as a guy who doesn’t require the slightest approval from these lightweight know-nothings whose seeming mission in life is to second guess and ridicule him.” On these core points, I could not agree with David more.

Addendum: David Limbaugh has added a note to his post on the media honeymoon point. It appears he and I are now in complete agreement. (Thanks for the note, David.)

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