Mr. Rumsfeld's memoir "Known and Unknown" is a fascinating book stretching from his childhood during the dark days of World War Two through his time as Secretary of Defense during the Global War on Terror. Many people may know him through his time as something of a media darling during the early months of Operation Enduring Freedom when he gave entertaining performances at Pentagon press conferences. Of course what the media gives it takes away and with the incidents surrounding the Iraqi prison at Abu Graib he became the embodiment of everything that was supposedly wrong with the Bush administration in general and the prosecution of the war in particular.
Mr. Rumsfeld had made enemies at the Pentagon however, long before he made enemies in the press. His straight forward, probing manner could be abrasive to some, but the real problem many in the senior military had with him is that he tried to end business as usual. The relative calm of the 1990's had resulted in a peace time, increasingly politically correct military content to ride the post Cold War wave into the 21st century without seriously reconsidering its own state of affairs. When President Bush directed Secretary Rumsfeld to conduct reviews in anticipation of his policy of transformation the brass began to resist.
Monday, December 12, 2011
The Pentagon has been at the epicenter of the war against militant Islamism since the morning of September 11, 2001. It also finds itself in the middle of an ongoing and evolving “transformation.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld opened the Office of Force Transformation at the Pentagon in October 2001. However, as the first term of the Bush administration began to take shape in early 2001 the Pentagon thought it would have years of relative peace and quiet to implement its long-term plans for transforming the U.S. military. Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and smaller operations around the world have both interrupted and instigated various aspects of the ongoing program.
The program can be broken down into three major divisions: bureaucratic reform, technological improvements and evolutions in doctrine, strategy and tactics. The biggest obstacle that stands in the way of a truly transformed military is not the war on terror or funding shortfalls but the mindset of many of the Pentagon’s leaders. We can call this bureaucratic, institutionalized and sometimes narrow way of thinking “Pentagonism.” Just one small example of this is the infighting between the Army and Air Force over allocation and operational control of the limited number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs.) The competition for these platforms underscores another problem within the Pentagon culture that has trickled down to some extent at least into the officer corps and enlisted ranks.
Technology is widely seen as a, if not the indispensable factor that separates us from our enemies and ensures victory over their less sophisticated ways. You see this mentality in the constant requests for more UAVs, more close air support of ground units, more stand off munitions and more networked computer systems. The UAVs are a wonderful piece of technology that have saved many American lives and ended many enemy lives, but the constant clamor for more and better ones could serve to undermine the overall tactical savvy of combat units on the ground. An over reliance on them could evoke a mindset and then a doctrine that says we need UAV support to conduct our mission. This position would be self-limiting and ultimately self-defeating. American soldiers in World War Two were well aware that their Sherman tanks were grossly inferior to the German Panzers, but superior numbers of Sherman’s and old-fashioned perseverance carried the day. The U.S. military should not put itself in the position of relying on superior technology in inferior numbers as the Nazi’s did.
In the end technology or more generally raw military power is ultimately not the way the U.S. military will defeat militant Islamism. It will have to be done by brave, tough and well-trained warriors. Americans have not successfully confronted this issue since it was the overwhelming underdog in the Revolutionary War more than 230 years ago. Since its war with British Empire it has tended to rely on overwhelming firepower to win, but as the Vietnam War demonstrated, this was not always a successful doctrine. It is one of the founding principles of the Army Special Forces that people are more valuable than technology.