Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Rumsfeld Leak

There's considerable debate, especially over at Lieutenant Smash, about the propriety of journalists reporting on an internal Department of Defense memo listing self-examinatory questions on the War on Terror. The memorandum from Secretary Rumsfeld  lists out what may need to be improved in the US defense establishment in order to effectively combat terrorism. It appears to have been addressed to a key inner circle concerned with these issues:

The memo was sent to Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of Defense for policy.

The key point of the memorandum is that the US military may be too conventional to combat small groups of terrorists; spending "billions" to counter an opponent's efforts worth "millions". It also worries whether America is doing enough to counter Islamic militancy as an idea.

Rumsfeld asks whether the Defense Department is moving fast enough to adapt to fighting terrorists and whether the United States should create a private foundation to entice radical Islamic schools to a "more moderate course." Rumsfeld says the schools, known as madrassas, may be churning out new terrorists faster than the United States can kill or capture them.

The issue of whether or how the leakers should be tracked down will not be the subject of this post.

But it is not exactly true, as White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, that this self-questioning is "exactly what a strong and capable secretary of defense like Secretary Rumsfeld should be doing" -- it is what the nation should be doing, and it is not. The truly disturbing aspect of this memorandum is that Rumsfeld's transformational efforts were directed to a relatively small group of people. For many Congressmen and Senators, who ultimately determine what the military buys, national defense is still about jobs generated by Cold War bases and pork-barrel weapons projects, not about winning the war against a shadowy enemy. That attitude is probably shared by a plethora of defense contractors and career officers whose prospects would suffer should some of the Rumsfeld questions be answered forthrightly.

There is also the issue of whether Rumsfeld, like Jackie Fisher in an earlier era, may carry his zeal for change too far. Just as Admiral Fisher, in remaking the British Royal Navy for the age of battleship warfare, went a step too far in advocating the fragile battlecruiser design, configuring the US military to fight terrorism may ignore the fact that it may still be called upon to fight conventionally, both in the Middle East and in the Korean peninsula.

It is the mark of Liberal empty-headedness that the Rumsfeld memorandum should be simply regarded as revealing "significant doubts about progress in the struggle against terrorists", the kind of mentality that would have observed that lifeboats are smaller than the Titanic, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to debate how best to defeat an enemy that would first kill us, then pervert our children. Note to Rummy: address the memo to the American people.