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The recent calls for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to step down provide a good opportunity to step back and review his record from the last four years.
Shortly after Mr. Rumsfeld began what would be his second tour of duty as secretary of defense, he made it clear that he would do what it takes to begin transforming the military and its supporting bureaucracies into a force capable of meeting the threats of the 21st century. In his 2001 Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Rumsfeld testified, “The old deterrence of the Cold War era is imperfect for dissuading the threats of the 21st century and for maintaining stability our new security environment.”
In the face of enormous internal opposition, Mr. Rumsfeld, who under President Gerald Ford directed a military that stood ready to face the might of the Warsaw Pact, began in the summer of 2001 to transform the defense bureaucracy by forcing it to recognize that the Cold War was over. He then began implementing the changes necessary to reflect that reality.
Most notably, he undertook an extraordinarily complicated set of negotiations with our allies to move forces from obsolete and expensive Cold War positions in Europe and East Asia to much more useful and less expensive positions from where they can be more effective in defending America.
Just eight short months into the new Bush administration and just weeks after Mr. Rumsfeld’s Defense Department transformation plan had begun, the United States was attacked on 9/11.
By now the response to that attack is well known. Mr. Rumsfeld took control and led the remarkably successful campaign in Afghanistan, which led in short order to the defeat of the Taliban and the destruction of its terrorist training camps.
Even during ongoing military campaigns, Mr. Rumsfeld never wavered from his transformational objectives. In the summer of 2003, in order to accelerate transformation in the Army, he brought Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker out of retirement to become Army chief of staff. Mr. Rumsfeld, with the brilliant leadership of General Schoomaker, was able to move personnel from noncombat to combat units, enabling them with additional reorganization to create 15 newly restructured combat brigades.
Also, because of Mr. Rumsfeld’s successful plan, our military is more flexible, more agile and better able to fight unconventional enemies.
A new civilian personnel system was designed to reward merit, reduce force stress and replace a bureaucratic culture of risk aversion with one of innovation.
Moreover, he was able to move military personnel out of jobs that should be and are now held by civilians. Under this reorganization, Army troop levels increased (by 30,000), as did the number of combat brigades (from 10 to 15), making a draft unnecessary despite some critics’ claims that one was imminent.
At the same time, Mr. Rumsfeld directed the global war on terrorism through the Special Operations Command. The effort has helped other countries hunt down, capture or kill terrorists in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Yemen, Pakistan and dozens of other countries. The combined effort has resulted in three-fourths of al-Qaida’s senior leadership being killed or captured, while the organization’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden, remains a powerless international fugitive (probably hiding in Pakistan).
Finally, there is the question of Iraq. The military performed brilliantly in the 23-day campaign led by Gen. Tommy Franks that defeated the dangerous Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Today, Mr. Rumsfeld is working closely with the ambassador to Iraq, John D. Negroponte, to help create an interim government, build up the Iraq military and help Iraqis regain control over their own country.
Yet Mr. Rumsfeld is being used as a target by those who either oppose American military involvement in Iraq or lack the ability to understand or communicate the difficulty and the importance of defeating the insurgency inside Iraq and creating a stable elected government.
Mr. Rumsfeld, standing on his remarkable record of achievement, is far too effective a defense secretary for any serious student of recent American history to think that he should be replaced.
With Mr. Rumsfeld at the helm, the U.S. military has defeated two terrorist regimes, giving more than 50 million people a chance at freedom.
Ten million Afghans, 40 percent of whom were women who under the Taliban had no rights, voted in the free election of their first popularly elected national leader.
In Iraq, while Mr. Hussein sits in jail awaiting trial, tens of thousands of Iraqis are being trained and equipped to reclaim control of their country as the Iraqi people prepare to vote in their first free elections, planned for January 30.
In addition, the most compelling reason to keep Mr. Rumsfeld as secretary of defense may simply be that there has not been another attack on our homeland since 9/11.
Mr. Rumsfeld’s critics are off the mark. The military, under Mr. Rumsfeld’s leadership, is our finest example of what works.
Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a senior fellow at AEI.
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