A Military Ramble

Steve Clemons, author of the fine new blog “The Washington Note”:http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/, makes a “strong case”:http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/000023.html that Democrats are wrong to criticize Bush’s military realignment plan, on both grounds of substance and campaign strategy. Certainly there are grounds for complaint due to the unilateral way it was conducted, but overall he thinks it’s a good idea. He also argues that the focus on East Asian troops should be on Japan and Okinawa more than South Korea.

Go ahead and read his piece for more details; I bring it up because it reminded me of how I once liked Donald Rumsfeld.

Bear with me. As with most of Bush’s cabinet appointments, I was disappointed with the choice of Rumsfeld at first, though I sympathized with his conviction that America should have a smaller, more agile military. It has been increasingly clear that a big part of Rumsfeld’s idea involves farming out as much as possible to private contractors, something _don’t_ agree with — but I’m definitely on board with the basic idea that a smaller, more mobile force is far preferable to the masses of troops and foreign bases that we have now.

After September 11, everyone in the Administration got a clean slate from me. Like everyone, I suppose, I wanted and needed our leaders to be strong and good at this time. And, in retrospect, they were neither. But there was a span of time in there, from the aftermath through the war in Afghanistan, where reporters really _would_ be asking Rumsfeld dumb questions, and his bluntness with them came off as refreshing. That’s when I liked him. Needless to say, it didn’t last.

Fast forward to the Iraq War. Rumsfeld’s OSD ignored both the recommendations of the “Future of Iraq Project”:http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200401/fallows and his own generals and sent in enough troops to win the day but not to secure the peace. We’ve been dealing with the consequences ever since. It seems that part of the reason he insisted on a smaller force was to make some sort of point about how a leaner, meaner military could function. Me, I had taken it for granted that a smaller, more agile force would, by definition, not get into the business of invading other countries in the first place.

Just because the the whole “leaner, meaner” principle was tragically applied to the wrong situation — the full-scale occupation of another nation — isn’t a critique of the principle, but of its application. And just because Rumsfeld stands behind the principle doesn’t automatically make it wrong (though, granted, that’s seeming like a prudent default assumption). Similarly, even if Bush is announcing troop rollbacks with crass electoral timing, and without consultation with allies, it doesn’t mean that base realignment itself is a bad idea.

Kerry’s response to all this was more nuanced than Clark’s — as Clemons notes, Clark said that the proposal would “significantly undermine U.S. national security.” Kerry said that the proposal was presented at the wrong time and in the wrong way. It would have been better, though, to embrace the proposal and present clear statements on how to do it even better, rather than fall into the familiar campaign season pattern of automatic contrarianism.