Beltway Backbiting Won't Restrain Rumsfeld

The press calls constantly these days to ask me about the rift within the Bush national security team.

What had been deemed the "jewel in the crown" of this Bush administration — what the press once dubbed the finest assemblage of foreign policy talent since the Truman administration — seems wracked by divisions.

Newt Gingrich (search), so adept at tossing verbal grenades, launched a veritable bunker-buster last week against the State Department. Appearing on Capital Gang last week, I had to counter panelist Al Hunt's claim that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must have put Gingrich up to the diplomat-bashing.

Having worked for Rumsfeld three times in my life (beginning in 1970) and having shared sundry trips and evenings with him and his family for 30-plus years, I know that Rumsfeld's not like that.

He dislikes personal assaults, and never operates indirectly. When he disagrees with someone, he does it directly and strongly — but always on the policy, never on the personality.

In his memoirs, Henry Kissinger dubbed Rumsfeld a black belt in bureaucratic warfare. That's simply because Rumsfeld won direct confrontations with him on two of the biggest national security issues of the Ford administration — deep-sixing the SALT II (search) accords and promoting cruise missiles.

When Rumsfeld was the youngest secretary of defense — he's now the oldest — he foreshadowed his current campaign of "transforming the military" by dealing forcefully with foot-dragging bureaucrats and political opponents of a remarkably innovative weapons system.

Back in 1975 and 1976 (when I served as his assistant in the Pentagon), Rumsfeld championed the advent of cruise missiles. Since then, they have become the weapon of choice of presidents from Reagan through Bush II, and formed an essential part of the "shock and awe" of the recent Iraq war.

So it's hard now to remember the domestic attack upon this attack system. But back then, the Joint Chiefs of Staff — under the capable but often loose-lipped Gen. George S. Brown (search) — claimed that the Chiefs could identify "no military mission" for cruise missiles.

Rumsfeld sure did, and pushed doggedly for their development.

What the military brass under Rumsfeld was reluctant to develop, the diplomats and arms controllers around them were eager to trade away. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his arms negotiators claimed that cruise missiles needed to be "limited" — arms control-ese for "eliminated" — for a SALT II deal and cozier relations with the Soviets.

Kissinger claimed, with some reason, that if the military wasn't keen to build cruise missiles, he could at least trade them away to the Soviets for something valuable in return.

Hence key Nixon aides — none of whom had ever actually run for elected office — pushed SALT II for political reasons. If completed by that summer of 1976, the accord would, they figured, help President Ford win the election against novice Jimmy Carter that November.

Rumsfeld, having won repeatedly in a tough congressional district, countered this conventional political wisdom.

"I don't think that SALT, or any major negotiations with the Soviet Union, ought to be premised on a timetable that fits our elections," he declared publicly at the time.

Because Rumsfeld outmaneuvered Kissinger and other opponents within that administration, SALT II was left unconsummated.

More critically, cruise missiles were left unencumbered. Their deployment proceeded, and they became a critical part of the transformed military over the subsequent three decades.

Rumsfeld was just as tenacious and determined to make a difference this time around. And what a difference he's already made!

Liberating two dreadful regimes — one an Islamic cleric-ocracy in Afghanistan, which aided and hosted Usama bin Laden and his fanatical crowd. And the other, a secular Islamic regime of the vile Saddam Hussein.

The twin evils of the Islamic world were removed with a transforming U.S. military minimizing both civilian and coalition lives.

These stellar successes would normally be enough to satisfy anyone. But that's not Rumsfeld's way. Today, he no doubt sees, not the historic accomplishments he's already made, but how much more needs to be done to keep America strong and free.

Today's inside-Washington carping may be an irritant. But it sure won't be a deterrent to such a man.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of