Colonels' Corner: Rumsfeld In the Crosshairs

October 6, 2006

One Republican who is likely relieved about the Foley scandal and Hastert's subsequent problems is Donald Rumsfeld. Their problems have at least taken his name off of the front page — for now, at least. It was only two weeks ago that the front pages of prominent newspapers were talking about calls for his resignation. With midterm elections looming, it was a bandwagon many politicians began embracing, some even joining the ranks of others who had been calling for his resignation for a long time. And it wasn't just Democrats who had the bullhorns; a few Republicans were in the fray as well. Moreover, the calls were also coming from retired military generals. The chorus' calls have many reasons, but most revolve around our seemingly endless problems in Iraq. Unfortunately for Rumsfeld, and indeed for our many men and women still serving there, those problems don't seem to be going away.

As a quick reminder, Rumsfeld came into the job several months before 9/11. He was picked for the job because the new president had campaigned on a national security platform whose hallmark was that of building a missile defense system to deter future threats from rogue nations, like North Korea and Iran. Rumsfeld had just chaired a prestigious commission to study the problem, and that, together with his aerospace industry experience as a chief executive and his previous service as a secretary of defense, made him the ideal candidate to carry out the new administration's program. But things turned sour rather quickly. In the months before 9/11, shortly after taking the job, there were already calls for Rumsfeld's resignation and ongoing speculation in Washington, D.C., newspapers about who possible replacements were. Rumsfeld's abrupt and domineering style was already making its mark and having its impact — a negative one.

Now, as the situation in Iraq continues to stumble along with few real signs of viable progress, Rumsfeld remains in the crosshairs. To be sure, he had his moments of glory after the Taliban were quickly defeated and in the celebration of the fall of Baghdad. But since then, it's been a slow, but ever-increasing tailspin for him. Against that backdrop, Rumsfeld is repeatedly accused of arrogance and incompetence over his handling of the war. Perhaps equally important, he steadfastly refuses to accept any leadership blame for the war's failings. Contrition is clearly not one of the secretary's visible attributes.

Interestingly, though, while the focus on Rumsfeld continues to be the problems in Iraq, there is a second side of his performance which remains out of sight — his willingness to make bold decisions about the deployment of special operations forces and intelligence operatives around the world. Like virtually no secretary of defense before him, Rumsfeld has fully recognized the importance and capabilities of these forces, and has been willing to employ them in a bold fashion. Such deployments are central to our long-term success in the global war on terror, and in most cases, the fruits of these deployments won't be realized for years, if at all.

Moreover, Rumsfeld has emplaced significant changes, which allow military intelligence to operate on a more timely and productive basis. Most importantly, he moved forcefully to allow military intelligence operations to be initiated without the previously required approval of the Central Intelligence Agency, where approval was often hard to get. That step alone unshackled military intelligence in a fashion like no other.

However, Rumsfeld's remodeling of defense intelligence and his willingness to put special operations forces and intelligence assets further forward in the battle against global terrorists aren't likely to be part of his lasting legacy. Neither will missile defense. In the final analysis, win or lose, Secretary Rumsfeld will be remembered for Iraq above all other things.

Secretary Rumsfeld comes from the corporate world, where CEOs who fail are replaced by pressure from disgruntled shareholders. Interestingly enough, CEOs who succeed are most often those who ferret out what ails their corporations, and then get them back on track. Constant analysis, evaluation, and course shifting when necessary are the cornerstones of a successful corporation. Unfortunately, they've not been the cornerstones of Rumsfeld's tenure as secretary of defense. He was secretary when Vietnam fell. It may be time for him to go before Iraq, too, falls into the "lost" column.

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.