Beauty of Gray

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The Rumsfeld memo

I was reading the recently released memo by Donald Rumsfeld, which has gotten mixed but generally positive reviews. But, while I do agree that the leaders at the DoD are looking at some of these angles, one rather dissonant note jumped out at me, and made me wonder if Rumsfeld has learned anything at all. Is this really a change, or this just another example of the same old MO?

Let’s go to the tape. Early in the memo, Rumsfeld writes:

It is not possible to change DoD fast enough to successfully fight the global war on terror; an alternative might be to try to fashion a new institution, either within DoD or elsewhere — one that seamlessly focuses the capabilities of several departments and agencies on this key problem.

However, just a few paragraphs down, he writes:

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror.

So, he’s saying we have no way to measure the actual progress we are making in battling terrorism. However, despite the fact that we can’t quantify our efforts at all, he does know that the DoD must be revamped to face this threat, because it is ineffective at dealing with it.

Now, it is possible for these two viewpoints to both be simply true—to recognize a problem and, without really knowing how to solve it, know that some existing organization is not suitable for it. But given the fact that Rumsfeld’s biggest hobby horse since becoming Secretary of Defense has been to institute a revolution in military affairs, to reshape the armed forces for the future, my cynical side is suspicious. Is this on the up-an-up, or is it one more example where the desired endstate is known in advance, and then a justification for pursuing that course is trumped up.

It’s how Rumsfeld operated in dealing with the invasion of Iraq. On 9-12 he was already set on invading them, and told his intelligence analysis to go find him justifications. Now, conveniently, yet another of his long-time dreams—a faster, more responsive military arm--magically happens to be a vital part of the war on terrorism.

At the very least, it looks like Rumsfeld is looking for some way to work around the existing military hierarchy, in much the same way that he formed his own intelligence office to work around the existing bureaucracy at the CIA, which had an irritating habit of disagreeing with him. In this case, he may be right, but from this perspective it looks less like a new approach and more like the same old "my way or the highway" frustration with existing institutions.

The rest of the memo, though, I found interesting. And I think the second quote above, about metrics, is a big issue, and a very tough problem. One which I may write more about soon, if I can think of anything worth saying.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:06 PM

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