Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's private assessment of our war on terror sounds strikingly like that of his critics.
In an internal memo leaked last week, Rumsfeld stated flatly that the Defense Department cannot possibly change fast enough to win the war on terrorism. After two years of war, we've had only mixed success against al-Qaida, he wrote, and terrorist groups may be recruiting new members faster than we can kill or capture them.
"The cost-benefit ratio is against us!" the memo read. "Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions."
Now, there are a couple of ways to react to that harshly honest assessment. One approach would be to apply the rhetoric of the right, which, to paraphrase my e-mail, would go something like this:
"Rumsfeld just hates America. And he hates President Bush. Doesn't he know about all the schools we're reopening in Iraq? Doesn't he watch Fox News? How dare he!"
The issues raised by Rumsfeld are serious, though, because they cut to the core of the challenge facing the United States. For example, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a respected British think tank specializing in security issues, reports that 18,000 veterans of al-Qaida's Afghan training camps remain free. In addition, it warns, "war in Iraq has probably inflamed radical passions among Muslims and thus increased al-Qaida's recruiting power and morale and, at least marginally, its operational capability."
Rumsfeld's musings suggest a new realization that tanks, jets and cruise missiles are inadequate weapons against terrorism. Noting that the United States is putting "relatively little effort into a long-range plan," he wonders whether an entirely new organization might be required.
The answer is probably yes, and Rumsfeld's own words suggest why. In listing tactics to employ against terrorists, he writes only of "capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading" them. Those steps are absolutely necessary once terrorists have been created, but they are merely defensive in nature, intended to prevent terrorists from doing damage. Seizing the offensive means eliminating the political, cultural and economic conditions that create terrorists in the first place.
As Rumsfeld suggests, the Defense Department simply isn't capable of that complex, multifaceted chore. It exists to kill people, not to make peace. The entire regular-Army civil affairs effort -- the folks charged with remaking a country after war -- amounts to a single battalion. Likewise, the Army's Peacekeeping Institute, charged with thinking through the challenges of postwar governance and reconstruction, has a staff of only 10 and a budget of $200,000, and as recently as this summer was slated to be eliminated.
Fortunately, that decision is now being reconsidered. Rumsfeld and others are coming to understand that "mission accomplished" does not mean the mere removal of the previous government, but rather the establishment of a decent replacement. In his memo, Rumsfeld suggests that the anti-terror campaign might best be handled by an institution "that seamlessly focuses the capabilities of several departments and agencies."
William Flavin, a retired lieutenant colonel and a professor at the Peacekeeping Institute, makes a similar point in the fall issue of "Parameters," the journal of the Army War College. Postwar nation-building, he writes, requires close coordination of many government agencies. Too often, that cooperation is thwarted when decision-making "is captured by small groups of key individuals who truncate the process, exclude experts (especially those with contrary views), and attempt to gain the president's ear to push their agenda."
That's exactly what happened to the Bush administration.
The National Security Council, headed by Condoleezza Rice, was supposed to coordinate policy; it did not. Bush, who according to Flavin "must provide vision and guidance to limit interagency conflict," failed in his job as well. The resulting vacuum allowed "small groups of key individuals," including Rumsfeld, to dominate, with results that are all too glaring.
© 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution