Courtesy Reuters

A Tale of Two Secretaries


It takes remarkably little time for a Washington witticism to become a cliche. Such has been the case recently with the quip that Donald Rumsfeld may not have been a very good secretary of defense, but he is a remarkable secretary of war.

In early September 2001, the Defense Department looked to be in poor shape. Since Rumsfeld had taken over, there had been much talk of "defense transformation" -- the successor term for the "revolution in military affairs," a supposedly new way of waging war -- but little evidence of it. Senior military officers, excluded from early studies arranged by the new secretary, grumbled to the press that the Bush administration was treating them even worse than the Clinton administration had. This discontent may have reflected naive expectations that the Republicans would show up with genial smiles and open wallets, but the friction was real -- as was the irritation of many on Capitol Hill and in the press who were put off by Rumsfeld's caustic style.

A planned $18 billion increase in the defense budget, meanwhile, most of it earmarked for personnel costs and not envisioned as part of a series of further increases, fell far short of what many felt was needed to make up for the shortfalls of the previous several years. Difficult decisions such as the cancellations of major weapon systems appeared necessary yet were not forthcoming. In the works was a Quadrennial Defense Review that spoke of shifting away from a narrowly defined set of two major contingencies as the chief planning construct for the Pentagon, but there did not seem to be much of a link between words and programs.

Then came September 11. From the moment the secretary dashed out of the burning Pentagon to rescue wounded subordinates, perceptions of his leadership reversed. In a time of war, Rumsfeld's disagreeable brusqueness appeared as refreshing honesty; his uncomfortably hard edge became the kind of resolution required of a leader; his willingness to badger his

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