- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2000

George W. Bush's selection of Donald Rumsfeld to serve as his defense secretary is momentous, not only because of the extraordinary capabilities the nominee will bring to the job, but because of what this choice says about America's president-elect.

Don Rumsfeld is one of the most accomplished policy practitioners of our time. Like his one-time protege, close friend and colleague, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, he is a seasoned leader. The two share impressive credentials as White House Chiefs of Staff, secretaries of defense and, since leaving Washington years ago, corporate executives in some of the nation's best-run and most lucrative companies.

What is more, Mr. Rumsfeld has remained an active and influential figure in national security affairs. Particularly encouraging is the prospect that his tenure in the Bush II Pentagon will give policy impetus to the work of two congressionally mandated, blue-ribbon commissions he has chaired: the 1998 panel on the ballistic missile threat and the panel currently finishing up its work on space power

• Missile defense: Both the President-elect and his defense secretary-designee underscored at their joint press conference on Dec. 28 the impression the findings of the first Rumsfeld commission had made on them and on the debate about national missile defense.

It is no exaggeration to say that, thanks to Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership, that debate has been wholly transformed by the bipartisan panel's unanimous finding that contrary to claims by the Clinton administration and its politicized intelligence community the United States is indeed at risk of missile attack from rogue states like North Korea, Iran and Iraq, as well as from Russia and China. This was an extraordinary accomplishment, noteworthy as Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, has observed, both for the commonsensical approach it took to the available evidence, and for the virtually immediate turnaround it caused the CIA to make when its contention that such threats would not emerge for at least 15 years became untenable.

In the wake of the Rumsfeld Commission's report in July 1998 and its validation one month later by a long-range, three-stage missile launch over Japan by North Korea, the Congress adopted by overwhelming majorities legislation making it U.S. policy to deploy effective national missile defenses as soon as technologically possible. This creates the bipartisan basis for Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to fulfill the president-elect's campaign promise to do just that: On Inauguration Day, the new president should announce that, in six-months' time, he will begin deploying such a global anti-missile system aboard existing Navy Aegis ships.

In this fashion, the incoming administration can get defenses that leading Republicans and Democrats alike agree would be more effective, can be deployed faster and at far less cost than the Clinton alternative in Alaska; it can provide protection most quickly to U.S. forces and allies overseas doing much to allay the latters' stated concerns; and it can provide ample opportunity for discussions with the Russians and Chinese, but in the context of our impending deployment, not an open-ended excuse for delaying such a step.

• Space power: The work of Mr. Rumsfeld's present commission is likely to prove no less important. The United States' future security and economic competitiveness depend critically upon the nation's ability (1) to have ready, affordable access to and use of space and (2) to be able, if necessary, to deny potential adversaries the ability to exploit that strategic high ground against U.S. interests.

While this panel's final report will not be completed until the middle of this month, it is a safe bet it will find perilous deficiencies in all these areas. A no-less-sure thing is that this commission's recommendations will be taken to heart by senior policy-makers.

• The defense budget: A third area on which Don Rumsfeld will be bringing his enormous expertise and authority to bear will involve the Pentagon's budget and programs. While the president-elect has clearly signaled his determination to pursue defense modernization and reform, it will fall to Mr. Rumsfeld to give him some bad news: There is a $50 billion to $100 billion annual shortfall over each of the next five to 10 years in the funding available to recapitalize the armed forces.

The really good news about George W. Bush's selection of Donald Rumsfeld is that he has with this key personnel choice established that he is not only willing to hear such advice, but that he will insist upon doing so. This is a huge development. It may mean that, instead of a national security team dominated by a single personality, whose principal product would likely be a homogenized lowest-common-denominator of policy mush, the new president will get the benefit of the best, and usually, competing ideas concerning the formulation and conduct of U.S. defense and foreign affairs.

Such a process can sometimes appear messy to outsiders, as was the case when Cap Weinberger and George Shultz squared off over arms control, foreign interventions and other matters during the Reagan years. But the fact that President-elect Bush has chosen a man who is "no shrinking violet" to run his Defense Department suggests he himself will not shrink from the hard facts and the best counsel about how to deal with them and that he is willing to allow the dynamic tension necessary to ensure that's what he gets.

If Don Rumsfeld is now given a free hand including in the choice of personnel to help him his nomination means we will not only have a terrific defense secretary but, in the incoming president and vice president, men whose good judgment, self-confidence and secure personalities are up to the daunting national security and other tasks that await them.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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