- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is taking heavy fire. Critics to the right of him, critics to the left of him, volley and thunder. Furiously pumping up a flap about armored military vehicles in Iraq, the pundits, pols and press are trying to convince us that the secretary endangers Americans because of his arrogance. It is this arrogance they say, by way of quotes and video clips ripped out of context, that walls Mr. Rumsfeld off from the advice of his senior military leaders.

That’s not the Donald Rumsfeld I know. I worked closely with the secretary and his staff in an earlier time of crisis. A time when the future was as unknowable as it is now; a time when the stakes were equally as high. I saw a man who is in every sense a strong, determined leader who is blessed with the saving grace of knowing what he does not know.

On the morning of September 11, I was Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior adviser on special operations and low intensity conflict. I was in an office in the Pentagon’s “A ring” when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into our side of the building. The Boeing 757 sliced through the E and D rings and into the C ring. The massive explosion dropped the ceiling, cut power, and sent flames and smoke down the corridors around us.

That cataclysmic morning, the United States came to grips with what would by nightfall be called the global war on terrorism. On becoming secretary of defense, Mr. Rumsfeld had ordered a task force to come up with ways to restructure the U.S. military to meet unexpected threats from terrorist groups and other “non-state actors.” But those options were just taking shape on September 11, and existing military contingency plans for Afghanistan did not feature a decisive role for the only troops that could get there, our special operations forces.

We knew the attacks had originated in Afghanistan’s terrorist camps. But we had no bases in the region on which to marshal the big armor and mechanized divisions that had rolled across the deserts in the first Iraq war. Our overflight rights were severely restricted. The long Afghan winter was closing in.

Mr. Rumsfeld challenged the strategic mindset that had congealed during the Cold War, when U.S. military forces for half a century had been honed for large-scale battles on the European plains against Soviet bloc armies. He absorbed the arcane complexities of special operations forces — Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs and Air Force Special Operations. He cut away the bureaucratic restraints that had kept these counterterror units idle in their barracks for too many years.

Our first special operations teams helicoptered into Afghanistan on Oct. 19, 2001. Within six weeks, less than 300 American special operations forces developed tactics that combined 18th-century horse cavalry with 21st-century precision bombing, and with allied Afghan resistance fighters overthrew the Taliban regime that had turned the country into a vast terrorist hive.

In the course of winning an extraordinary victory in Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld worked with his senior military leaders to set into motion other, far-reaching strategic initiatives that will better enable the world to rid itself of the scourge of terrorism.

For more than 50 years, U.S. military strategists had divided the globe into four major regional military commands. Together, these commands planned for operations in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. But the threat we faced from the terrorists was more like an international franchise: Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda had branches around the world in more than 60 countries.

Mr. Rumsfeld directed the military planners to establish the Special Operations Command as a global counterterror force, capable of mounting operations against the worldwide terrorist organizations that frequently took advantage of the “seams” between our regional commands.

At the same time, Mr. Rumsfeld issued a tough challenge to the Special Operations Command: Greatly expand the special operations forces without compromising the quality of these exquisitely trained Army, Navy and Air Force commando units.

Because Mr. Rumsfeld listened to all ranks of our professional military and because he worked with senior leaders of all our services, the United States is well on the way toward an agile, responsive force that can surmount the challenges of an incredibly complex global insurgency.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is nobody’s “yes-man.” The most recent proof came when, despite White House support of the original intelligence reform bill, Gen. Myers laid out his reservations about the legislation in sworn congressional testimony. When asked last Friday if Mr. Rumsfeld listens to him, Gen. Myers replied, “He listens to me, and I think he listens to all the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He listens to his combatant commanders. … He listens to the military advice, and my belief is that it has a huge impact on his thinking.”

All this is to say that charges of arrogance are hogwash. Is Mr. Rumsfeld a demanding boss? Yes. Is he blunt? Refreshingly so. Does he suffer fools? No. Is it possible, with infinite planning, to anticipate every move of an enemy once combat begins? Get serious.

But what is important is the essence of Donald Rumsfeld: Does he devote every scintilla of his considerable talents to marshalling all available talent to see to U.S. security and his troops’ welfare? I have no doubt because I have seen that myself.

When Mr. Rumsfeld told Spc. Thomas Wilson in that Kuwait “town meeting” that you go to war with the army you have, it was an observation that troops of all ranks understand as a fact of life. And when Spc. Wilson told Mr. Rumsfeld that the troops needed more resources, that was a message you can bet this secretary understood.

Robert Andrews is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former Green Beret and CIA officer.

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