With the nomination of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, President-elect George W. Bush has assembled the most formidable national security team in memory. Indeed, Mr. Rumsfeld, who served as secretary of defense during the last 14 months of the Ford administration, represents only the latest in a stream of outstanding choices, which began in July when Mr. Bush selected Richard Cheney as his vice presidential running mate.
Assuming (reasonably enough) that he is confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Rumsfeld adds to the experienced, all-star cast of Mr. Bush’s foreign-policy team. Mr. Bush had already named Colin Powell to be secretary of state and Condoleezza Rice as his national security adviser. Mr. Cheney himself is a former Secretary of Defense. “General Powell’s a strong figure, and Dick Cheney is no shrinking violet. But neither is Don Rumsfeld,” Mr. Bush observed. “Nor is Condi Rice. I view the four as being able to complement each other.”
In announcing Mr. Rumsfeld’s nomination, Mr. Bush identified three goals for the nation’s defense. One goal would be to “strengthen the bond of trust between the American president and those who wear our nation’s uniform,” Mr. Bush poignantly noted. Mr. Clinton shattered that bond when he made it his highest military priority upon entering office to try to force the Joint Chiefs of Staff to adopt an ill-advised social-policy experiment that would have lifted the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. The refusal of Mr. Clinton’s first secretary of defense, Les Aspin, to reinforce U.S. forces in Somalia with the tanks and armored personnel carriers that were requested a decision that preceded the deaths of 18 U.S. Army Rangers in a fire fight did not help. Nor, of course, did reports that Mr. Clinton discussed the deployment of U.S. military forces in the Balkans with a senior congressman while he received oral sex from an intern in the Oval Office area. Mr. Rumsfeld will surely be able to mend this bond.
A second goal will be to “defend our people and allies against missiles and terror,” the president-elect said. Here, Mr. Rumsfeld will play another vital role. He was, after all, the chairman of the 1998 bipartisan Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which unanimously concluded that the Clinton administration had grossly underestimated the threat posed by several rogue nations, including North Korea, Iran and Iraq. The conclusions by the so-called Rumsfeld commission led to bipartisan congressional support for deploying a technologically feasible national missile defense system. Mr. Clinton elected to defer deployment decisions to his successor, who, together with Mr. Rumsfeld, is an avid advocate of a robust national missile defense system.
The third national defense goal identified by Mr. Bush is to “begin creating a military prepared for the dangers of a new century,” a task for which Mr. Rumsfeld’s extensive national security and managerial experience makes him eminently qualified. The positive contributions that Mr. Rumsfeld can make in the national security arena have the potential to be as immense as his experience.
In an interview with The Washington Times, no less an expert than Henry Kissinger, who served as national security adviser to President Nixon and as secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations and who occasionally butted heads with Mr. Rumsfeld, had this to say about the nation’s next secretary of defense: “I don’t know anybody who has a similar range of experience White House chief of staff, NATO ambassador, secretary of defense, chairman of the ballistic-missile threat commission, CEO of major American corporations. To find someone with these qualifications who also favors missile defense and knows strategic issues it’s almost impossible. It’s the best choice (Mr. Bush) could have made.”