- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2004


by Rowan Scarborough

Regnery Publishing, $27.95, 276 pages

Few Americans outside of the Defense Department, and certainly outside the Beltway, can name any of the men who have previously held the position of secretary of defense since the post was established over a half-century ago. Some will be able to name Robert McNamara due to his recent (somewhat dubious) fame as a movie star. However, most Americans know the name Donald Rumsfeld.

With the possible exceptions of Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld is perhaps the most prominent member of President Bush’s war cabinet. In his new book, “Rumsfeld’s War,” Rowan Scarborough, reporter for The Washington Times, shows how and why Donald Rumsfeld occupies this particular position of prominence at this critical juncture in America’s history.

As Mr. Scarborough points out, Mr. Rumsfeld was the first to articulate clearly that America was at war in the hours following the September 11 attacks. He made this point forcefully to the president in their first conversation after the attacks and has not wavered from that conviction since.

This declaration of war on terrorism signaled a vast sea change from the Clinton administration’s view of terrorism as a legal and diplomatic challenge. Mr. Rumsfeld did not come to office expecting to be a secretary of war. He saw himself as a manager of a transformation in the way America’s defense establishment does business. Consequently, he was thrown into a role that was really made for him, that of a wartime leader.

Like his boyhood heroes Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Mr. Rumsfeld relishes combat in all of its manifestations. He genuinely likes competition, whether on the wrestling mat, the squash court, in politics, or in the business world. Managing a war, the ultimate competition, comes naturally to him.

RowanScarborough writes clear, journalistic prose without embellishment. He chronicles the secretary’s tenure in the defense post to include his battles with Congress, the military bureaucracy and the press.

In Mr. Scarborough’s judgment, Donald Rumsfeld can be an uncompromising enemy as well as a loyal friend. No one, friend or enemy, is usually ambiguous as to where he stands in the defense secretary’s estimation.

Despite Mr. Rumsfeld’s reputation as a skilled political infighter, this behind-the-scenes look shows administration infighting to be much less severe than the legendary internal struggles of the waning years of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, or even the final months of the Ford administration, in which Mr. Rumsfeld was a key player.

Memos from the defense secretary to his counterparts and competitors in the administration, such as Mr. Powell and Condoleezza Rice, are blunt but restrained and invariably professional. Collegiality is not necessarily a critical item in a wartime administration, but it is reassuring.

Mr. Rumsfeld has not shied away from using words like “kill” and “exterminate” when referring to terrorists in public pronouncements. This is a marked departure from the euphemisms used by his predecessors. Not every part of the Washington establishment has approved, but Mr. Rumsfeld shrugs off criticism as he once did wrestling foes.

His greatest accomplishment to date has been his ability to cut through the bureaucracythathasoften hamstrung the fight against terrorism. Mr. Scarborough dutifully recounts the secretary’s work habits and grueling hours. He has literally run younger men into the deck.

I have never met Mr. Scarborough, although I know he has a reputation as a hard-nosed military correspondent with a wide range of sources in the Pentagon and the defense community. He has used all of these to impressive effect in this spare but revealing volume.

If I have a criticism, it is that the last third of the book is an appendix taken up with copies of the classified documents the author used in his research. He never makes it clear if these documents have been declassified; they still bear their secret markings.

I’m too much of an old soldier to be comfortable with this. It may titillate some readers to be privy to these, but I’d be happier if they had merely been footnoted.

Mr. Scarborough passes his final judgment on his subject in the last paragraph, calling him “the right man for the right time.” High praise from a reporter who, like Mr. Rumsfeld, doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer who teaches a course on the Revolution in Military Affairs at George Washington University.

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