December 23, 2004 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security

Why Rumsfeld Must Stay

OK, I'll admit it: I'm a Don Rumsfeld fan, and I have been since we first met, some 37 years ago. I've admired his willingness to take risks. After all, why would a rising star in the Republican congressional hierarchy leave a safe seat to run Richard Nixon's poverty program, a move that would hardly endear him to his conservative constituency?

And then, after successes in senior Cabinet positions, why would he go back home to suburban Chicago and take over a failing company for a family friend? He could have stayed in Washington and become a superlobbyist like so many others have done.

And then, despite the comforts of a good life in Chicago, he again answered the call to come back to Washington under President Ronald Reagan as a volunteer to tell the world's governments why the Law of the Sea Treaty was wrong and would be vigorously opposed by the U.S. government. He then continued to serve his country in myriad other positions during the next 15 years.

He didn't return to receive an award or a medal. He already has the highest one his government can bestow on him, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And he didn't return for his own political advancement; his political ambitions are over. No, he took the position as President Bush's secretary of defense because he's a patriot who believes his involvement can make a difference.

He answered the call because he knew the U.S. military needed to be fundamentally restructured to fight the wars of the future, and that the U.S. has to be able to defend itself from rogue nations and stateless bands of terrorists.

He began that military transformation process, and he made some enemies in the uniformed services along the way. But as author Midge Decter said in her insightful biography "Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait," "He did not then--nor does he to this day--make use of the press to further his interoffice opinions or ambitions, as others have done so effectively and for so long."

Frankly, that has always been Don's problem. He calls it like he sees it and doesn't spin, either for his own advantage or that of his own team. So his critics, out to make political hay with slogans and sound bites, play "pile on" and attack him for every perceived misstep.

And there's the rub: Senators of his own party--John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Susan Collins, even Trent Lott--who should be applauding such a straight-talking, decisive leader--are taking shots at him because he doesn't play the Washington game of appeasing the powers on Capitol Hill and in the national news media.

So when, at a meeting with troops in Kuwait, an embedded reporter from the Chattanooga Times-Free Press stages a question to Rumsfeld through the mouth of Spec. Thomas Wilson about the shortage of armor on Humvees in Iraq, the sergeant gets a straight and truthful answer from Rumfeld: "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." And, for the umpteenth time since the Iraq war began, Rumsfeld is pilloried. For what? For refusing to double-talk.

As Decter notes, the accounts of Rumsfeld's dangerous shortcomings and high-handedness already were being circulated in the media by the third day of the Iraq war, almost two years ago.

Are there problems in Iraq? Of course there are, and some of them should be blamed on the Department of Defense. And these problems are getting a complete airing.

Others problems have to do with the very nature of the war we're in. We are dealing with terrorism, and terrorists are fundamentally different from any other enemies we have ever faced. But every day we're learning new tactics for dealing with this new enemy.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld realizes that his role is getting on with the job of protecting America.

President Bush, you made the right call in keeping Don Rumsfeld as a key member of your team for your second term. We know you won't be swayed by those in the media and on Capitol Hill who want him out. So please keep him in place for as long as he's willing to serve.

Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a conservative think tank based in Washington.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

First Appeared in The Chicago Tribune