Campaign 2010

May 10, 2004

Beneath Novak’s Hackery…

Sometimes people tell him things that are true:

While the White House officially vowed Rumsfeld’s retention, there was no reinforcement in his natural political constituency. Last week, I talked to Republican members of Congress, GOP fund-raisers and contributors, defense consultants and even one senior official of a coalition partner. The clear consensus was that Rumsfeld had to go. ‘‘There must be a neck cut,’’ said the foreign official, ‘‘and there is only one neck of choice.’‘

Rumsfeld is paying the price for the way he has run the Department of Defense for more than three years, but the price is also being paid by George W. Bush. From the first months of the Bush administration, I have heard complaints by old military hands that the new secretary’s arrogance and insularity were creating a dysfunctional Pentagon. That climate not only limits the government’s ability to deal with the prisoner scandal but also may have been its cause.

[Blah blah blah]

The Rumsfeld style was apparent when he was still in his 30s and President Richard Nixon named him ambassador to NATO. On his first day in Brussels, Belgium, he publicly humiliated a young briefing officer with a barrage of questions he was not prepared to answer. It was a management technique that he perfected in high federal office and as a successful corporate CEO.

In 2001, a few months after Rumsfeld was brought back for a second hitch at the Pentagon, an old friend of his gave me a disturbing report. A former senior government official who was now a defense industry consultant, he told me Rumsfeld was a disaster waiting to happen. Rumsfeld, insulated by his inner circle, was at war against the uniformed military, the civilian bureaucracy, and both houses of Congress.

This same former official last week told me the Iraqi prisoners fiasco was the inevitable outgrowth of Rumsfeld’s management style. ‘‘If it had not happened with this,’’ he told me, ‘‘there would have been a different disaster.’‘

The ‘‘kill the messenger’’ syndrome, other Pentagon sources say, clogs up avenues of information.

To well-informed outsiders, Rumsfeld’s fate seems assured. Stratfor, the private intelligence service, reported last week: ‘‘The amazing thing is not that the White House is preparing Rumsfeld for hanging but that it has taken so long.’’ The report added that Rumsfeld ‘‘consistently managed to get the strategic and organizational questions wrong.’‘

That harsh view is widely shared inside the Pentagon…


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