What follows is the slightly modified text of an email I sent to a friend earlier today in response to today’s Stratfor Morning Intelligence Brief titled, "Geopolitical Diary: Rumsfeld’s Legacy."  It was an attempt to address some of the cliches that persist about Rumsfeld and transformation.  Towards the end the response gets a little "posty", as in "postmodern" or "poststructural", when I explore the play of past, present, future, and future anterior that one finds in the rhetoric of transformation.  Of course, this is not my "final answer" on Rumsfeld.  The man was obviously not perfect and history will decide where he went right and wrong.  However, I do think that if we are to properly judge him, and transformation, we need to start with a proper understanding of the ideas and historical context involved.  So, here goes…

Well, maybe I’m just too much of an historian these days, but this "obituary" is cliched and lacks any sort of context.

Cliche: Rumsfeld was all about hi-tech weapons.

Response: Take a look at the Rumsfeld quote that sits atop my website. There are plenty like it.  Yes, tech was important to the Rumsfeld plan, but more important were new ideas, as well as cultural and institutional changes within DOD.  Perhaps the biggest evidence of that is the fact that so many hated him.  Focusing on tech in an already gadget-happy culture does not produce that kind of hate.  Trying to change entrenched ideas and cultures does.

Cliche: Since Rumsfeld was all about hi-tech weapons, he wanted a smaller force, replacing manpower with tech.

Response: Now some historical perspective.  There are three main responses.

1) This is an X caused Y versus Y caused X situation.  Is it that Rummy wanted fewer troops because he wanted hi-tech instead (X–>Y), or that after the previous decade of cutting the size of the military, he was trying to use hi-tech to make the number of troops he had more effective (Y–>X)?  It was the latter.

2) Non-unique.  Americans have a tradition of trying to substitute tech for manpower for a number of reasons, including the longstanding distrust of standing armies that only somewhat changed after WWII. When the Cold War ended, those tendencies came out again.  The first response was "peace dividend!" and a cut in the military.

3) The idea of fighting out-numbered and winning is not new in the history of warfare and military thought, and certainly not new in the U.S. in the last 30 years.  In fact, the balance of conventional forces in Europe in the 1970s, in which the Soviets out-numbered us 2 to 1 in many areas, led to many of the doctrinal reforms (i.e. maneuver warfare as implemented in AirLand Battle, first defined in FM 100-5, "Operations", 1982 edition) that are still with us.  Even the
previous edition of the manual (1976) with its failed doctrine of "Active Defense" was predicated on the notion of fighting out-numbered and winning.  In what became AirLand Battle, the emphasis was on maneuver, speed, shock, deep strikes against the enemy’s follow-on forces, and yes, technological superiority.  So the impetus for the major changes in U.S. doctrine that are still with us today were the result of attempting to do more with less.

Why not just increase the size of the military?  Because it was not politically, economically, or militarily feasible at the time.  So, the idea was that "you come as you are" to war; you have to be ready to win with what you have.

Cliche: Rumsfeld’s "transformation" was only good for fighting other states; non-state actors are unaffected.

Response: Tell that to Zarqawi and the many other terrorists who have been killed, captured, or foiled.  Were our forces in the 1990s, or the heavy armored forces of Desert Storm any less state-centric?  Of course not.  Most counterinsurgency experts will say that lighter forces are better for dealing with insurgencies, with special forces being the ultimate example.  Noncombat specialists like linguists, civil and public affairs specialists, etc., all become important.  Can we really build an entire military on light infantry, special forces, and noncombat specialists?  Of course not.

The fallacy here is to think that we not only know exactly what the threat is, but what the threat will be and that it will not change. It is an argument that talks a big game about chaos, uncertainty, change, etc., but in actuality is based on a static view of the world.

Yes, Rummy understood that terrorism and insurgency were the threats for today, and for the near future too. But, what if there arose another threat?  What if the threat changed in the future?  As such, the goal of transformation became transformation, the creation of what I call "transforming practices"–i.e. the transformation of the way we think and act, but also the creation of ways of thinking and acting which facilitate flexibility and adaptation (i.e. more change/adaptation).

I think our current problems with North Korea and Iran illustrate that he was correct.  We cannot bank on the fact that terrorism and insurgency will remain the only threat.  North Korea and Iran are posing serious but traditional state-level threats right now.  There may well be others in the future.  We have to have a force that can deal with a multiplicity of threats, simultaneously in the present, all while developing and maintaining the practices necessary to foster adaptation to changes in the future.

Now, let’s remember all of these points from above and see if one of Rumsfeld’s most controversial and "insensitive" statements makes sense.  "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want."  Granted, maybe insensitive to say to a soldier in a war zone, but true nonetheless.

There is a mixing of past, present, and future here, a focus on the present which can only come from anticipating the future and appreciating the past.  You go to war with the army you have because you can’t change the past.  You have to make the best of it.  But at the same time, you can’t wait on the future, for the army you want because, in some sense, you will never have the army you want.  You will never arrive at that point.  There is no "there" there.  We will
always want more, want a "better" army; we will always wish that war will hold off until we have the next weapon, the next doctrine, the next…  But if we refuse to fight (now) because we are hoping to have the perfect army first (always yet to come), then we will never fight and the development of the army becomes an exercise divorced from reality.

In Rumsfeld’s rhetoric of transformation, we must give up a focus on the present so that we can think about the future.  But it is that very move of thinking about the future which allows us to come back and focus on the present once again, to declare that we cannot wait for the future because, in some sense, we have already been there and know that we will never really arrive.  But not waiting on the future is not the same as ignoring it.  Waiting happens now, in the present, but is a passive act, maybe not even an "act" at all, or the act of non-action like stopping at a stop sign.  You can ignore the future, live totally in the present, but I think we all recognize that is irresponsible.  So the minimum is to acknowledge the shadow that the future projects into the present and then to wait.  But I think that Rumsfeld wanted us to go beyond waiting (now) and then reacting (future) to what will have happened (future anterior, between now and then :-).  He wanted us to always already be in the process of anticipating and adapting to the future–i.e. "transforming practices."

So now let’s think about Stratfor’s last point:

"The irony is that, instead of leaping ahead by a generation, U.S. forces have now been saddled with the worst of both worlds: an exhausted military that will take years to repair, and limited progress in the modernization that they will likely need a generation from now."

First, when are we?  The mixing of present, future, and future anterior here is dizzying.

Second, at least in fighter aircraft, the U.S. is on the verge of deploying the two most advanced fighters (the F-22 and the F-35) in the world, systems that are unrivaled, which is evidenced by the fact that countries all over the world are lining up to buy them.  Of course, if the critics have their way, based on the argument that F-22s can’t kill terrorists, then the F-22 will be canceled and the F-35 severely cut back.  Who’s preventing modernization again?

Third, years to repair what?  Humvees, maybe.  Our aircraft?  Only if we stick with the "older is better" advice of Rumsfeld’s critics and forgo the next generation of fighters.  But, either way, the stress on our fleet now was due to increased flying hours, not to combat damage or attrition by the enemy.  The same goes for tanks, Bradley’s, and most equipment in the inventory.  It’s damaged from use, not necessarily from enemy fire.  So, should we opt not to use our
precious hi-tech weapons for fear that they might get broken, even when the enemy can’t hope to destroy or even damage most of them? What would be the point of having them then?

But the fourth point is the main one: could we really have done one or the other?  Could we have scrapped transformation in favor of a presentist, single-minded focus on Iraq, terrorism, and insurgency? Then we would have gotten none of "the modernization that they will likely need a generation from now."  Conversely, if we would have only focused on transformation, the military would not only have been "exhausted" and in need of "repair" right now, but would have been irrelevant because we would have chosen the illusory goal of the "future perfect" instead of protecting our interests now.

This is just one more in a long string of authors and articles who just didn’t/don’t/won’t/will not have get/gotten it.  If we are ever truly to assess the man, his ideas, and his impact, we have to move past the knee-jerk, sound-bite cliches and think seriously.

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