Yesterday, Republican senator and presidential candidate John McCain (AZ) blasted former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, stating that "Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history." McCain's opinion is largely based on Rumsfeld's refusal to deploy sufficient troops into Iraq to stabilize the country and deal with the insurgencies, and, according to McCain, "we are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest work I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld of this war."
I have blogged before about Rumsfeld, arguing that regardless of culpability (although there is strong evidence that he did ignore many arguments for increasing the US deployment in Iraq) , he, as SecDef, deserves the blame for the debacle that Iraq has become. On that charge, Rumsfeld is guilty as charged by McCain.
But does that taint his entire tenure as SecDef? In fact, Rumsfeld has been a very important and successful secretary, albeit often out of the public eye. Rumsfeld has done an admirable job of modernizing the US Army and preparing it for future warfare. Rumsfeld has been aggressive in cutting useless weapons projects (e.g. the Crusader), despite congressional and service branch opposition. The war in Afghanistan represents a major triumph, as Rumsfeld combined special operations forces with precision-guided munitions to win quickly. The US military will, as a direct result of Rumsfeld's leadership remain poised to maintain its full-spectrum dominance for many years to come.
Ironically, it is these very successes that are perhaps responsible for his failures in Iraq. While we do not know, it is most likely Rumsfeld's devotion to military transformation that led him to overlook the advice of so many generals and advisers pleading for more troops (although, to be fair, those same generals and advisers resist, complain, and whine when their precious weapons systems are cancelled or the military is transformed away from what they're used to).
So, how do we judge his tenure? It's probably too early, as we do not yet know how disastrous Iraq will turn out to be. But my gut says Rumsfeld did more good for this country than bad. Transforming the military was a critical task, and one that few SecDefs could have done. It's just that the bad is more visible. Fairly or not, that will likely define Rumsfeld's legacy.