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The Rumsfeld Era Is Over

Every now and then, as I turn from Florida Avenue NW and walk north on Connecticut to get to The Washington Independent offices, I come across Donald Rumsfeld, ambling down the hill and toward Dupont Circle, heading for a destination unknown. He typically has a bodyman behind him, wearing a black suit and an earpiece, to make sure the startled commuters, who think they’ve seen an apparition from an unmourned era, don’t come close. The last several days’ worth of developments have underscored how Rumsfeld and this present moment are as distant as ever.

First, and unavoidably, the appointment of Gen. Eric Shinseki to head the Veterans Affairs Dept. is a reminder of just how repudiated Rumsfeld is. One of the best pieces ever written about the Rumsfeld era came long before the Iraq war. In the New Yorker in August of 2002, Peter J. Boyer mined the depths of disagreement between Rumsfeld and the Army over the future of U.S. ground forces. As Army chief of staff, Shinseki was an advocate of significant ground-force transformation away from a ponderous, mechanized force and toward something lighter and more deployable — he’d tell his subordinates, “

here’s an excerpt, harvested from Nexis. [Update: Avi Zenilman at the New Yorker has lifted the firewall! Here's the piece.]

And it’s clear in Iraq and Afghanistan who was right and who was wrong. One tragic irony of the Iraq war — among many — is that in the fall of 2006, Rumsfeld went to tell the families of the 172nd Stryker Brigade that its tour of duty in Iraq would be extended, an anguished moment that was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube. Rumsfeld called the Strykers “the best, most capable, most mobile unit” around. The Strykers were the brainchild of Shinseki and were used when Rumsfeld’s pet theories about the irrelevance of ground power were disproven.

Speaking of ground power, it’s clear from Bob Gates’ recent comments — and, for that matter, his tenure at the Pentagon to date — that Gates views ground power not as a quaint relic of outmoded warfare but the key to victory in the conflicts of the future. When he writes in Foreign Affairs that it’s ludicrous to think “it is possible to cow, shock, or awe an enemy into submission,” he’s clearly got his predecessor’s preferred visions in mind.

Today, for instance, they’ll be another example of this. Gen. William S. Wallace will step down as the commander of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command at Ft. Monroe, Va., where over the past three years he’s overseen and nurtured such ground-force doctrinal shifts as the new Army field manuals on counterinsurgency and stability operations and the creation of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps COIN Center. Wallace is perhaps most famous, though, for a comment he gave when commanding a division during the invasion of Iraq that ran into unexpectedly tough resistance from a Saddamist guerilla force. “The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we wargamed against,” Wallace told The New York Times. It was Rumsfeld, of course, who forced his assumptions about the shape of the Iraq war onto the Army.

Gates will speak at the change-of-command ceremony — another indication of the end of the Rumsfeld era.

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