Leadership: October 28, 2003


Official Washington has been atwitter recently over a memo, intended for strictly limited internal distribution in the Department of Defense, but leaked to the media by a person or persons as yet unknown. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had drafted this memo with a number of thinking points to spur debate and discussion amongst his staff. The media and political opposition have since trumpeted their interpretation of this memo with lurid story leads and headlines screaming Rumsfeld Questions War, or some such. A closer examination reveals that nothing could be further from the truth.

Rumsfeld asked EXACTLY the right questions of his most trusted subordinates. In his seminal work vom Krieg, Karl von Clausewitz challenges military commanders to ask the same sort of questions. It is the leader who questions nothing, and never countenances that some preconceptions might be misconceptions, for instance an LBJ, or a Jefferson Davis, that leads his nation to military disaster. 

What have we learned? Are there better ways of doing what needs to be done? Did we prepare adequately for foreseen and unforeseen difficulties? What could we have done on the front end to reduce our problems on the back end? Do we have the right people assigned to the right jobs? 

Boys and girls, these questions are asked EVERY SINGLE DAY by successful businesses around the country. Only rarely are such questions ever asked in the stuffy halls of government. Perhaps their very novelty made these questions newsworthy. Its also no wonder, in that event, that nobody in the Washington press corps had a clue as to what was really going on. 

Effective LEADERS constantly re-evaluate their actions, make necessary adjustments, and drive on. Maybe, thats the real burr under the Beltway saddle. Nowhere in the document does the Secretary question the justification or the morality of Operation Iraqi Freedom or the War on Terror. Instead, he prods his staff to evaluate and re-evaluate comparing what seems to be happening to what is actually happening. In another part of the memo, he takes on the very real bugbear of the restructuring of our military into a force capable of generating overwhelming combat power but also one that can adapt and change to meet changing threats and operate in a number of disparate theaters at a reasonable cost. 

Such clear-headed and rational thinking is a threat to most of Official Washington, in particular the entrenched bureaucracies, special interest groups and the unholy alliance between these and the legislative and executive branches. Much as a reasonably free and democratic Iraq presents a very different paradigm that threatens the kleptocracies, murdering thugs and ossified nobility that rule most of the Muslim world, a reasonably coherent and efficient Department of Defense would prove to all inside (and worse, to those OUTSIDE) the Beltway that It Doesnt Have To Be This Way.

I wish him well. Entrenched power structures are just that. They did not sprout overnight but accrete slowly over many years. Their taproots reach deep and their influence often spreads far beyond their sheltering limbs. The surest way to at least prune these Towers of Babel, though, is to question why they exist in the first place and exactly what do they accomplish. 

As to the War on Terror, if such questions are not asked by those in charge, it is a sure bet that nobody under Cabinet level will ever ask them. The questions yield hypotheses, and those offer some general ideas as to what has happened heretofore and what is likely to happen in the future. Effective leaders search for these answers and the best challenge their supporting casts to debate and discuss. They are not challenged by disagreement. The hottest fires make the best steel.

Despite all this, or maybe because of it, the Bush administration took another hit from the press. The opposition, both here and in the Middle East was emboldened and the chattering Left went into a swoon. The Bush administration has learned once again the oldest lesson, that in Washington, as in much of America, sad to say, No good deed goes unpunished. Pat Gang




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