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Monday, January 03, 2005

Rumsfeld Examined

Lately, the Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, has been a subject of controversy. Well, let’s be honest, he’s been a lightning rod for criticism ever since he took over. While the reasons for his critics to attack him have varied over his time in the cabinet, the latest controversies seem to come from the angle that Secretary Rumsfeld does not really care about the troops. The two current angles are the autopen and the armor. If you’re not familiar with them, here are the necessary details. First, the autopen. Apparently, the family of every service member killed in combat zones receives a letter of condolence from Secretary Rumsfeld’s office. It seems that he does not actually sign them himself, but uses an autopen to have it done automatically. Critics say that this shows he does not really care about the families of these servicemembers. The armor controversy is not so much over armor as it was over an answer to a soldier’s question about armor. When Secretary Rumsfeld was asked why every vehicle did not have extra armor, he told the soldier that “We go to war with the Army we have.” This answer was interpreted simultaneously as a confirmation that the U.S. ‘rushed to war’ and as glib and unfeeling. In a case such as this, shouldn’t someone ask how soldiers feel about these issues?

In most cases involving politics, I can’t have a publicly expressed opinion. As the Secretary of Defense is in my chain of command, I must express full support for him and his policies. However, while the vast majority of the Secretary’s critics have no real investment in him or consequences to endure because of his actions – and who are already anti-administration and not to be viewed as objective in the first place – soldiers have a dog in that fight. Here’s what most of us think:

We really don’t care who the Secretary of Defense is. He’s an advisor to the president on defense issues, and we hope he has a clue about what he is doing. Secretary Rumsfeld seems to be very well versed on military issues and therefore we are as satisfied with him as we would be with anyone else similarly qualified. Therefore, we fully support him while he is serving.

The autopen controversy is nonsense. No family is any more heartened by a handwritten signature than an autopen. Neither brings back the lost loved one. Neither will be kept on a wall. In fact, it is doubtful that any would be kept at all. Compared to the Viet Nam era telegram delivered by a telegram delivery person, an autopen letter from the Secretary of Defense is super. However, handwritten or not, it still comforts no one, aids no one, and helps no one. This controversy is fabricated by those who seek to use anything to bash the administration – so let it go.

The armor controversy? I think the Secretary went easy on the soldier. Even without considering that the question was planted by a reporter – the answer is correct. There has never been an army in any conflict that has armored all of its vehicles. It isn’t a practical method of force protection. People might think, “but shouldn’t we do everything we can to protect the troops?” We’d love that – but the fact is that the answer to that is just like the answer to those pundits who ask if we’ve done everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack – no we haven’t, because no one will tolerate doing everything, mostly because no one wants to pay to do ‘everything’. Proper convoy techniques, increased intelligence gathering and elimination of terrorist cells are all much more efficient and better for the long term fight. That soldier already knew the answer to the question. The answer that another soldier would have given him would have been similar to what he was told – “Shut up and do your job.”


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