Modern bureaucracy is the spine of the modern state. The modern state would not be as useful as it is without bureaucracy or as wasteful or as lethargic. Reforming bureaucracy is the great challenge facing the greatest reformers, and that is why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will be assessed by historians as a great secretary of defense. He initiated more than 100 far-reaching reforms, and made policy changes that have made the American military probably the most effective in the world. Thanks to him our ground forces are more rapidly deployable. The diverse branches of the military work together more closely. And ballistic missile defense is much advanced.
If he were as smooth as silk, he would still have plenty of enemies in Washington. The most difficult kind of bureaucracy to reform is the military. Not that Rumsfeld is not a gentleman, but he is also a man of action in time of war. Thanks to his rapid response and great strategic vision, Osama bin Laden is woebegone in a remote cave or perhaps crepe suzette for the worms. As for the tyrant Saddam Hussein, the worms have their eyes on him too. I hope those hungry worms have powerful digestive tracts. So Rumsfeld disturbed the settled state of routine among some fatuous officers at the Pentagon. He has won the hearts of the fighting troops and of intelligent officers who recognize the vigor and intelligence that he has brought to our national security. Those who recognize that we are more secure today than we were prior to 9/11 will be forever grateful. Those who do not will remain forever ignorant.
Now in comes Bob Gates, and as is the custom in this town, there is wild speculation. He is Bush I’s guy. He is James Baker’s guy. He is the CIA’s guy. He is coming in from the presidency of Texas A&M to pull the plug on our involvement in Iraq. Actually he is Bush II’s appointee, and though I shall only mildly speculate, I suspect he will do as his boss tells him. That seems to mean he will apply a fresh set of eyes to Iraq.
I have known Gates for almost two decades, and I can tell you whose guy Gates was originally. It must have been sometime in 1985 when my friend, Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey, had me to lunch at his office and introduced me to someone he thought very highly of, a protege of his, Gates. Bill always had proteges, but Gates was one of his favorites. Bill recognized that Gates was intelligent, principled and understood the Soviet Union. In fact, Gates had done graduate work in the same department as I had, Indiana University’s Department of History, under a distinguished Soviet specialist who became a mentor to me and to The American Spectator’s editorial director, Wladyslaw Pleszczynski.
From that point on I watched Gates with especial interest and dined with him from time to time. Anyone who thinks Gates lacks grit or an independent mind is mistaken. He was clear-headed on the Soviets and will be clear-headed on the Islamofascists. I well remember when he was drafting a speech in late 1989 or 1990 in which he presciently expressed doubt as to the effectiveness of General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms. Though the content of the speech was suppressed, it got into the public prints. And do you know who suppressed it? James Baker.
Gates, the first career CIA officer to become director of central intelligence, is a dedicated public servant. In his last months at the CIA, he used to speak of his relish for a quiet retirement outside Washington during which he might read and reflect on the world. He also gave me and Wlady the best explanation of why in Operation Desert Storm our forces did not roll into Baghdad. We underestimated Saddam’s control of the country. We thought the regime would fall of its own weight. That estimate was wrong. If I recall the term Gates used, he said it turned out that the Saddam regime was a "mom and pop" regime tightly controlled by the tyrant’s family. Obviously, Gates was right. Perhaps this explains why Bush II did not wait a second time for the defeated regime to fall.
Now Gates is back to serve the country and everyone should wish him well.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter