The Magazine

The Case for the Defense

Midge Decter sketches the life and achievements of Donald Rumsfeld.

Nov 3, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 08 • By PETER D. FEAVER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Decter leaves relatively unexplored the questions that are dogging Secretary Rumsfeld now. Did he underestimate the challenges of rebuilding Iraq? Did he get out of his lane to challenge Powell, or has Powell been pulling strings behind Rumsfeld's back? Has Rumsfeld over-corrected for weak civilian control during the 1990s by imposing overweening civilian control now? To what extent does Rumsfeld's badgering style of management--Decter has him claiming proudly that he sends back papers for corrections as many as seven times--create more problems than it solves?

A fair exploration of these sorts of questions might put a bit of tarnish on the halo Decter has given Rumsfeld. Yet here is where one appreciates Decter's contribution.

The vilification of Rumsfeld, especially abroad but even in the mainstream American press, is absurdly excessive, and Decter is absolutely right to provide a favorable counter-context. The over-reaction to an offhand remark contrasting Old and New Europe tells us far more about the pathologies of Rumsfeld's enemies than it does about Rumsfeld's own diplomatic prowess. Decter shows that many of the critical portrayals of Rumsfeld in the press are as much a caricature as is the famous "Saturday Night Live" skits.

You know a man by his enemies and by his friends. In Rumsfeld's case, both his friends and enemies agree on one thing: He is larger than life. Such a remarkable man deserves several biographies, and if one of them venerates a bit, we need not worry; the next is bound to denigrate a bit too much.

Peter D. Feaver is professor of political science at Duke University and author of "Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations."