McNamara, and Rumsfeld for that matter, demonstrate that even the best and the brightest can fail miserably when they ignore opposing voices or accept only the evidence that fits their preconceptions. That's something the current administration, which has yet to find a challenge it doesn't think it can meet with the application of a little brainpower, should keep in mind.All of which I agree with, but let's look at how they got there.
Today, pundits like to claim that U.S. mistakes in prosecuting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are due to a failure to study history. Yet the architects of the Iraq war would be quick to point out that they learned the lessons of Vietnam all too well. It was former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, after all, who led an effort to rebuild the military into a leaner, more nimble force suited to modern insurgency warfare. Rumsfeld sent in overwhelming force to Iraq, with the intention of crushing resistance within weeks, because he wanted to avoid a grinding, years-long conflict like Vietnam.Really? A "leaner, more nimble force" was part of Rumsfeld's plan for sure, but what progress did he make toward that goal? The Crusader program got cancelled, sure, and that's the example we always hear. But what else?
And was this really an effort to build a force "suited to modern insurgency warfare"? (Let's leave aside the fact that the U.S. military isn't likely to engage in "insurgency warfare" anytime soon, but rather counterinsurgency warfare. Don't want to nitpick!) Rumsfeld wanted to build a lighter, more mobile force in order to concentrate massive firepower at the enemy's center of gravity. To be clear, we're talking about massed enemy personnel and vehicle formations here, not guerilla fighters. The intent was to build a military that could win another Gulf War-style conflict, only faster, harder, and with even fewer casualties.
And yes, "he wanted to avoid a grinding, years-long conflict like Vietnam;" the way Rumsfeld and Co. meant to do this was to destroy the enemy's military forces and leave before insurgency could pose a challenge, not build a force more suited to the destruction of insurgent forces. Anyone who suggests otherwise has probably been fished in by Larry Di Rita's apologia.
As for having "sent in overwhelming force to Iraq, with the intention of crushing resistance within weeks," this clip highlights Rumsfeld's mistake just as it drives home the misimpression under which the Times editorialists are operating under. For one thing, the force that went to Iraq was only overwhelming when operating against a conventional army. The number of dismounted troops plainly did not meet the minimum threshold to combat an insurgency, nor was the force organized in the most effective manner to perform this mission.
The great error of Rumsfeld and his "tranformational" ilk was to imagine that the destruction of the enemy's military force would constitute victory, and to fail to appreciate that any "grinding, years-long conflict" would necessarily be fought in a manner that the U.S. military was not designed, trained, or equipped to fight most effectively.
I recently saw an article that contrasted Rumsfeld's vision with the Powell Doctrine, which calls for the application of overwhelming force with a clear objective and a developed exit strategy if U.S. troops are ever to be committed. Rumsfeld, it was suggested, wanted to go fast and light rather than sending in big numbers. This is a fair distinction, but at root the two men wanted the same thing: the scientific application of force to the enemy's decision points or center of gravity, the rapid destruction of the enemy's command and control and toppling of his leadership, and fundamentally, certain victory. You can't fault them for trying, but don't we all know better by now?
(An ironic addendum here is that this sort of scientific application of doctrine to war in the search of certain victory is exactly what the COIN set is accused of by Gian Gentile. I guess we never stop trying to figure out a way to make war easy.)