Rumsfeld's Wars

The Arrogance of Power

Dale R. Herspring

Not since Robert McNamara has a secretary of defense been so hated by the military and derided by the public, yet played such a critical role in national security policy—with such disastrous results.

Donald Rumsfeld was a natural for secretary of defense, a position he'd already occupied once before. He was smart. He worked hard. He was skeptical of the status quo in military affairs and dedicated to high-tech innovations. He seemed the right man at the right time-but history was to prove otherwise.

“Herspring places his subject in the public dock and concisely but completely lays out an indictment of Donald Rumsfeld for his inept performance in office. . . . For those seeking to understand the debacle in Iraq, [title] offers much. . . . It is highly recommended to graduate schools in national security affairs and strategic studies as a useful case history in civil-military relations, strategic leadership, and military innovation.

—War in History

“This critique of the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq War and lack of preparation for post-hostilities reconstruction carries weight because the author writes without political or ideological animus. Herspring is a conservative scholar with extensive service in the navy and a career as a distinguished author in the field of military affairs and civil-military relations.

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Now Dale Herspring, a political conservative and lifelong Republican, offers a nonpartisan assessment of Rumsfeld's impact on the U.S. military establishment from 2001 to 2006, focusing especially on the Iraq War-from the decision to invade through the development and execution of operational strategy and the enormous failures associated with the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.

Extending the critique of civil-military relations he began in The Pentagon and the Presidency, Herspring highlights the relationship between the secretary and senior military leadership, showing how Rumsfeld and a handful of advisers—notably Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith—manipulated intelligence and often ignored the military in order to implement their policies. And he demonstrates that the secretary's domineering leadership style and trademark arrogance undermined his vision for both military transformation and Iraq.

Herspring shows that, contrary to his public deference to the generals, Rumsfeld dictated strategy and operations—sometimes even tactics—to prove his transformation theories. He signed off on abolishing the Iraqi army, famously refused to see the need for a counterinsurgency plan, and seemed more than willing to tolerate the torture of prisoners. Meanwhile, the military became demoralized and junior officers left in droves.

Rumsfeld's Wars revisits and reignites the concept of "arrogance of power," once associated with our dogged failure to understand the true nature of a tragic war in Southeast Asia. It provides further evidence that success in military affairs is hard to achieve without mutual respect between civilian authorities and military leaders—and offers a definitive case study in how not to run the office of secretary of defense.

About the Author

Dale R. Herspring, a retired Foreign Service officer and 32-year veteran of the navy, is University Distinguished Professor at Kansas State University and the author of The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series