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October 22, 2003
THE RUMSFELD MEMO SHOULDN'T HAVE LEAKED. That's not because it's bad -- I agree with Bryan Preston on the substance:
The press seems to be spinning it, and the Dems are of course spinning it too, as a direct refutation of all the Bush administration's positive public statements on the progress of the war. It is no such thing. It's a strategic document, written to force its small circle of recipients to think about a finite set of circumstances within the larger context of the war, and to justify their positions on the US progress or lack thereof with respect to those circumstances. It is the kind of memo a leader writes to his subordinates when he wants them to maintain focus and think about broad ways to win the war in the long term.
Frankly, I think this memo shows that Rumsfeld understands the war perhaps better than anyone else in Washington. Mindful of the successes in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, he also has his eye on the big picture and the difficulties ahead. He wants DoD to become more agile in dealing with a very agile threat. He wants no one under his command to rest on their laurels. Never one to be confused with Sister Mary Sunshine, Rumsfeld wants his troops to think long and hard and come up with solutions to the broad institutional problems that make fighting a small band of terrorists perhaps the most difficult task DoD has faced to date.
I disagree with Preston, though, about the real damage done by the leak. The real damage isn't that it gives our enemies a window into our military thinking, though that's certainly damaging. The real damage is that when this sort of self-examination -- which is essential to winning any war -- becomes the subject of leaks and bad press, you tend to get less of it.
As with the Plame affair, the reporter should be subpoenaed, and the leaker should be canned, or jailed. This sort of thing shouldn't be leaking.
UPDATE: Porphyrogenitus calls the memo leak the latest development in the war against the war against terror.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Virginia Postrel weighs in.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Unfogged calls the USA Today story about the memo "nasty, slimy spin," and observes:
If you wonder why public officials speak in vague and uninformative generalities and never level with the public, this piece of work by USA Today should answer your question. Thanks, guys.
I agree that the USA Today story takes what should be a positive development -- U.S. officials trying to do a good job and engaging in self-criticism -- and twists it into a negative story.
I wonder what they would have done with the World War II inquiry into why our torpedoes weren't working? Of course, if they'd published that, FDR likely would have thrown them in jail, posthaste.
LT Smash, recently returned from the Gulf and Iraq, writes:
These are precisely the kinds of topics that our military leaders need to be discussing. But given the strategic implications of these questions, this should be an internal discussion, not one that is splashed across the front page of the USA TODAY.
I join Glenn Reynolds in calling on the government to subpoena the reporters who wrote this story and compel them to give up their source.
This leaker isnít a whistleblower who deserves protection. This was an act of treason.
And where are all the people who were screaming about the Plame leak?
MORE: John Cole is unhappy with the spin that has been put on this memo. And David Tucker observes:
Even critics of the war on terrorism would probably agree that Rumsfeld is cautious in assessing what we have accomplished so far. He could have claimed more. That he does not, shows that that the purpose of the memo, as his spokesman claimed, is to push and prod his subordinates. By claiming more, he might make them relax. Instead, he is pushing them to do even better.
This is the first reason why this memo is good news. It shows, if we needed further proof, that Rumsfeld is not prone to complacency.
Read the whole thing. And marvel, yet again, how the press's "zero defects" approach to (this) war causes it, yet again, to miss the real story.
Too bad there's not a "zero defects" approach to reporting, eh?
And I still think the reporter on this leak should be subpoenaed.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Ted Nolan emails:
Isn't this exactly a page from Cohen's _Supreme Command_ that everybody in DC claimed to be reading last year? Describing what civillian overseers are _supposed_ to be doing? Have they all forgotten already?
If people in Washington read all the books they "claimed to be reading," we'd be better off. At least they'd have less time for mischief, with all that reading. . . .
Reader Greg Schwinghammer echoes this:
The USA Today story regarding the leaked Rumsfeld memo reminds me of an old airline commercial. It starts in a football locker room at halftime with the coach demanding, "we need to tackle better; we need to catch passes; we need to execute and play smart; and somebody please tell me how they are getting to our quarterback!" One player says, "Coach, aren't we ahead by 35 points?" And the coach says, "that's the problem I'm talking about. As soon as we get comfortable, we stop getting better as a football team."
I started my adult life as an Army officer, and the most important thing we did on every training exercise was careful after action reports. We did self- critiques on everything, from rail loading the tanks to the gunnery ranges to combined live fire exercises. The AAR was always considered the most important part of the exercise, where you took stock and figured out how to do things better. I've received many emails forwarded by soldier buddies including after action reports and "lessons learned" from Afghanistan and Iraq. Senior NCOs send tips to their friends, and the lessons and reminders percolate through the Army. Rumsfeld is just doing exactly the same thing to make sure we are doing things right.
Indeed. But while Rumsfeld is trying to learn how to better fight this war, the press is still fighting Vietnam.
MORE: Eric Muller emails this link to the Rumsfeld memo, now on the Pentagon website, and says it's thus not a leak, or why would the Pentagon have made it public? Hmm. It's true that if Rumsfeld had released it before it was in USA Today it wouldn't be a leak. But after? Well, then, when the CIA said that Valerie Plame worked there, did that mean. . . . . Ah, hell, never mind.
Anyway, Robert Tagorda has more thoughts.
STILL MORE: D'oh! I didn't realize that Eric Muller had a blog post on this. But Eugene Volokh says he's skeptical of Muller's non-leak theory. As, obviously, am I. I rather doubt that Rumsfeld wanted this publicized. The spinning in Muller's comments is amusing, though.
MORE YET: Another reader asks the unasked question:
The big unanswered question here is where is the equivalent Memo (and introspection) from the State Department?
YET MORE: Reader Marty Lederman emails that he doesn't think that the spin on the press stories is anti-Rumsfeld at all. I suppose it's a matter of interpretation, but it sure seems negative to me.
YEP, EVEN MORE: Sure sounds like a leak to me:
Official: Rumsfeld 'Livid' Over Memo Leak
Call me crazy, but I'm staying with the leak theory, for now.
AND EVEN MORE THAN THAT: Tacitus agrees that it was a leak, and speculates on who leaked it.
FINALLY: A reader notes that this is just the latest in a series of splashy "leak" stories that all generate bad publicity for the White House and DoD, to the benefit of the CIA.
Heads should have rolled there after 9/11. They should be rolling now.