Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation is, of course, all about Iraq. But the implications of Rumsfeld's departure go way, way beyond the conduct of today's war. The shape of America's military for decades to come is at stake.Over his six year tenure at the Defense Department, Rumsfeld came to personify a number of technology-heavy efforts to remake the armed services. Rumsfeld's presumptive successor, Robert Gates, is going to have to make big decisions about what happens to those projects, soon after he settles into his office in the Pentagon's E-Ring.For instance, Rumsfeld became a champion of the idea that the American military had to change itself -- from an array of heavy, plodding forces to a reconfigurable collection of lighter, quicker, better-networked units. Every vehicle, every commander, every drone, and every grunt would eventually be connected to a wireless Internet for combat, under the doctrine, known alternatively as "revolution in military affairs" or "force transformation." By sharing so much information, U.S. forces would be able to make decisions lightning-fast, outmaneuvering and outwitting any foe. Missions that used to take countless thousands of soldiers could be accomplished with a few, wired-up troops, the theory went.Faith in "transformation" is one of the big reasons why Rumsfeld overruled his generals, and cut the invasion force for Iraq by more than half. It explains, in part, why troop levels were kept low, even as the war effort began to unravel. And the "transformation" guide star kept research and development funds for a networked military flowing, even as a cash crunch hit the rest of the military. Will the new Defense Secretary stick with those decisions?It's one of several questions I ask in a piece for Popular Mechanics, which should be on-line soon. I'll let you know when it is.UPDATE 8:40 PM: It's up.UPDATE 8:58 PM: Go read John Noonan's almost poetic elegy for Rummy and transformation, now.UPDATE 8:59 PM: For anyone that thinks I've been too harsh on Rummy -- the "good riddance" comment really seemed to piss folks off -- please do not read Phil Carter's latest piece in Slate. The Army captain, just back from Iraq, is absolutely withering in his critique of his former boss'-boss'-boss'-boss'-boss.
When Rumsfeld took office in 2001, he swept in with promises to transform America's militaryto move from the industrial age to the information age by revolutionizing both America's military hardware and the way it does business. He presented himself as a successful CEO who would hammer the Pentagon's notoriously recalcitrant bureaucracy into shape. Yet, despite all his rhetoric, it's not clear that he actually accomplished much in this area. The Rumsfeld defense budgets allocated more money to areas that he prioritized, such as missile defense and sophisticated systems like the Joint Strike Fighter and Future Combat Systems, but these were marginal changes from the 1990s, consistent with the ways the services were moving already. Despite his best efforts, Rumsfeld never managed to fundamentally change the way the Pentagon does business, partly because he ran into a solid wall of opposition from the military establishment, defense contractors, and Congress.In battling these foes and others, Rumsfeld didn't just lose the fight, he also did a great deal of damage to the military and to the country. Thanks to Bob Woodward, we now know a few more salacious details about his spats with senior military leaderssuch as the way he emasculated former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers. We also know how he handpicked officers for key positions in order to ensure that every senior general or admiral was a Rumsfeld company man, a policy that had a tremendously deleterious and narrowing effect on the kind of military advice and dissent flowing into the office of the secretary of defense.