Despite my brief joustingwith former SECDEF Donald Rumsfeld at the Military Blogger Conference on Saturday, the Q&A he did with us was really pretty interesting. (The full video is available at http://vimeo.com/23132551.) My first big take-away was that he's a pretty charming guy. You might complain that he comes off as too-flippant, or not serious enough to be a senior strategic advisor to the president, but I suspect his public persona (like most of us) isn't an exact representation of who he really is. He's been in government his entire adult life and has worked for six different presidents, so he's obviously got some substance.
One of the first questions was about the recently-announced appointmentsof the new Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta – current Dir. of CIA), Director of the CIA (GEN David Petraeus – current Commander of CENTCOM), and Ambassador to Afghanistan (Ryan Crocker – former Ambassador to Iraq). Mr. Rumsfeld was quick to say that everyone named is qualified for their respective jobs and would be a fine addition to the president's team of advisors on national strategy. When talking about GEN Petraeus, though, Mr. Rumsfeld commented that it he thought shifting CIA directors so often was a mistake. GEN Petraeus will be the fifth Director of the CIA within the last decade; Mr. Rumsfeld said that just didn't give them enough time to really get into the job and make a difference. He described it as a case of “musical chairs.” His comments sounded like a criticism of the current administration but seemed to overlook the fact that 8 of the last 10 years were spent under different leadership. There certainly some truth to the fact that a longer tenure give time to build relationships – something which is (I hear) particularly important in intelligence communities; hopefully GEN Petraeus will be around long enough to make a real difference.
There were a few questions about how recently announced budget cuts might affect the military, but Mr. Rumsfeld was unwilling to comment on them, saying he was unfamiliar with the specifics of the recommendations.
His most interesting comments came in response to a question about operations in Libya. He echoed a criticism that’s been made in other places, that the United States must have (and articulate) what the strategic interest is in Libya and define clear and cohesive goals. He also said that the United States must maintain its “do no harm” policy with respect to the region’s biggest players: Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Balancing these many interests makes the approach to Libya a complicated one. But he said he could still see real possibilities for success in Libya (i.e. an end of Gaddafi's power), provided the United States could provide sufficient direction and incentives for key players – like members of Gaddafi's inner circles – to support change.
All in all, it was an interesting discussion – feel free to check out the video!