In all the furor over Don Rumsfeld, it is worth pausing to remember 1) why he stands accused of incompetence, and 2) what happened the last time a Defense Secretary stood similary accused.
I. Why he stands accused of incompetence:
What has Don Rumsfeld done that has shown his incompetence? Well, the list is pretty well documented by now, but let's collect the highlights in one place for public viewing.
1. It has been reported over and over by now that when General Eric Shinseki recommended that we plan on occupying Iraq with 400,000 troops in order to prevent any insurgency from getting started, he was not only ignored, but was promptly 'retired' by Rumsfeld because this contradicted the 'Rumsfeld' doctrine that we could do it with a small, mobile force. Of course, conservatives like to mention the occupation of Germany and Japan after WWII as examples of 'successful regime change,' but it is worth noting that right after the war ended, Germany was occupied by allied troops whose number was about one sixth of the population, and Japan was also occupied by literally millions of soldiers. This prevented a revolt in either country. Rumsfeld committed two acts of incompetence here: i) He failed to grasp what was needed and heed advice from Gen. Shinseki, and ii) by making an example of Gen. Shinseki and forcing him to leave, the Secretary effectively short circuited anyone who might have wanted to make a similar suggestion. An effective leader doesn't punish people for suggesting an alternative that they might not agree with.
2. Rumsfeld's remarks on February 7, 2003 to U.S. troops in Aviano, Italy in regard to the Iraq war:
"It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
He's right that it's unknowable. But clearly he underestimated the enemy, as the President has said that the conflict is likely to still be going on when he leaves office, meaning that six years won't be enough time. True, a lot of people underestimated the enemy in Iraq, but the Defense Secretary is one of the very few who has an obligation to get it right.
3. Body armor and adequate vehicle armor. Maybe we weren't prepared going in, but why is this the issue that just won't go away? He's had three years to fix the problem but it's still not fixed. And the price for this is paid in American lives.
II. When was the last time a Defense Secretary was accused of incompetence, and what did he do?
You remember, Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin. After spending a lot of effort on gays in the military and coming up with the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy, Aspin was accused of failing to provide adequate armament to American troops in Somalia (never mind that the mission there was inherited from the Bush administration.) In a well-publicized episode, eighteen American soldiers were killed in a firefight with the forces of a local warlord, and eventually were rescued by Italians who had armored vehicles that the Americans were lacking. So, Aspin resigned. Clinton then nominated a more competent Defense Secretary and as a result, we did not lose another American in combat during the Clinton administration, despite conducting operations in Haiti, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
Ultimately, one measure of how competent a leader is, is how willing he is to get rid of proven and repeated incompetents in his organization. Can you imagine a CEO of a fortune 500 company who would put up with a person in an important position who had made as many mistakes as Don Rumsfeld has?
Hmmm. Let me think about that one again.... no wonder George W. Bush's business ventures never made any money.
Correction: IndyVoter points out in the comments that the rules of engagement in Somalia were changed when Clinton took office at the request of the Secretary General of the U.N.. In accordance with Deep Thought's announced policy of publically identifying errors before correcting them, we now have made 6 errors on 309 posts (I put 5 in 308 in the comments but I have a log and after checking it, it is six in 309) so we have a .980 fielding percentage.