It’s long been reported that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was an oddly hands-off manager for a guy who obsessed over every detail of how his office, and his staff, did their jobs. In the latest voluntary document dump of his infamous “Snowflakes” — the constant cascade of memos that the Secretary buried his staff under—the former Secretary of Defense at times comes off looking either ignorant or impotent, apparently stuck in a cycle of asking hundreds of questions, but rarely making any decisions.
In February 2005, three months after he was asked by a National Guardsman in Kuwait about why soldiers were not being deployed with armored vehicles that would better protect them against IEDs, Rumsfeld got around to sending a Snowflake to Paul Wolfowitz, his Deputy Secretary of Defense, asking about armored vehicles:
Attached is a paper on a Slovenian armored personnel carrier. There are a variety of these floating around the world.
My question is this: If we need more armored vehicles, why don’t we buy them instead of trying to make them faster than people apparently can make them?
If other people need them, and are going to need them, like the Iraqi Security Forces or the Afghan Security Forces, shouldn’t they have that in their budgets?
Please focus in on this, and get back to me with a report as to what you recommend, if anything.
We don’t know what Wolfowitz eventually recommended but it must not have been much, since it wasn’t until December 2006—after 1,200 Americans had died from roadside bombs in Iraq (and the same month Bob Gates took over from Rumsfeld)—that the Joint Chiefs signed off on an initial order of 4,060 MRAPs. There are currently over 20,000 MRAPs and MAT-V’s in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speaking of IEDs—in August 2005, Rumsfeld almost flippantly wrote to then-VADM James Stavridis who was serving as Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, “I think I ought to meet with the IED Task Force sometime soon, and get a report on where they are and what they are doing. Almost everyone I talked to on Walter Reed on Sunday had been hit by an IED. Thanks.”
Yep, checking in from time to time with the folks tasked with figuring out how to deal with the largest killer of Americans in Iraq might be a good idea.
Fourteen months later, the IED threat still wasn’t being dealt with effectively, and the SecDef was still merely asking questions rather than issuing orders. In October 2006, Rumsfeld wrote that “George Casey mentioned that additional ISR support was needed in Iraq to provide full-motion video and ground moving target indicator (GMTI). I know our resources are spread thin, but please see if there is a way to increase the coverage. This will strengthen our counter-IED effort.”
It sure would. But since not a lot was done in this regard under Rumsfeld’s watch, it again fell to Gates to force the Pentagon to acquire and ship more manned and unmanned surveillance assets to Iraq and Afghanistan, a process he said was “like pulling teeth.”
When it comes to Afghanistan, which for years was dismissed as the “forgotten war,” Rumsfeld shows us just how true that cliché was in the office of the guy whose job it was to pay attention to it.
In August 2005, he sent another Snowflake to Stavridis complaining that while he has lots of meetings with Gen. George Casey, who was running the war in Iraq, he didn’t have the same visibility on what was happening with Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who was heading up the fight in Afghanistan. “I need more meetings with Eikenberry,” he wrote. “I need to know what he is doing -- I have no idea.”
It’s true, Rumsfeld had no idea.