Lots of people have been weighing in on the new memoir by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with the most devastating review coming from Slate’s Fred Kaplan, who lists the omissions, half-truths and other obfuscations contained in the book in such detail that you might feel like you’re living through the early ‘00s all over again.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. We all know what to expect when sitting down to read a political memoir. It’s the record as presented by a biased party who has an interest in trying to massage history into a friendly morality play that ends on a happy, or at least positive, note. Fair enough. But looking at a few of the big acquisition programs that stirred controversy during Rumsfeld’s term, the story he tells is sadly incomplete.
First up, for all of the money that the Pentagon poured into the Future Combat Systems program during Rumsfeld’s tenure, and all the talk that the SecDef gave to his conception of “military transformation” and modernization, at no point in his 816-page memoir does Rumsfeld actually manage to mention FCS. Not a peep. Check the footnotes.
But hey, its Rumsfeld’s book, and he can talk about what he wants to, right? It is a rather curious omission considering that FCS was touted as the cornerstone of Rumsfeld’s ambitious modernization agenda that would network the entire Army and radically transform the very way in which the service was structured. Between its inception in 2003 and 2007, the program cost $8 billion and made it through enough fights with an unhappy Congress to have $829 million sliced from its budget, and keep on chugging. And that $8 billion upfront investment is nothing when you consider that by early 2007 (Rumsfeld stepped down in November 2006) the Office of the Secretary of Defense was estimating that FCS would eventually cost between $203 billion and $234 billion.
In other words, it was kind of a big deal. And by 2009 when Secretary Gates gutted it, it was clear that it had failed. So one can see why Rumsfeld would be loath to dwell on it. But still, he has nothing to say about it at all?
The other major acquisition program Rumsfeld massages in his memoir is the now-iconic MRAP. It sometimes feels like MRAPs have been around forever, but they really only began to flood into Iraq, and later Afghanistan, in large numbers in 2007.
The long, tortured, complicated, and expensive process of getting the MRAP built and into the field is dispatched in a single sentence toward the end of the book: “Armor continued to arrive in theater, including the first prototypes of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) V-hulled vehicles that afforded more protection to the troops.”
Of course, there’s more to it than that. USA Today, in a great bit of investigative reporting back in 2007, revealed that Marine commanders in Iraq started asking for MRAPs as early as December 2003, and time and again sent requests to the Pentagon for thousands of MRAPs to protect troops from the roadside bombs that were chewing up their Humvees. Their requests were continuously ignored while hundreds of American troops died and were injured by roadside bombs. It wasn’t until 2007 and the entry of Bob Gates that MRAPs finally started arriving in Iraq in large numbers.
This isn’t to say that Rumsfeld personally shot down these battlefield requests for MRAPs, but it is a damning spot on his legacy that the organization he ran was unwilling and/or unable to look reality square in the face the give troops in the field the equipment they needed. That deserves more than a single, flip sentence in an 816-page book.