I was among those cheered by the departure of Donald Rumsfeld, but Sam and Matt have called “the incompetence dodge” account of how that war went awry. (There is a dark irony here, I suppose, in that this means I’m uneasy about Bush implicitly acknowledging his own ineptitude…)
Rumsfeld, recall, was a vocal advocate of “defense transformation,” which would entail relying on small, nimble, highly-trained and networked forces carrying out more surgically precise operations. And one way to read the Bush announcement in the wake of Rumsfeld’s resignation is as a tacit declaration that this was wrong: What we’ve learned from Iraq is that we mainly need lots of warm bodies.
With the caveat that I’m no defense wonk, my sense is that Rumsfeld was probably mostly right: This was the correct vision of the military for the kinds of operations it makes sense for the U.S. to be conducting in the 21st century. It is probably not ideal for huge transformative nation-building projects, but that’s OK, because huge transformative nation-building projects are a bad idea and, in most of the kinds of cases where we’d be tempted to carry them out, not destined for success in any event. The proper response to this, then, is: Stop trying to do that shit. It seems instead that Bush is moving to preserve our capacity to attempt ill-starred democracy spreading missions.