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Letter from an alumnus about Reflecting on Rumsfeld

October 20, 2004:

For many years, we have admired Donald Rumsfeld ’54 as a distinguished, self-made man. He came to Princeton without the connections to the nation’s elite and the financial support enjoyed by most of his peers in those years. He studied and wrestled hard here, became a Navy flier, and quickly established himself in positions of leadership in the nation’s legislative and executive branches. What better role model for Princeton students?

How sad, then, to see this man now as the pivotal member of a “gang that could not shoot straight,” as conservative columnist and Princetonian George Will *68 recently described the White House’s and Pentagon’s management of Iraq’s occupation.

At the core of Secretary Rumsfeld’s errors, many observers on both sides of the political aisle believe, is his stubborn resistance to staffing the occupation of Iraq adequately. It seems to be an inborn stubbornness, to which Mark Bernstein ’83 alludes as well in his recent article on the secretary (Feature, Oct. 6).

Although former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger’s report on Abu Ghraib delicately dances around Secretary Rumsfeld’s role in that prison scandal, he does report that the command of General Sanchez was so “under-resourced” that not enough attention could be paid to operations at that and other prisons in Iraq. The resulting damage to America’s image in the world is incalculable.

Last November, a number of newspapers, including the Financial Times and the New York Times, reported that hundreds and possibly thousands of Saddam Hussein’s ammunition dumps —many of them known to U.S. troops —had been left unguarded during most of 2003, for want of troops to take on that important task. America’s enemies in Iraq could help themselves at these dumps like customers in a supermarket without a check-out counter. What secretary of defense could possibly expose his troops to such a danger, not even to dwell upon the fact that American soldiers still die over there in unarmored Humvees?

We can appreciate that many of the secretary’s friends will take umbrage at these remarks. With a son (Mark ’01) who already has served two tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq, however, we are not that quick to overlook these management gaffes. The “gang that cannot shoot straight” has cost our family too many sleepless nights.

Uwe E. Reinhardt
James Madison Professor of Political Economy, Woodrow Wilson School

May Cheng Reinhardt
Princeton, N.J.

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There’s a very important lesson that Donald Rumsfeld ’54 didn’t learn at Princeton: If you intimidate subordinates they will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to know. Why has the American military leadership in Iraq failed to request the number of troops necessary to subdue the insurgents? Because Secretary Rumsfeld effectively preempted such “unnecessary” requests by taking a firm public position to the contrary prior to the outset of hostilities. As a result, young Americans have died needlessly in Iraq, and will continue to do so.

C. Thomas Corwin ’62
Princeton, N.J.

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How clever to run an article just four weeks before the election that uses the prism of nostalgia and “early” character divination to burnish the reputation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ’54! I had no idea Rummy was such a great guy. This certainly changes my view of him as the arrogant architect of a failed war strategy and violator of the Geneva Convention.

Jeff Wells ’84
Washington, D.C.

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