Remember those Japanese soldiers who used to be found in the jungles of Guam 25 or 30 years after the end of World War II? I think former Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita is becoming our modern equivalent, still holed up in a remote cave and defending Rumsfeld, his former leader.
Di Rita emerges from his jungle holdout in the National Review Online to respond to a piece in the same conservative publication by Tom Donnelly that evaluated George W. Bush as a commander-in-chief. Now, keep in mind that Donnelly is a PNAC-card carrying hawk who hangs his hat at AEI, neo-con central. (When I was over there last year for a talk by Douglas Feith I sat between Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. This is not a metaphor.) You can almost see the sweat on Donnelly's forehead as he strives to be kind to Bush, repeatedly noting his "commitment" and "courage." He takes note of what he calls Rumsfeld's "gross negligence" but even pins responsibility for that on Bush, because the president was in charge.
But is this very sympathetic take good enough for Larry Di Rita?
Of course not! Donnelly's gentle assessment, froths Di Rita, is "a compilation of nearsighted conventional wisdom." It is, he asserts, "one dimensional" because it focuses too much on Iraq. Larry also makes the claim that Bush as a candidate was visionary in seeing the challenges he would face. This is pretty amazing because 1. the administration came in focused on missile defense and China and 2. it is well documented that in its first summer in office the administration ignored blinking red lights about an al Qaeda attack on the United States.
I'm most embarrassed for Di Rita when he takes Donnelly to task for asserting that Rumsfeld wanted to cut the size of the Army. In fact, Di Rita admonishes, the Army grew. Yeah, Larry, but no thanks to Rumsfeld! Before 9/11, it is well-established, the defense secretary was looking to cut several divisions. I've actually spent hours talking to generals involved about this, and get into it in my next book, because the Army counterattack was spearheaded by then Brig. Gen. Raymond Odierno, now the U.S. commander in Iraq.
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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.