WASHINGTON — As a 10-year-old, Donald Rumsfeld liked to hunt for Japanese fishing floats along the beach in Seaside, Ore., during his father's Navy service in World War II. But what captured the boy's imagination even more than the surf-tossed orbs were the teams of US servicemen patrolling the shore for Japanese naval threats.
"I used to go out in the morning and see the Coast Guard walking up and down the beach with German shepherd dogs," Mr. Rumsfeld recalled more than 50 years later. He evoked the memory in 1998 as he warned Congress of a new, looming menace to US territory: ballistic missiles in the hands of "rogue" states.
From Pearl Harbor to the cold war, into the twilight zone of 21st-century nuclear terrorism, if there is a core belief driving the new Pentagon chief as he attempts to
overhaul US defense strategy, it is that America continues to face lethal enemies, and vulnerability is not an option. "History teaches us that weakness is provocative," Rumsfeld said on the day President Bush appointed him Defense secretary.
The native Chicagoan and former wrestling champion, known as "Rummy" to friends, views the world as a relatively ruthless, Hobbesian place where thugs flaunt - and respect - brute force. "Those of us from Chicago recall Al Capone's remark that 'You get more with a kind word and a gun than you do with a kind word alone,' " he quips.
To his critics, Rumsfeld is a Cassandra of sorts, prophesying worst-case scenarios and exaggerated threats to US security. He has "way overstated" the dangers to the US from rogue-state missiles, as well as the threats to US space assets, says Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan defense official.
Supporters counter that Rumsfeld is a clear-eyed, independent-minded realist whose conservative worldview is firmly grounded in fact.
Detractors and backers alike give him high marks for toughness, dedication, and managerial skills as he takes command of the Pentagon, arguably the largest, most technologically complex enterprise in the world.
Asserting that the US military is ill-equipped to confront new, post-cold-war threats - from biological weapons to cyberwarfare - Rumsfeld is promoting what he calls the biggest remaking of US defenses since the "Eisenhower transformation" after World War II. He has already tasked some two dozen panels in a sweeping, secretive review of US military strategy and operations. He admits modernizing the nation's armed forces, including weapons he approved as Defense secretary 25 years ago, will take decades and "nontrivial" infusions of cash.
At the heart of Rumsfeld's doctrine is a belief in peace through strength. He advocates a robust, relatively unfettered US military as the best safeguard against weapons of mass destruction. "The goal isn't to win a war. The goal is to be so capable of winning a war that you don't have to fight it," he said on a recent broadcast.
He remains skeptical of the usefulness of arms-control agreements - and wary of their constraints on US power. In the 1990s, for example, he opposed a range of such measures, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Rumsfeld believes that, "while arms control could be effective at times, it's not where you want to put your marbles, because bad guys break agreements," says Ken Adelman, former director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Rumsfeld considers the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty outdated and an obstacle to one of his top agenda goals: US deployment of a multi-billion-dollar missile-defense shield. In 1998, a commission Rumsfeld chaired upset earlier intelligence estimates and warned Congress that some 25 to 30 countries have or are seeking to acquire ballistic missiles, and North Korea and Iran could deploy them against the US within five years.
Today, Rumsfeld is poised to push forward with US deployment of a missile-defense system. He rejects arguments that it would be too expensive, destabilizing, or technically infeasible, although he admits that initially it is unlikely to be 100 percent effective. Rumsfeld faces vast obstacles to his plans to reform US defenses, experts say, including entrenched interests in Congress, the Pentagon bureaucracy, and the armed services. Nevertheless, his career to date strongly suggests a man skilled at getting what he wants.
On the mat
A high school wrestling champion, Rumsfeld graduated from Princeton University in 1954 and became a naval aviator - a subject of pride demonstrated by the large bronze sculptures of navy fliers standing in his Pentagon office today. He also won the all-Navy wrestling title.
After a brief stint as a stockbroker, Rumsfeld made a long-shot bid for a House seat. Former Senator Charles Percy (R) of Illinois recalls one winter night in the late 1950s at his home in Kenilworth, Ill., when a young man appeared at his door. "He said, 'I am Don Rumsfeld, and I am interested in running for Congress, and I want your support.' " After an hour's conversation, Senator Percy was so impressed that he promised to back the upstart candidate, who won the House seat in 1962 at the age of 29.
In Congress, Rumsfeld established his credentials as a conservative Republican and from there rose rapidly to serve under Nixon and Ford, including as ambassador to NATO in 1973-74. A family trip across the demilitarized zone to East Germany in the early 1970s crystallized his opposition to communism. "The soldiers everywhere, the dismal life ... really sent him wild," says Mr. Adelman.
As the nation's youngest Defense secretary - serving under Ford from 1975-77 - Rumsfeld lobbied hard against the doctrine of detente and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's SALT II arms limitation talks, earning himself a reputation as a hawk and shrewd bureaucratic infighter.
"The cold war ... was Rumsfeld's most important formative experience," says Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution here. Today, as Rumsfeld returns to the Pentagon, vowing to shake out vestiges of the cold-war mentality, he knows firsthand how daunting the task is. "It's hard for men who have spent their adult lives living with cold-war think in their mindset," he told an interviewer recently.
Rumsfeld also comes to the Pentagon with broad business experience and an eye for efficiency. Between 1977 and 2000, he served as CEO of two pharmaceutical firms and a high-tech company, boosting their stocks as well as his own personal fortune.
A master of delegating, Rumsfeld is a rapid-fire dictaphone user whose terse, two- or three-line memos are so prolific that employees call them "snowflakes."
An avid consumer of hard-hitting intelligence, he has so little tolerance for "gobbledygook" that he has been known to essentially throw out briefers, says Dan Goure, a defense analyst who served on Rumsfeld's missile commission. He's also known to hand out punchy sayings known as Rumsfeld's rules, such as: "Don't play President. You're not."
Cardigan-wearer amid brass buttons
Although his wife, Joyce, kids him about being one of the oldest defense secretaries, Rumsfeld follows a rigorous work schedule. By 6:30 each morning, he arrives at a Pentagon office decorated with paintings of Western scenes. He replaces his suit jacket with a cardigan sweater, and works until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., often eating lunch at a desk adorned with a buffalo statue.
He starts each day with a secure conference call with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The three often call each other again two or three times a day, aides say. Rumsfeld has grown exasperated over media reports of a gulf between him and Secretary Powell. "That really gets his goat," says one aide. "It's just not reality."
Indeed, colleagues and acquaintances say Rumsfeld lacks the big ego of many top officials. "He's not a showman," says John Deutch, a former CIA director, or "a personality kitten." Others note his light touch and wry sense of humor. "He's witty," says attorney and former CIA director James Woolsey, who served on the Rumsfeld missile commission. "He has an appreciation for the absurd situations you get caught in."
A diverse dossier
Before being sworn in as secretary of Defense for the second time, Donald Rumsfeld held jobs ranging from congressman to CEO. He also:
Attended Princeton University.
Was all-Navy wrestling champ.
Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.
Served under the last four GOP presidents.
Has been married for 47 years. He and his wife, Joyce, have three children.
Skis and plays tennis, squash.
Reads history and political biographies.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor