I'm getting a late start on my live-blogging of the 2011 MilBloggers' conference here in Washington, D.C. Currently, the former Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld is speaking. He's shorter than I expected. Apparently, the camera not only adds weight but it also adds inches.
He's funny. Says he appreciates what we do even though he doesn't quite understand WHAT we do.
It's open for questions:
1. What are your thoughts on the current change in leadership at the CIA? (General Petraeus will be taking over leadership of the agency):
Secretary Rumsfeld is concerned over the fact that we've had 4 or 5 CIA leaders in the past 10 years. If you ran a company like that, you'd go broke. You simply cannot efficiently run an organization like that. His hope is that a respect for the seriousness and the importance of those posts will develop as well as the realization that that kind of turnover is not conducive to the success of the agency.
2. Given the President's announcement of $400 billion in defense cuts, what are your thoughts?
Any big bureaucracy has waste and there is no doubt that the Pentagon is not immune to that. There is also a lot of resistance to those kinds of cuts. He says he has not studied the cuts proposed but he has studied history and cuts like this are cyclical. We drew down after the Cold War and look where it got us. Our Human Intelligence community was starved for resources and that is what GHWB inherited in 2001. And look where that got us.
3. Rumor has it that you were a relatively demanding boss (he read that in the book) during your tenure. In our environment, there is a fear of making a mistake, especially with regard to social media. If you were a new boss, coming into things now, what would you say to people to open up participation in social media?
You relax and enjoy it and encourage it. You can't stop it. The enemy is using it. Change is hard for people and they like to think that they are controlling things but it's impossible. You just have to accept it.
4. Thoughts on the fielding of the MRAP (during your tenure and after you left office)?
He's not sure how to put it...people were getting killed by explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every time we found a way to avoid those injuries and casualties, the enemy would find a way around it. Finally, he said that wasn't acceptable. If the Army is not capable of equipping our soldiers in the field then you change tactics. Until you can protect them, you keep them inside the compound. It has to be fixed fast. Hence, the MRAP. They reenergized the IED force - sped up technology development, intelligence gathering, etc.
5. Marcus is up from YouServed with a question from their readers.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in Afghanistan? Need a fresh look from leadership. And if your goal is to not BE there, then figure out a way to solidify the leadership instead of weakening it and trashing Karzai. Running around saying "the government is corrupt!" is like saying "There's gambling in the casino!". Find a way to strengthen their government. We can't compare them to us. We can't use our template to create their government. It's a totally different country and we have to give them a chance. We can't nation-build for them.
6. What leadership disagreements did you have and how did you resolve them?
Rumsfeld would encourage you to read the book. There is an audio version too!
7. Veterans serving in an elected capacity. What advice do you have and what would you tell them about developing a thick skin?
Rumsfeld would offer encouragement. Our political system is one of the most incredible feats of mankind. He would get Adalai Stevenson's speech (on his website) off there and give it to them. Read history. Read biographies. What we're going through today is uncivil but that's the nature of freedom - you're free to be unkind, uninformed. We need more people from the military in politics. Let the ick roll off your back. You get the burden with the benefit and the benefit with the burden.
8. Talk about the weight on your heart and mind when you have to send people into harm's way.
It's the toughest part of being in a policy-making position. What can you say to make them understand the appreciation that he and the country have for the sacrifices made by our servicemembers? They went in trying to encourage and always came out inspired.
9. Another question from the live-streaming chat. What advise would you give Secretary Gates on retirement?
He's not a big advice-giver. He'd thank him for his service. He doesn't worry much about Secretary Gates.
10. Another chat question: What are your thoughts on Libya?
What's our strategic edifice? What's important? First: do no harm. Make sure that whatever it is that we do is not disadvantageous to the "big pieces" - Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. You cannot end up with Khaddafi still there. Leaving Saddam in place empowered him. You can't do that with Khaddafi or you'll wind up with the same result. In our circumstance, the mission MUST determine the coalition. It's what GHWB did - set the goal first. Not the other way around. There's no clarity. We have no idea what we're trying to accomplish. The coalition was formed without clarity and it's harmful.
11. WRT Lybia: are you suggesting that there is another way to remove him beyond what we're doing?
There are other opportunities - beyond boots on the ground - that we can utilize to remove him. There are things we can do that will strengthen the rebels and weaken the government/Khaddafi and we're not doing them. When it's over, he thinks that Khaddafi should be gone and the people of Lybia should play a big part in making that happen.
And the panel is over. Time for book signings and pictures. My overall impression is that Secretary Rumsfeld is incredibly sharp, wouldn't know how to BS if you paid him, blunt, and quite funny. I have a feeling sarcasm is probably his first language and that we'd get along quite well.
As wonderful as it was to meet, what made the morning even better is meeting an old friend live and in person for the first time. That definitely was worth the price of admission.