Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 24, 2003
WAR: The Tough Questioner
At a time when he's under fire yet again, this May 2001 New York Times profile of Don Rumsfeld is interesting, in retrospect:
Mr. Rumsfeld, now 68, is back at the Pentagon's helm. And once again he is arguing before a wary Congress that the armed forces need an expensive face-lift to counter emerging threats like terrorists with biological weapons and potentially hostile nations with long-range ballistic missiles.
In the coming weeks, Mr. Rumsfeld will begin making his case for adding billions of dollars to the current defense budget and increasing President Bush's proposed $324 billion Pentagon budget. His goal is to transform the military into a more agile, lethal and stealthy force, and to build a costly and unproven missile shield.
Though Americans may feel safer today than in decades, he asserts that "weakness is provocative," that the nation is in danger of growing complacent and that the military must remain strong enough to deter and punish aggressors in this "dangerous and untidy world."
"If things are not bad, why do you need to change anything?" Mr. Rumsfeld said in an hourlong interview this week in his Pentagon office overlooking the Potomac. "And, of course, that's exactly when institutions suffer. If they think things are good, and they relax and don't recognize the changes taking place in the world, they tend to fail."
Critics contend that Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Bush's other top advisers have exaggerated the military challenges facing the United States and that he is arguing for a missile shield at a time when, at least numerically, the missile threat has lessened.
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"The weapons of mass destruction are more widely dispersed," he said. "And they are in the hands of people who are different than the people who had them 25 years ago."
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Aides have become accustomed to a deluge of "snowflakes" from Mr. Rumsfeld — a seemingly endless flurry of questions, problems or assignments he dictates into a Dictaphone and has transcribed by secretaries and dispatched to all areas of the Pentagon. Responses are expected to be terse: as much information and as little prose as possible.
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"It's wrong to allow people to develop a zero tolerance for risk," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "We would not have airplanes if the first 20 times the Wright brothers crashed and failed we said, `Stop it, don't try it again, you're wasting money.' "