Taking a Leak


Many takes on the Rumsfeld memo have been circulating through the media and the blogosphere. One is that the defense secretary's private comments are less sanguine than his public posture. That is a legitimate point. Another is that it's good to know Rumsfeld is forcing himself and his subordinates to confront some hard and important questions. That is also a legitimate point.

A third is that the leak should not have happened. Blogger Lt. Smash, whose monicker has always reminded me of Nick Fury, dares call it "treason," which seems bizarre to me. The memo includes no confidential war plans, no secret information about intelligence sources or troop movements. Its take on the war effort is not terribly different from what you'll hear from mainstream pundits of both the left and the right, and the questions it poses are, as Smash notes, "precisely the kinds of topics that our military leaders need to be discussing." Furthermore, it's very possible that the document was "leaked" by Rumsfeld himself.

The memo might be embarrassing to officials who prefer to hold such discussions behind closed doors, but there is nothing in it that aids or comforts the likes of Osama bin Laden. I understand Glenn Reynolds' argument that "when this sort of self-examination—which is essential to winning any war—becomes the subject of leaks and bad press, you tend to get less of it." But there's something to be said for carrying out some self-examination in public, where leaks are beside the point and your bad press can at least focus on what is rather than what might be. I see only one scandal in the Rumsfeld memo, and it's neither the document's contents nor the fact that it was released to the public. It's the fact that such talk is ordinarily reserved for closed session.

NEXT: Big Bad Big Box

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  1. You can?t be serious.

    That memo was a peak inside Donald Rumsfeld?s brain. Now the whole world knows what he?s thinking about, and our enemies can anticipate our next strategic move.

    No, it doesn?t give out any war plans, but one could make the argument that knowing, for instance, that Rumsfeld considers the madrassas a serious strategic threat, or is concerned about the ?cost-benefit ratio,? might benefit our enemies? strategic planning.

    Are you so blinded by your libertarian ideology that you can?t imagine any national security benefits that might arise from keeping such strategic discussions secret?

  2. LT Smash. It’s from “The Simpsons”. Navy recruiter / boy band svengali.

  3. Kudos to Mork for nailing my nom de plume.

    And correction to my comment above: “peek” not “peak”.

  4. I don’t really understand Jesse’s post. The memo wasn’t leaked, according to USA Today. Rumsfeld gave it to congressional folks and discussed it with them.

    The memo reveals nothing about strategy, other than Rumsfeld’s P.R. strategy.

  5. It’s currently available on the DOD’s server. So if it’s a secret, it ain’t a well kept one.

    This memo causes me to think more highly of Sec. Rumsfeld. This is the kind of honest debate we need. It should not be restricted solely to the WH and Pentagon, but in the halls of Congress and the streets and airwaves of America. If there were more discuasions at this level on Fox, MSNBC, PBS and CNN we might be able to come up with some real solutions. Instead, we’re stuck with shouting matches and gotchas.

  6. So it should be top secret that the madrassas are a serious threat, or that we’re concerned about costs and benefits? Good god.

  7. Oh, right. I remember that episode. YVAN EHT NIOJ.

    As for how valuable the peek into Rumsfeld’s brain is to the other side: Leaving aside the question of whether it was a calculated leak, in which case terrorists might be a part of the intended audience, I don’t think there’s anything here that gives strategic advantage to Al Qaeda. Not unless they seriously believed that no one in Washington was concerned about the madrassas or the cost-benefit ratio, which is pretty unlikely.

    Trainwreck: I know that, and if you follow the link from the word “possible” you’ll see a discussion of that very point. It’s entirely believable that this memo was intended from the start to reach the public’s eyes; it’s also believable that it was not meant to go further than the distribution list but was leaked. We’ll have to wait and see what more comes out.

  8. Clarification: By “distribution list,” I mean “the people he gave it to,” not “the four names at the top of the document.”

    Mo: Great find. Any idea whether it went up there before the USA Today story?

  9. Jesse, you are correct in stating we’ll have to wait to see, because a careful reading of the USA Today article doesn’t attribute any source to the memo. No “senior congressional staffer” or “senior pentagon official” revealed it. It appeared from thin air, I guess.

    Again, my best guess here is that this is a message primarily to the millions of employees and family members in the DoD. It allows him to contradict the spin masters at the White House without physically wandering off the reservation, and it allows the millions of DoD employees and family members to see that he really is concerned.

  10. Yeah, I may have been a bit premature.


    Never mind…

  11. Ya know this whole affair (to me) makes the White House look absolutely clueless on Iraq.

    Why don’t they think we can handle a little bad news? Hell most of us have to deal with it everyday. My friend’s brother, an ex-marine, died last week of a heart attack at age 39. My mother in law has cancer. The condition of the house I bought was misrepresented, I might lose my ass on it.

    President Bush sounds so weak when he says, ya know, things are going good in Iraq, it’s just there’s this media filter.

    The only reason this memo from SecDef is refreshing is because it’s so rare for the administration to deal with the public candidly.

  12. I think they are carefully targeting their propaganda. Keep the bright smile for the kids who only watch TV. Look thoughtful and realistic for the people who sometimes read.

  13. There are two problems with the Rumsfeld memo.

    The first is its immediate, pre-leak audience: Rumsfeld’s subordinates in the DoD. It appears, at least to me, as if Wolfowitz, Feith et. al. had delegated to them the responsibility of planning the aftermath of both the Afghan. campaign and the Iraq war, while Rumsfeld involved himself in planning the wars themselves while continuing his military transformation campaign, the leitmotif of his tenure before 9/11. What I’m suggesting is that the points he makes in the memo are not only good ones, they are basic and fairly obvious — except, perhaps, to the second level at DoD (and the White House NSC and OVP) that went into the Iraq project with some assumptions that appear incorrect now and that they appear still to hold. A relevant question is whether this memo would have become public if Rumsfeld were confident that its points were being listened to within the Bush adminsitration.

    The second problem is related to this, and is very simply that Donald Rumsfeld is not the President. That may seem like a statement of the obvious; of course he isn’t, and has never come close to being the President. But to indulge in another statement of the obvious, Rumsfeld is a far abler and more experienced man than George W. Bush (I say that as someone who disagrees with Rumsfeld about many things), and the reflection and implied ability to correct an errant course is only coming out of the SecDef’s office now, not the West Wing.

    My own opinion is that we would be better off now if Rumsfeld were President. I don’t know what Bush’s thinking is about Iraq and terrorism just now. I suspect he pretty much flies by the seat of his pants, able to exercise “message discipline” because his own thinking on this subject is neither extensive nor particularly deep. I’m suggesting that at least for the immediate future Rumsfeld’s memo might not mean anything at all for the conduct of the war on terrorism, or for Iraq. Influential as any Defense Secretary and this one in particular is, he cannot in the end either dictate policy nor control how that policy is presented. The President does that, and it isn’t clear he is listening.

  14. Anyone care to list all gummint’s “long, hard slogs”?
    1. Leave no child behind
    2. A “living” wage
    3. Affirmative action
    4. War on drugs

    Isn’t “long, hard slog” a euphemism for uranizing into the breezes?

  15. Jesse,
    It looks like it was attached to this story on Di Rita’s press conference. That would make one think it came after.

    Credit to the above link via JunkYard Blog

  16. I thought the original post was pretty much on the money. I am glad that Rummy feels this way since it may increase the chances of getting more results in catching terrorists and avoiding future horrors. Only the most pathological haters of this administration could complain about that.

    For a “leak”, it seems to contain remarkably little information that one could see as useful to the enemy. Quite the opposite.

    No doubt we will be soon reading “leaks” of how John Snow thinks the U.S. budget deficit is too big to be sustainable. I can already picture in my mind how ex-Enron adviser Paul Krugman would write about that!

  17. Smash,

    You must REALLY be bent out of shape about Karen Kwiatkowsky!

    It is just such questions as Rumsfeld asked that bear on the feasibility or advisability of the so-called War on Terror, versus alternative approaches. The costs of such a war over the long haul, the effects it will have on our domestic institutions, and whether the benefits will outweigh the costs and “blowback,” are all central factors in deciding whether and how to undertake such a war in the first place. And it is a FULLY INFORMED American people who should be making such decisions–not just sitting passively and being spoon-fed “official happy news” while “Our Leaders” make the real decisions behind closed doors.

    BTW, Jesse, I can’t hear the name Nick Fury without thinking of the National Lampoon parody: “Sgt. Nick Penis and his Brass Balls Battalion.”

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