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Donald Rumsfeld's tenure as Secretary of Defense from 2001-2006 during the George W. Bush Administration provides a striking example of the exercise of leadership during a time of change in a highly charged political atmosphere. Rumsfeld was attempting to change the internal and external profile of an enormous organization that is under constant scrutiny from many stakeholders and outside interests, some supportive and others hostile. He wanted to change the way the department fights wars by leveraging the American military's technological advantage while other leaders in other areas of federal and international governance sought to influence the country's approach to foreign policy in more diplomacy-focused ways. Perhaps it was due to so much scrutiny and powerful opposition that the secretary exercised his leadership in such an enigmatic fashion, not in the sense of Sun Tzu's invisible hand kind leadership but in a smoke and mirrors manner better suited to an intelligence agency chief (Sun Tzu, 1988). Nonetheless, this paper will examine the provocative style and mixed results of Donald Rumsfeld's leadership of the Department of Defense (DOD) during the Bush presidency.
Organizational leadership was nothing new to Donald Rumsfeld when he accepted the appointment to run the Department of Defense for the 43th American president. He had held the reins of a handful of corporations and had served in the federal government in several capacities, including as Secretary of Defense during the Ford Administration (Almanac of Famous People, 2007). George W. Bush won the presidency in the controversial 2000 election that left the country deeply divided and even more distrustful of the federal government. Less than a year later, however, the tragic events of September 11, 2001, united the American people and the national government behind the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network. The use of military force in Afghanistan had strong support among politicians and citizens alike, and it scored a quick success with the toppling of the Taliban regime in Kabul during the winter of 2001. Achieving this objective so rapidly and with very few military personnel on the ground encourage Rumsfeld to pursue this plan to change the U.S. armed forces and the government agency that administered them. In Afghanistan, what would become known has Rumsfeld's "shock and awe" doctrine of war had worked (Woodward, 2002). To build on that success, he aimed for a leaner, meaner military and a complimentary DOD (Woodward, 2004).
The unity and support the Bush Administration enjoyed began to unravel when it set its sights on Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein. We know now that Rumsfeld made Iraq a target of military planning long before the events of 9/11 (Woodward, 2004). Moving the invasion of Iraq from secret strategy conjecture to an inevitable course of action was perhaps the biggest test of the secretary's leadership.
The DOD is a colossal organization with a wide range of subgroup making up its corporate culture. Secretary Rumsfeld wanted to the department to advance his goal of a shock and awe victory in Iraq, but the DOD was still oriented toward Colin Powell's doctrine of overwhelming force. Rumsfeld needed the DOD to change its doctrinal focus, but he knew that it would take a long time to affect such a change of value within the context of the existing organizational culture. Time is limited in the world of elected government. Rumsfeld served at the pleasure of President Bush, so at most he had 8 years as head of the department. However, he wanted to attack Iraq as soon as possible; he wanted to ride into Iraq on the coattails of his success in Afghanistan. To advance this goal as quickly as possible, he went outside of the existing culture of the DOD. Even though the department had its own intelligence body that served his office, Rumsfeld created his own intelligence unit, staffed with people loyal to his vision (Woodward, 2004). He did the exact opposite of what Clement recommends for achieving optimal organizational change (Clement, 1994).
By creating his own subgroup of loyalists within the DOD, Rumsfeld moved away from the "extremely important" suggestion put forth in the Alagse article (n.d.). The secretary fostered the political climate within the department. He used organizational politics to divide the DOD into two groups: those within his inner circle who had access to his power and whom he rewarded, and those outside his…[continue]
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