Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's stormy term at the Pentagon proves two lessons that cabinet officers, especially those in high-profile departments, should heed:
• Never go back to an office you've held previously. Rumsfeld served briefly as Pentagon chief of staff in 1975 during Gerald Ford's short term in office.
• Building straw men and attacking the media may make for terrific sound bites and soothe the Republican hawks, but they will eventually hurt you and the president you serve.
In the first case, Rumsfeld's take-no-prisoners attitude back in the Ford administration hurt his reputation with flag officers and politicians in Congress. Rumsfeld demonstrated back then that he was so confident of his own ability that he failed to listen to other viewpoints or challenges of his position.
The word in Congress, even so long ago, was that Rumsfeld was arrogant beyond belief. And when he returned to the Pentagon in 2001 under George W. Bush and his old protégé Dick Cheney, it was the same "my way or the highway" Rumsfeld.
It should be said here that Rumsfeld performed a huge service to the country when he returned to Washington from his NATO ambassadorship in Brussels in 1974 to become Ford's chief of staff.
The White House was in chaos. The Ford team was having difficulty with the holdovers from the departed and disgraced Richard Nixon. Ford put three people in temporary charge, and a troika operation didn't work.
Ford, who could never fire anybody, needed a tough administrator. Rumsfeld waded in and quickly dispatched the Nixon folks. The White House ran smoothly, or at least it gave that impression with Rumsfeld at the controls.
Rumsfeld demonstrated then that he had no doubts of his own ability. That confidence spread to his enjoyment of putting the press down, which continues to this day.
Rumsfeld should have known that coming back to Washington after some successful years as a business leader in Chicago would have a downside. He should look in the mirror with all the headaches his team has produced in Iraq.
As to my second point, Rumsfeld recently wrote in the Washington Post about comparing our leaving Iraq with leaving Germany to the Nazis in World War II.
That is a straw man for the ages. No one has talked seriously about instantly pulling out all our forces. Even Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who has incurred the wrath of the Bush spinners by questioning our policies, has talked in terms of a six-to-eight-month withdrawal.
Rumsfeld's use of the Nazi comparison is the ultimate coverup to a failed plan in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was removed by military force. The oft-repeated line that we would be welcomed as liberators has been erased by three years of anguish over the deaths by car bombs and roadside explosives.
If Rumsfeld is so smart, why can't he at least understand that a growing majority in the country isn't buying the daily menu from the Bush team about how things are getting better and we just need to be patient?
As a top adviser to Jerry Ford and a ruthless business executive, Rumsfeld was at the head of the class for his impatience and action.
Mr. Secretary, I'm tired of being patient as the war drags on with no real light at the end of any tunnel.