Rummy's Lesson: You Can't Go Back

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The resignation of Don Rumsfeld at the Pentagon was no blockbuster as some described it. His departure could have been predicted; only the timing was a surprise.

In fact, some defeated House and Senate members wish he had done it much sooner. It would at least have given them a talking point in a campaign dominated by the war and its terrible management.

Rumsfeld was a victim of many developments. But he should have refused to take the job in the first place when incoming Vice President Cheney put the arm on Bush to give his old friend the job.

It is a truism in government or the private sector that you can't go back. Executives who do return to former jobs rarely succeed. Too many knives are out for them.

This was especially true at the DOD, where Rumsfeld served in the Ford administration so long ago. However, the instant chatter among high-ranking officers when he was named was a dislike for Rumsfeld's manner. The former Navy pilot was so sure of himself as to be arrogant and dismissive of flag officers.

Make no mistake. Rumsfeld is a smart man. In the private sector, he did well at Searle in Chicago, turning a loser pharmaceutical company into a winner. He was ruthless in making changes at the sleepy firm.

Give him credit, too, for a fine job as chief of staff in the Ford White House after President Nixon's resignation. In the first few months, the building was in total disarray with Nixon holdovers fighting with Ford newcomers on turf battles.

Ford called Rumsfeld, where he was serving as NATO ambassador in Brussels, to straighten things out. He did so by telling the Nixon folks to take a hike. He did so swiftly and not too diplomatically in some cases.

Ford, as an accidental president, could finally govern with his team. Later, Rumsfeld moved to the Pentagon for a short time before Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.

But he was there long enough to earn some bitter enemies with his abrupt and self-assured way of doing things.

For the past few years, Rummy–as the critics loved to call him in a derisive way–has been the lightning rod for the war.

He should never have taken the job in the first place because his place in history will be a poor one.