Arthur Herman: Rumsfeld's legacy

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Arthur Herman, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is writing a book on the Arsenal of Democracy.]

Publication of Donald Rumsfeld's memoirs, "Known and Unknown," has renewed the fierce debate about the most controversial secretary of defense since Robert McNamara. Most of the debate centers around what many see as mistakes and misjudgments on Rumsfeld's watch from 2001 to 2006: the invasion of Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction which didn't exist, for example. People ask why it took so long to win in Iraq and why we still haven't won in Afghanistan.

Yet, with all the criticisms flying thick and fast, not enough attention gets focused on what Rumsfeld did right during the momentous half-decade after 9/11, and how his legacy has made America and the world a safer place -- indeed, keeps us safe still, under President Obama.

Rumsfeld was sitting in his office on Sept. 11, 2001, when a terrorist-controlled airliner smashed into the Pentagon, killing 189 people in the second leg of the 9/11 attack. If the plane had struck the other side close to the building's river entrance, the secretary of defense would almost certainly have been among the dead.

Even as the flames were being put out, Rumsfeld made it the Pentagon's top priority to ensure no such attack on Americans happened again. It is easy today to forget there was no clear road map on how to accomplish this.

Some decisions, like pursuing WMDs in Iraq, proved missteps. But three others have had major benefits for our national security to this day...

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