Rumsfeld: Star Warrior Returns
Urged no doubt by his conservative buddies, Rumsfeld agreed in September 1996 to take over management of Bob Dole's failing presidential campaign. Although he was unable to secure victory at the polls, Rumsfeld did breathe some life into the campaign by persuading Dole to promise mammoth tax cuts and to adopt a tougher stance on military policy. Under prodding from Rumsfeld, Dole lashed out against President Clinton on his handling of the Iraq situation and called for the deployment of a national missile shield by the year 2003. In this sense, Rumsfeld laid the foundation for George W. Bush's 2000 campaign against Vice President Al Gore.
After the 1996 election, Rumsfeld returned to the corporate world--he took over Gilead Sciences, a biotechnology firm, and sat on the board of several corporations (including Asea Brown Boveri, a giant European electrical firm, and the Tribune Company)--while continuing his support for right-wing military causes. Especially significant was his close association with the Center for Security Policy, a think tank established by former Reagan Administration official Frank Gaffney Jr. to campaign for the deployment of "Star Wars" defenses.
Having gained renewed stature among the Republicans in Congress for his hard-line views, Rumsfeld was selected in 1998 to chair the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. Composed of six Republicans and three Democrats, the Rumsfeld Commission (as it came to be called) examined classified intelligence data on the ballistic missile programs of Iran, Iraq and North Korea in order to calculate their future capacity to attack the United States. By employing worst-case reasoning to the often contradictory data on these countries' military capabilities, the commission concluded that one or another of the "rogue states" could deploy missiles capable of striking the United States in as little as five years--half the time predicted by the CIA.
Although these findings were challenged by Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and prominent figures in the arms-control community, the Rumsfeld commission's report was seized upon by Republican activists as incontrovertible evidence that the United States must proceed rapidly with the development of a full-scale missile defense system. This is the "most important warning about our national security system since the end of the cold war," House Speaker Newt Gingrich asserted at the time.
Fearful of being portrayed by Congressional Republicans as ignoring a major threat to US security, President Clinton agreed in early 1999 to proceed with development of a limited NMD system--one aimed at protecting the Western United States against a hypothetical North Korean missile attack--while putting off a decision on actual deployment. But this did little to satisfy the hawks on Capitol Hill, who sought to develop a much more robust system covering the entire nation. At Rumsfeld's urging, moreover, Bush made this a central theme of his campaign.
While a candidate, Governor Bush articulated other themes originally crafted by Rumsfeld during the Dole campaign of 1996. These include a promise to get tougher on Saddam Hussein and other "rogue state" leaders, to pursue the development of new high-tech weaponry and to abjure involvement in UN-sponsored peacekeeping missions. Together, these themes came to represent the skeleton of a new approach to national security--one that favors protection of the United States and its overseas assets rather than, say, the construction of a stable world order or the enforcement of international law.
Throughout the campaign, Bush declared his intention to undertake a sweeping transformation of US military policy. At the very least, this would entail the development and procurement of new high-tech weapons and a greater emphasis on war in space. But more than this, it would involve a shift in the very orientation of US strategy. "Our military requires more than good treatment," he declared at the Citadel in September 1999. "It needs the rallying point of a defining mission."