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Jewish World Review August 6, 2001 / 17 Menachem-Av, 5761

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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The CEO at DOD

Can Rumsfeld transform the military into a lean machine? --
THIS WEEK George W. Bush starts his monthlong vacation in Crawford, Texas. Likely to get a lot less rest is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld is charged with delivering his quadrennial defense review by September 30, and he has promised to include his plans for restructuring the armed forces. Rumsfeld is a man of strong intellect and force of character, but he faces enormous obstacles to modernizing a military that has not undergone major change since the end of the Cold War. The Bush White House has given him far less money than he requested, the service chiefs have been bucking his demands for change, and Congress seems increasingly unsympathetic.

"Help is on the way!" Bush and Dick Cheney promised the military on the stump. But, in January, Bush denied the Defense Department new short-term money; when Rumsfeld asked for a scaled-down $30 billion spending increase, Mitch Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget, cut it to $15 billion, and Bush raised that to $18 billion. Bush's refusal to give the amounts his campaign rhetoric seemed to promise can perhaps be defended as an effort to prevent the Clinton-appointed military brass from setting priorities. But it also means that Rumsfeld cannot change things the way that Ronald Reagan's defense secretary Caspar Weinberger did-by spending more on both old and new programs.

Rumsfeld has made clear that he wants to transform the military from "a downsized legacy of Cold War investment" into a more flexible, mobile force that uses information technologies and precision weapons to inflict more destruction more rapidly in more places with fewer personnel. His June 22 "terms of reference" document calls for maintaining current capabilities and developing new ones in space, intelligence, missile defense, and information technology without staff increases. But Pentagon officers and civilians evidently called for more people. "It was clear that the work that had been done did not fit the 'terms of reference,' " Rumsfeld said July 18-a stinging rebuke.

Ditching doctrine. In the process, Rumsfeld has apparently abandoned the long-standing doctrine that the United States be prepared to fight two wars simultaneously. That's probably not because he thinks it's a bad idea; as one sympathetic defense-watcher says, "Iraq is likely to notice if we go to war with Korea." Presumably, Rumsfeld believes that the chiefs use the doctrine to justify maintaining current force levels and resisting change.

What's striking is how alone Rumsfeld has been. Until two weeks ago, the Senate had approved only a handful of Pentagon appointments, and the current joint chiefs were chosen by Bill Clinton for their unwillingness to make waves, not for their openness to military reform. They have not always distinguished themselves. Joint Chiefs Chairman Henry Shelton in August 1998 said that rogue states' producing long-range missiles was "an unlikely development"-though Rumsfeld's missile commission report a month before said it could happen without notice. A week later North Korea launched over Japan a missile with a range of 3,000 kilometers. Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki set off a furor by ordering that all Army soldiers wear black berets long reserved for Rangers, and he also approved the bizarre "Army of one" recruiting campaign. One assumes Rumsfeld is looking for different kinds of officers to replace the chiefs when their terms expire.

Lawmakers are also skeptical of Rumsfeld's plans. "You may find some of your priorities indeed, for little things like missile defense, changed," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin told Rumsfeld. A majority of the House Armed Services Committee signed a letter opposing any force reductions in the Army, widely thought to be a Rumsfeld recommendation. When Rumsfeld announced he was reducing the number of B-1 bombers, which have no stealth capability and haven't been used in combat, senators from Missouri and Georgia, states where bases will be cut back, squawked.

Members live in dread of base closings, though the need is obvious. The base-closing process, a success for four rounds, was destroyed after Clinton in July 1995 cheated on its terms to protect jobs in San Antonio-hometown of the ranking Democrat on the committee set to hold Whitewater hearings 13 days later. Congress has since refused to authorize a new base-closing panel.

Still, Rumsfeld may well get what he wants. As chairman of the missile defense commission, he got unanimous agreement from a panel whose members had often disagreed on arms control questions by repeatedly going over the fine print until everyone was on board. It sounds as if he is doing the same thing at the Pentagon. The success-or failure-of his efforts will do much to determine the kind of military we have in five, 10, and 20 years-a downsized version of Cold War forces or a higher-tech, more mobile unit that can respond more rapidly and precisely to threats not all of which can be anticipated. It may turn out to be the most important work of the Bush administration.

Michael Baone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2001, Michael Barone