- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is entirely unflappable, not the kind of man likely to resign over disagreements with his commander in chief over, say, defense budget figures. In fact, with his gold-rimmed glasses, sly grin and deliberate turn of phrase, Mr. Rumsfeld is certainly not given to flamboyant or impulsive gestures.

Recently the troublemakers at the Weekly Standard, however, suggested he resign, appealing not just to the secretary of defense, but Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as well. There is no sign of that happening. The most anyone will get out of Mr. Rumsfeld on the subject of the inadequacies of his defense budget is: "I have never known a Cabinet officer who did not want more money for his department" as Mr. Rumsfeld told editors and reporters of The Washington Times during an interview at the Pentagon yesterday. Don't call him dissatisfied don't call him satisfied, for that matter with his budget. And don't put words in his mouth. "You accept the world you live in," he simply says.

The reason for this extraordinary appeal from old friends and allies of Messrs. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz like the editors of the Weekly Standard is the very modest increases in the defense budget slated for 2002 and 2003. The figures fly in the face of President Bush's relentlessly repeated campaign promise to "restore America's military." According to the Office of Budget and Management, the most the DOD can expect next year is an increase of $18 billion over fiscal year 2001's $296 billion defense budget. The following year will see an even smaller increase of $10 billion. Mr. Rumsfeld reportedly had asked for a $35 billion increase for 2002 and got just half of that.

Defense experts say that $50 billion might have been a more realistic request, given the number of jobs with which Mr. Rumsfeld has been tasked. There's the force structure review, which will be folded into the Quadrennial Defense Review due on Oct. 1. There's the challenge of restoring sagging morale and living standards among U.S. forces. Not to forget, there's missile defense. And, of course, the job of bringing equipment back up to snuff.

"Surely, George W. Bush did not seek office to preside over the retrenchment of American power and influence," write editors at the Standard. "Surely Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz did not come back to the Pentagon to preside over the decline of the American military." (Interestingly, the editorial itself sparked a retort from Peter Beinart writing in the New Republic Online, who in the article "Standard Deviation" called for Messrs. Kristol and Kagan themselves to resign as conservatives and join the liberals in castigating the Bush administration for the size of its tax cut.)

Mr. Rumsfeld says he is trying hard, but that there's a heap of Clinton-era problems to be cleaned up. There was the much touted post-Cold War peace dividend which overshot its target during the 1990s and turned the defense budget into a public piggy bank. Procurement went on holiday. Both forces and equipment were consistently overused in humanitarian missions all over the world. The ships budget was disastrously strained. The average age of equipment became intolerably high, and has to be gradually brought down, with a sustained effort year after year.

To deal with all of this, Mr. Bush has asked for the biggest defense spending increase since 1986, though Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledges the president's other priorities come into play meaning, of course, his banner legislative victory, the $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut. "The president cares about a lot of things. I care about defense," he says.

And you learn to do more with what you have, making the defense establishment work better. "We should admit that this place is working in a way that cannot be called effective," Mr. Rumsfeld says. Making the Pentagon bureaucracy effective may be the hardest challenge of all.

Not on the front burner at the Pentagon in this administration are mercifully feminist and gay agendas. Defense secretaries in the two Clinton administrations had to deal with all sorts of social agendas, which detracted tremendously from the primary business at hand. Instead we were endlessly discussing women in combat and "don't ask, don't tell." It got to be very tiresome indeed.

In fact, when asked about women in combat, Mr. Rumsfeld looks genuinely surprised and very believably avers that the issue has not been on any part of his radar screen. Nor has co-ed training for new recruits, an issue that erupted time and again during the Clinton terms.

This much you can say for the Rumsfeld approach. His budget may be under strain, but at least the man is thinking about the issues one would expect a secretary of defense to deal with, mostly how to wage war and defend the United States. There is something reassuring in that thought.

E-mail: hbering@washingtontimes.com

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