- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

News reports that retired Gen. Peter Jan Schoomaker has been selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the next Army Chief of Staff have been seen in Washington as another battle between the transformation-minded secretary and an Army leadership still wedded to its big battalions. The selection of a retiree from Special Forces, the Green Berets, is seen by some as a slap at the Army’s serving “conventional” generals. The selection comes on the heels of Mr. Rumsfeld’s firing of Secretary of the Army Thomas White, with former Air Force Secretary (and naval officer) James Roche to replace him.

Other tensions come from the continued unrest in Iraq. There, the services — especially the Army — had asked for more troops and capabilities than Mr. Rumsfeld sent in the critical days when Saddam’s regime crumbled. This time, the military leadership’s position seemed to have been justified by the course of events, more so than when it initially opposed the form of the planned operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, wanting them larger and more conventional. The Army’s leadership knows that superior firepower and battlefield skills do not provide commensurate advantages at imposing peace and achieving stability in Third World countries. Mr. Rumsfeld’s recent declaration of military success in Afghanistan has not prevented U.S. forces there from having to deal with resurgent terrorism. The Army — despite its institutional aversion to such manpower-intensive commitments — has received open-ended missions in Iraq and Afghanistan to add to those that it reluctantly took up in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Yet the Rumsfeld-Army confrontation has been a limited conflict. While bringing in new men at the top, Mr. Rumsfeld has not fired any of the generals he supposedly sees as embodying the old ways. Nor has he killed any of the major equipment programs that they support (with the exception of the Crusader self-propelled howitzer, now reincarnated as part of the Army Future Combat System). From a man that Henry Kissinger reportedly once described as “the most ruthless I ever met, third world dictators not excluded,” one would have expected blood in the A-Ring and discarded prototype weapons littering the Pentagon parking lots. The confrontation has much of its origin in appearances and attitudes rather than hard realities.

Mr. Rumsfeld will find military transformation difficult to achieve even with the cooperation of the Army leadership. Aiming for cooperation is no mere popularity contest. In the past, the military has gone along with secretaries of defense that imposed large-scale cuts, so long as it thought its institutions were being dealt with fairly and not led into actions where they would suffer. That is why retired warriors are inclined to pass over the deep spending, personnel and force structure cuts under Charles Wilson and Neil McElroy (Eisenhower’s defense secretaries) but still go livid over the dealings of Robert McNamara on the path to the Vietnam War.

But today’s uniformed leadership is more politicized than the one that saluted Eisenhower’s “New Look.” This is a legacy of the Clinton years, when military leaders acted politically to counter some of that administration’s policies and the administration responded by politicizing the senior officer selection process to an unprecedented extent.Mr. Rumsfeld — and his appointees, including Mr. Roche and Gen. Schoomaker — may encounter similar opposition inside the Army. If so, a confrontation has the potential to hurt the Army and undercut needed transformation. In such a battle, secretary and service may both suffer.

Mr. Rumsfeld and the Army’s leaders are potential allies in seeking to secure the changes needed for effective transformation. This will indeed require new thinking. Gen. Schoomaker may provide it; in recent years he helped expand the role of Special Operations Command, took part in the well-publicized Army Transformation Wargames and pressed CENTCOM Commander Gen. Tommy Franks to accord a greater role to special operations forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there is much more to institutional change — especially in the Pentagon — than the personnel at the top. Mr. Rumsfeld has much more to do to ensure the Army achieves transformation rather than confrontation.

David Isby is a Washington-based national security consultant and author.

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