- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

In Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary-designate, George W. Bush yesterday tapped a proven military and corporate manager who shares the president-elect's view that a missile-defense system is vital to the well-being of the United States.

Mr. Rumsfeld, 68, brings to the Pentagon the record of a precocious politician and exuberant free-marketer.

After a three-year stint as a U.S. Navy aviator, he won election to the House of Representatives in 1960 before age 30.

He worked in the Nixon White House and later became the nation's youngest secretary of defense in 1975. He served just 14 months in the hectic days after the last U.S. personnel escaped Saigon and before the American military deteriorated into a drug-plagued, dispirited outfit of the late 1970s.

He left Washington nearly 24 years ago for a career in corporate America, but occasionally returned to perform spot government duty as a special envoy or commission member.

It was one of those jobs, chairing the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat, that caught Mr. Bush's eye.

The commission published a report in 1998 that challenged conventional thinking and delivered a victory to missile-shield advocates. It warned that a looming missile threat from rogue nations would become a reality much sooner than estimates from the Central Intelligence Agency predicted. In the report's classified section, defense sources say, Mr. Rumsfeld revealed a hawkish view toward China and North Korea two proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.

"I felt he did an extraordinary job with a delicate assignment," Mr. Bush said yesterday of the commission chairmanship. "He brought people together to understand the realities of the modern world. In picking Don Rumsfeld, we'll have a person who is thoughtful and considerate and wise on the subject of missile defense."

Mr. Rumsfeld endorsed the Bush defense agenda, saying, "I have studied carefully your address and blueprint for defense … and I support it enthusiastically."

For a Bush defense secretary, missile defense will be only part of the equation.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Bush invested much political capital in pledging to rebuild an armed forces stretched thin by frequent overseas deployments and budget cuts in the 1990s. Mr. Bush also wants Mr. Rumsfeld to make politically risky decisions on whether to cancel popular, multibillion-dollar weapons systems in favor of developing futuristic technologies for the next president.

The Republican national-security establishment said Mr. Rumsfeld is up to the job.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger praised Mr. Rumsfeld's corporate-government portfolio.

"I don't know anybody who has a similar range of experience White House chief of staff, NATO ambassador, secretary of defense, chairman of the ballistic-missile threat commission, CEO of major American corporations," Mr. Kissinger told The Washington Times. "To find someone with these qualifications who also favors missile defense and knows strategic issues it's almost impossible. It's the best choice [President-elect Bush] could have made."

By contrast, Mr. Kissinger noted that when President Clinton came into office in 1993, he "had almost nobody in his administration who had this understanding of defense issues."

Mr. Clinton's first defense secretary, the late Les Aspin "was not a strategist or an administrator," the former Nixon aide said.

The former director of the U.S. Arms Control Agency, Ken Adelman, said Mr. Rumsfeld "is a wonderful strategic thinker and a very determined individual with great managerial skills but who also knows and cares about key national-security issues."

"Rumsfeld is obviously far more qualified and experienced than anybody Clinton appointed when he first came in and a far more serious person," said Mr. Adelman, who served in the Reagan administration.

Mr. Bush yesterday acknowledged he will need congressional approval to achieve his military goals and urged Mr. Rumsfeld to "challenge the status quo inside the Pentagon."

Mr. Bush now has in place a star-studded national-security team whose players should not be shy about challenging each other's world views. His vice president, Richard Cheney, is a former defense secretary; his secretary of state, Colin Powell, is a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman; his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, played a prominent role in the administration of Mr. Bush's father.

Mr. Kissinger said that Mr. Clinton "basically thought his foreign policy should emphasize the so-called soft issues" such as environmental concerns. "This group Cheney, Colin Powell, Rumsfeld is very familiar with the historic, fundamental issues of foreign and defense policy and will bring them into an organic relationship with the 'soft issues.' "

In selecting Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush bypassed former Sen. Daniel R. Coats, disappointing a number of Senate Republicans who openly pushed the Coats candidacy.

Republicans said yesterday their backing may have hurt Mr. Coats as much as helped him. They said Mr. Bush may have wanted a man free of any firm ties to the exclusive Senate club. This way, Mr. Rumsfeld will have the latitude to cancel, if need be, weapons systems held dear by some of those same senators.

GOP officials foresaw no problems for the Rumsfeld nomination to win confirmation before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full Senate. "He'll sail through," a Senate aide said.

"Donald Rumsfeld is a strong choice to serve as secretary of defense in the new administration. He has a distinguished record of public service over the last three decades." said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Rumsfeld's endorsement of Mr. Bush's defense agenda can be interpreted to mean he supports the current ban on open homosexuals in the military. On other social issues, such as mixed-sex training and women in combat, his beliefs are not known.

"Unfortunately, we have no idea what Mr. Rumsfeld's views are these contentious issues," said Robert Maginnis, analyst at the Family Research Council, which favored Mr. Coats. "After all, when he was secretary, these were not significant issues. We've been a strong supporter of missile defense and we know about his strong background on missile-defense issues and this gives us great confidence we're meeting a man who will be very dependable at the helm of the Pentagon. His appointment sends a very serious shot across the bow to China, Russia and rogue nations that missile defense is a done deal."

"He has impeccable credentials," Mr. Maginnis added. "Rumsfeld is not going to be pushed around by Powell or Cheney."

While many conservatives backed Mr. Coats, they expressed no displeasure with Mr. Bush's choice.

"Rumsfeld knows his way around and is not going to get pushed around by anybody," said Morton Blackwell, who heads the conservative Leadership Institute and who once ran President Reagan's White House liaison office.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said Mr. Rumsfeld is "a very good choice that further strengthens" the incoming administration's team.

"When you look at that team Bush has assembled, you see a serious approach to national defense," Mrs. Donnelly said. "The Rumsfeld report on missile defense was a sound analysis of the threat to this country and to our allies. And that report will be a very good blueprint for our national security in the new millennium."

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