- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

The article on the facing page makes our case "Press on, Don, press on." We agree that the secretary of defense as a war minister and as an agent of change is playing a critical role. He must press on.

The secretary of defense has a doubly difficult assignment. He is the president's principal defense adviser. And he is the chief executive of the largest enterprise in the world a department of well over 2 million employees and an annual budget of $360 billion a year.

After a few months in his second tour as defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld was roundly criticized for not being up to the task. But since September 11, he has seemingly been transformed into a Churchillian minister of war.

In running the department, he has created tension over change. That, we agree is very positive and it is about time that the military really adjusts to its new role. Big tanks, nuclear submarines and stealthy bombers are technological marvels. The question is: How do they contribute to the nation's security?

The secretary of state, attorney general and other Cabinet officers have never been criticized for approving $600 toilet seats and $6,000 coffee pots. Secretaries of defense routinely are held accountable. The sheer size of defense caters to such excesses. Hence, this defense secretary should get some leeway. His actions for reform and transformation are needed and we support them.

We also strongly support his personal role in vetting senior military positions. Identifying and promoting wartime senior officers from a peacetime officer corps is a vital function that, going back to Abraham Lincoln, is uniquely the responsibility of the civilian overseers of our military. Those officers promoted during peacetime based primarily on bureaucratic and political skills must be winnowed out before they cost the lives of our fighting troops. The squeals of complaint from those being passed over reported recently in another newspaper are a positive sign that Mr. Rumsfeld is doing his job well.

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