- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

While several of the administration's key Cabinet officers were taking it on the chin, before the horrors of September 11 it was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who was predicted to be the first senior casualty of the Bush administration for failing to keep the Pentagon under control.

Since September 11 and the short war in Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld has arisen like a phoenix from flailing curmudgeon secretary of defense to powerful minister of war whose press conferences have made him a matinee idol. But, as the war on terrorism has flagged and as tough budget decisions in the Pentagon have to be made about expensive future weapons programs, Mr. Rumsfeld's abrasiveness, competence and judgment have come back under fire. He is also seen as an adversary to the administration's most popular and admired official, Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Critics argue that Mr. Rumsfeld has been too ready to reject military opinion in favor of his own or that of advisers who have little or no battlefield and operational experience. Furthermore, Mr. Rumsfeld has been criticized in the press for going over the head of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, in approving senior officers to serve on the Pentagon's Joint Staff. And, running the department through a senior executive council consisting of the three civilian service secretaries, each hand-picked in part for business skills, seems to have bogged down in bureaucratic infighting.

Is Mr. Rumsfeld being heavy-handed, arrogant and aloof? Or, is there more at issue? Clearly, most cats are gray in the dark. However, in many ways, Mr. Rumsfeld is getting a bad rap about running the department, in large measure because he is a tough, no-nonsense guy and in part because his case has not been fully made to the public and to Congress.

Mr. Rumsfeld whose background as a former congressman, White House chief of staff, secretary of defense and highly successful business executive is well-known arrived for a second time at the Pentagon with the president's directive to "transform the military for the 21st century."

Mr. Rumsfeld first consulted the law to determine what his duties, responsibilities and authority as secretary of defense were. Ten years after he left the department in 1976, the Goldwater-Nichols Act had been passed to reorganize the Pentagon. The law was meant to bring military advice back into the decision-making process after a string of alleged military failures from Vietnam on convinced Congress that the only fix was by statute. Fair enough. However, what exactly does the law say?

Believe it or not, the National Security Act of 1947 as amended, Title X of the U.S. Code that covers the armed forces and the Goldwater-Nichols Act all have something in common. It is civilian control of the military. By law, it is the secretary of defense who is the head of the Department of Defense and who is the "principal adviser to the president in all matters relating to the Department of Defense."

Furthermore, the three civilian service secretaries are charged with running their respective departments. And each of the military service chiefs, by law, is subject to the "authority, direction and control" of the civilian secretary. While the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is now the principal military adviser to the secretary and the president, he too reports to the secretary of defense.

When Mr. Rumsfeld took over in early 2001, he saw a department that was bureaucratically deadlocked. Micromanagement by Congress was also to blame for some of the resistance to change. For years, the services had struck a truce and divided the budget less on joint operational needs and more along lines that minimized bureaucratic turf fights. But the world was changed by September 11.

Mr. Rumsfeld was determined to break this mold. One example shows how tough the task is. The Army had designed a highly advanced artillery system called Crusader. In simple terms, Crusader was a land version of a Navy battleship, very mobile once deployed, firing large projectiles to great distances with precision accuracy, all the while providing protection against chemical and biological attack, the current battlefield worries.

Instead of using the system as a means to expedite transformation, that is designing a better way of fighting using Crusader as a centerpiece, the Army viewed Crusader simply as a better gun. That kind of thinking, sustained by years of bureaucratic inertia, was anathema to the imaginative and business savvy defense chief. Crusader was canceled. The replacement appears to be another artillery system and not a different concept for how the Army might fight in battle.

The Army, of course, may be right. However, the point is that Mr. Rumsfeld is demanding new answers to old questions. He is also doing so in conformance with the law and in an environment in which most everyone wonders not whether but when the next terrorist assault against the United States will occur. And it is a time when a war against Iraq may be literally around the corner.

Especially under those circumstances, press on Mr. Rumsfeld, press on.


Harlan Ullman is with the CNA Corp. and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


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