Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that retired generals’ calls for his resignation are rooted in opposition to his push to streamline and restructure the Army.

In his first press conference since the six retired generals went public and since President Bush gave him a full vote of confidence Friday, Mr. Rumsfeld did not mention Iraq war planning or the war itself while discussing why some in the military establishment have called on him to quit. Instead, he talked about his other main objective: transformation for 21st-century threats.

“Change is difficult,” Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. “It also happens to be urgently necessary. Transforming this department is important.”

None of the four retired Army generals have mentioned Army transformation as the reason. Instead, they have criticized Mr. Rumsfeld’s management style and what they considered deeply flawed planning for Iraq, after dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled. The two retired Marine generals have also cited planning for Iraq, where more than 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed and an insurgency seems as potent as ever in its fourth year.

“I don’t think our generals feel comfortable providing Secretary Rumsfeld their honest beliefs,” retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack told CNN last week. “I think it almost boils down to, ‘explain the party line and stay loyal to me,’ or you might end up as General Shinseki did, at odds with Secretary Rumsfeld.”

Gen. Eric Shinseki, former Army chief of staff, was criticized by Rumsfeld aides for testifying, in response to a senator’s question, that the U.S. needed more troops to occupy Iraq than had been planned.

Yet, a number of retired officers say privately that Mr. Rumsfeld is correct and that the resignation calls are rooted in how he has treated the Army during sweeping transformation. They also complain that the Army has too few soldiers to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to keeping other global commitments. Mr. Rumsfeld has resisted any permanent increase in what is called “end strength,” but he has authorized a temporary buildup of 30,000 soldiers.

At the White House yesterday, Mr. Bush again reiterated his support for his point man in the war on al Qaeda.

“I listen to all voices, but mine is the final decision. And Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job,” the president said. “He’s not only transforming the military, he’s fighting a war on terror. He’s helping us fight a war on terror. I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best. And what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.”

Asked about resignation calls yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld delivered a history lesson on what a Bush-ordered transformation has done for the Army and how some generals, retired and active, do not like it.

He cited his decision to terminate the Crusader self-propelled artillery piece and the Comanche attack-scout helicopter, while taking the Army away from a division-centric force and toward smaller brigade combat teams that can deploy faster.

The defense secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “has to make those kinds of decisions. And when you make a choice, somebody’s not going to like it. It’s perfectly possible to come into this department and preside and not make choices, in which case people are not unhappy, until about five years later, when they find you haven’t done anything and the country isn’t prepared.”

He called the Army transition to modular brigades “an enormous accomplishment. And our Army will be vastly better than it was five, six years ago. And that’s hard. That’s hard for the people in the Army to do. It’s hard for people who are oriented one way to suddenly have to be oriented a different way.”

He said he is moving the armed services from “service-centric war fighting” to “interdependence. That’s a hard thing to do, for services to recognize that they don’t have to have all of the capabilities, but they have to work sufficiently with the others.”

Mr. Rumsfeld then turned to his decision in 2003 to skip over a number of active-duty generals and pluck from retirement Gen. Peter Schoomaker, a career special operations soldier, to be Army chief of staff.

Gen. Schoomaker had become a close adviser to Mr. Rumsfeld on another pet project, revamping U.S. Special Operations Command. Aides said Mr. Rumsfeld developed a trust that Gen. Schoomaker would carry out transformation the way the defense secretary wanted, as opposed to the former chief, Gen. Shinseki, who opposed much of the agenda.

“The idea of bringing a retired person out of retirement to serve as chief of staff of the Army was stunning and a lot of people didn’t like it,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “The fact that he was a Special Forces officer, a joint officer, added to the attitudes.”

He added, “I look back on those decisions, and I’m proud of them. They caused a lot of ruffles. Let there be no doubt.”

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