Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Rumsfeld Seeks Leaner Army and Full Term as Defense Secretary

The New York Times
May 11, 2005
Rumsfeld Seeks Leaner Army and Full Term as Defense Secretary

WASHINGTON, May 10 - Ask Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to define his legacy, and he cuts the question short: "Don't. Hold off on it. There will be plenty of time."

With a full list of policy initiatives ahead and travel plans penciled in through the Beijing Olympics of 2008, Mr. Rumsfeld gives every indication of serving out the rest of the Bush administration, confounding those who predicted his departure even after President Bush refused, twice, to accept his resignation over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

"I don't think of myself as a short-timer," said Mr. Rumsfeld, who turns 73 in July.

His goal in this pivotal year is to keep Iraq and Afghanistan at bay so he can turn to closing bases at home and realigning global forces even as combat continues; overhauling personnel policy while dealing with a crisis in recruiting; redefining national security strategy while confronting alarming nuclear developments in North Korea and Iran; and drafting a disciplined military budget - one that does not rely on emergency spending to scrape through year after budget-busting year.

But across the Pentagon, officials acknowledge that the twin tasks of building Iraqi security forces and defeating the insurgency stand in the way of Mr. Rumsfeld's longstanding ambitions to fundamentally transform the nation's military into something leaner, more agile and thoroughly modern. Success in Iraq would allow troop withdrawals to begin, relieving strains on budgets and personnel.

Opening up a new front of controversy, Mr. Rumsfeld is to unveil his list of recommended domestic base closings on Friday. It is sure to provoke opposition from communities that stand to lose the economic benefits of being host to the military.

By midsummer, the Pentagon's senior policy aides and top officers will convene a meeting to overhaul military strategy for the next four years. A final report due early next year, a Quadrennial Defense Review required by Congress, will try to balance strategy better with budgets, weapons and troop strength. Everything is on the table, including aircraft carriers, new fighters and broad strategic goals. Here, too, any change that upsets the status quo will meet some opposition.

In an interview, Mr. Rumsfeld compared the Pentagon he inherited to a factory where there were "conveyor belts going by and they were loaded four, five, six years ago, and they were not connected with each other." He said budgets did not fit weapons, which did not fit strategy.

Mr. Rumsfeld is opening the Bush administration's second term as if he were an ambitious novice, not five years into his second tour in a job he first held 30 years ago, cognizant that this is perhaps his first year not necessarily dominated by the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath.

Even his sharpest critics - generals and admirals who have endured the wire-brush treatment of his relentless questioning, and senior civilians across the executive branch who have fought bitter internal battles with Mr. Rumsfeld and his policy proxies - agree that he got one thing right: Mr. Rumsfeld is forcing the Department of Defense to think about warfare differently and, just as important, to think in new ways about its daily business practices.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview, "There is not a D.O.D. process of any sort that we haven't turned on its ear in the past four years."

Mr. Rumsfeld produced an eight-page list of initiatives and accomplishments on his watch, many of them beneath the radar of public attention but nonetheless substantial changes in how the military prepares for and wages war, and how the Pentagon gets through the day.

The Pentagon's map of the world has been redrawn to divide the globe more rationally among regional combatant commanders, and new responsibilities, financing and personnel were given to the specialized commands, in particular, ones responsible for Special Operations and for strategic planning and targeting.

The United States' nuclear strategy has been rewritten, as have regional war-fighting plans, and efforts are under way to restructure and relocate the forces permanently based overseas. The goal is to reduce the number of large cold-war-era bases, especially in Germany, in favor of access to countries closer to future battlefronts across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

The military is rebalancing the responsibilities of active-duty personnel and reservists to help ease strains on the Army and Marine Corps, which are experiencing serious recruiting problems.

One set of overwhelming questions remains: whether the American public and Congress are exhausted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and whether enough money will be available for transformation to a high-tech military while still supporting a conventional force deployed to combat zones.

"He doesn't have the money to do it," said Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Congressional committees are just starting their detailed review of Mr. Rumsfeld's budget request, work that could take two months or more to complete.

Mr. Rumsfeld says the Sept. 11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not delayed transformation or even been a distraction, but have energized the effort.

"It has been the global war on terror and the tasks that we've been assigned that has provided added impetus to doing the things that absolutely had to be done in this department," he said.

As Mr. Rumsfeld presses his transformation agenda, he still confronts bruised relations with lawmakers and even some in the administration over Iraq policy and the fallout from the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal.

Critics blame Mr. Rumsfeld for invading Iraq with too few troops and embracing overly optimistic assumptions about what would happen once Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

"When it became evident that we were going to face a determined and prolonged insurgency, he was very resistant to increasing troop levels, stepping up production of up-armored Humvees, and modifying the game plan," said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

In the interview, Mr. Rumsfeld exhibited a trademark mix, by turns combative and introspective, as he deflected questions of how history would weigh the troubled aftermath of invading Iraq - particularly the Abu Ghraib scandal - against the changes he is still pressing.

"Anybody who knows anything about history knows that history gets written as a result of a whole series of things being said and aggregated over time, and people with perspective that don't have their nose pressed up against a deadline every five minutes," he said.

He said there was progress in the war on terror, but conceded that Al Qaeda was still able to function, saying, "Goodness knows, it doesn't take a genius to blow up a building."

Mr. Rumsfeld is banking on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan remaining stable enough for him to focus his attention elsewhere. Frequent video-teleconferences with senior commanders in Iraq during the peak of combat operations have dwindled to a few phone calls a week.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers say winning support for his proposed changes has been made more difficult by Mr. Rumsfeld's often rocky relations with Congress. In public hearings and in news conferences, Mr. Rumsfeld, a former congressman from Illinois, can often barely disguise his impatience with lawmakers over the scope and pace of their hearings and legislation.

Aides say Mr. Rumsfeld has worked harder to cultivate good ties with Congress. He sets aside Tuesday and Thursday mornings for breakfast with House and Senate members at the Pentagon.

"It's been up and down," said Representative William M. Thornberry of Texas, a Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. "Some people think he doesn't kowtow to them enough."

Inside the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld is retooling his senior military and civilian leadership team from a war cabinet to corporate-style board of directors.

His new management team is led by Gordon R. England, his new deputy, who fits the traditional model of a No. 2 who oversees daily operations and avoids ideological battles. Mr. England, the Navy secretary, was once executive vice president of General Dynamics.

He will replace Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, a lightning rod for critics of the Iraq war, who leaves in June to take over as head of the World Bank. Another senior policy figure criticized during the Iraq war effort, Douglas J. Feith, is also leaving, to be replaced by Eric Edelman, a career Foreign Service officer who previously was a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Rumsfeld is reshuffling his top military advisers, but with familiar faces. Gen. Peter Pace of the Marines who has worked closely with Mr. Rumsfeld for four years as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, will succeed General Myers as chairman this fall. Nominated as the new vice chairman is Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., who was Mr. Rumsfeld's top military aide until taking over the military's Joint Forces Command in 2002.

Mr. Rumsfeld works hard to leave his imprint on the bureaucracy, spending up to 10 hours a week on senior officer and civilian appointments. He has seeded like-minded protégés throughout the military's senior ranks to ensure that his priorities outlast him. He routinely reaches down to interview one-star and two-star officers for important jobs, a practice that some officers deride as a politically motivated "Rumsfeld sniff test."

In a conference room just a few paces from his office, Mr. Rumsfeld and 15 of his top civilian and military advisers meet at least twice a month to hammer out the most pressing issues, like budgets or base closings.

"They know each other, they know each other's strengths and weaknesses, they're comfortable talking in front of each other, which in many cases they had not been," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "The decisions that flow out of that room are all of the big things that take place in this building."

Mr. Rumsfeld's admirers and critics alike say it is too soon to gauge his permanent stamp on the Pentagon or the military operations he set in motion.

"He hasn't finished the job, either in Iraq or with transformation," said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who has sparred frequently with the secretary. "So I don't know how you would judge him until the results are in."

Mr. Rumsfeld believes in measurements, whether electrical output from Baghdad or how many military jobs civilians could take over or how often a bespectacled defense secretary appears in editorial cartoons, many of which hang in his office.

Each day, he tries to walk five miles through the Pentagon's polished corridors, keeping track with a pace meter on his belt. "He's an inveterate counter with a purpose," said Larry Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman.

Some evenings, he plays squash with Mr. Di Rita or Vice Adm. James G. Stavridis, Mr. Rumsfeld's senior military assistant. In the fashion of his hometown, Chicago, Mr. Rumsfeld improves his odds against the younger men by putting in the fix: He refuses to allow the livelier, softer rubber ball favored by today's players.

"I play my game," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "I play hardball."