Pentagon's Biggest Fight May Come From Within

Times Staff Writer

When the 4-inch-thick review of worldwide U.S. military intelligence first landed on his desk, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was incredulous. And then he started asking questions no one could answer.

What followed was a year of work by dozens of Pentagon officials distilling and reformulating the monthly overview of the military's spy planes, satellites and other reconnaissance assets into a slim report that Rumsfeld finally pronounced readable.

"It was root canal without Novocain. Painful," said one official who worked on the revisions but asked not to be identified by name. "He was drilling."

Tough, skeptical and dismissive, Rumsfeld is convinced a modern military can't be truly effective until it reforms itself from the bottom up.

Surrounded by a small council of trusted civilian advisors, Rumsfeld has shaken up the Pentagon senior military brass with a style that disdains bureaucracy and demands that military commanders adopt new ways of fighting.

But in the process he has created a rift so intense between high-ranking Pentagon civilians and senior officers that it threatens to slow military reform.

Rumsfeld's approach, his supporters say, is the only way to prod an intransigent bureaucracy into transforming itself, and to force military commanders Rumsfeld believes have become averse to risk to update fighting techniques that have grown stale.

While Rumsfeld enjoys a deep reservoir of respect among many members of the armed services, his relationships with some key senior officers are increasingly strained as the U.S. gears up for a potential war against Iraq.

And Rumsfeld is not done yet. A draft of his priorities for the next six to 12 months obtained by The Times calls for reasserting civilian control at the highest levels of the Pentagon and cutting, by half, the time it takes the military to get things done.

Believing that the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the combined war-planning structure of all four branches of the armed services -- has become too independent, Rumsfeld has started taking steps to rein it in.

"Rumsfeld is very much about centralizing power within the Pentagon," said one defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He's everywhere. He's C-SPAN Boy. He's very powerful. One can't blame a [Defense secretary] with that kind of clout for saying, 'I'm tired of people getting in the way, I know what's right and I'm gonna implement it.'

"He's made the point and it is true that you have all the military services trying to undo his reforms. But what he's doing to his own people is dangerous. He ought to be cultivating his own allies, the [civilian staff members] that work for him. Instead, he's cutting them out."

Rumsfeld aides fiercely defend the approach of the former Princeton wrestler. They say that, not only does he listen to people, he listens so much that it puts them on the spot as he burrows deeply into issues, demanding more from his subordinates.

They acknowledge that, with favorite programs on the line and budgets under the secretary's scrutiny, many elements of the military and of the civilian bureaucracy feel threatened by Rumsfeld's attitude and his reforms

Indeed, the extent to which Rumsfeld has achieved his stated aims to date is remarkable.

While fighting the war on terrorism, he has overseen the development of a nuclear posture review, done away with the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, restructured and increased funding to the missile defense program he holds dear, secured hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for cutting-edge military programs, and, in killing the Army's Crusader artillery system, taken his first stab at moving money from weapons he considers outdated to newer technologies.

He doesn't mind people being on edge.

"People on edge are more alert," one senior defense official said. "He doesn't have any respect for people who are afraid of him. As a citizen, do you want somebody making life or death decisions about our society who can't stand up to some 70-year-old push-up artist? I don't think so."

Rumsfeld's personality and drive have served him well in a varied and accomplished career. A former Navy pilot, he served four terms as a congressman from Illinois and was President Ford's chief of staff before becoming the youngest secretary of Defense in U.S. history in 1975. He also served as the chief executive of two Fortune 500 firms -- G.D. Searle & Co., a pharmaceutical company with global reach, and General Instrument Corp. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian award, in 1977.

His operating style -- brusque, aggressive, impatient to the point of imperiousness -- clashed with those of his military commanders and much of the civilian staff of the Pentagon from Day 1. But in the early months of the war on terrorism and the Pentagon rebuilding itself from the shock of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, the differences were pushed below the surface.

Now, as the military gears up for a possible war with Iraq, the dissension is bubbling up, threatening to muddy Rumsfeld's efforts to prepare for a new war now and to reform the Pentagon over the long term.

Next year's budget is growing under the weight of war costs and long-deferred expenditures on modernization and new weapons.

The secretaries of the Air Force and the Army, both businessmen who were promised autonomy in decision-making when they took office, are complaining that their actions are constrained and their views are being ignored.

Senior military officers grouse that Rumsfeld's view of the military as overly risk-averse has led him to discount their concerns about the dangers involved in fighting in Iraq.

Many "action officers" at the Pentagon -- analysts and middle managers who do the actual research and writing of the bulk of the reports -- accuse Rumsfeld's staff of paring their authority and influence.

At the State Department, senior officials say Rumsfeld is "freelancing" foreign policy and needs to be reined in.

On Capitol Hill, Rumsfeld has induced the wrath of Democrats and Republicans alike for sending budgets over at the last minute and for his very public campaign to loosen congressional oversight of Pentagon programs.

"He is fairly disdainful of a lot of congressional regulations," said one senior Senate aide on the Armed Services Committee.

"Rumsfeld seems to want to be trusted to manage about half the federal budget with about as little oversight from elected folks as possible."

From the moment Rumsfeld took the helm at the Pentagon for the second time, he declared reform as his main priority. Indeed, on Sept. 10, 2001, the day before the building was attacked, Rumsfeld gave a speech calling bureaucracy "an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America."

The intensity of Rumsfeld's attacks on the military and its attendant civilian bureaucracy has taken the military by surprise. The Bush administration came into office promising to show new respect for the military.

"Everybody was sort of expecting this huge honeymoon between the Bush administration and people in uniform based on a natural conservative view of things," said Thomas Donnelly, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

"But that did not mean that natural institutional pressures, or reaction to someone with a strong personality like Rumsfeld, wouldn't produce a certain amount of conflict."

Rumsfeld's powerful command of the Pentagon represents the reemergence of strong civilian leadership of the military for the first time since the Vietnam War, when civilian control of targeting decisions landed the U.S. in a quagmire, said military historian Eliot Cohen.

"He is running the war on terrorism the way FDR ran World War II," said Cohen, who is the author of "Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime," and an influential conservative who is director of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. "In asserting a strong civilian leadership, we have transcended some of that morality play of Vietnam, and we're moving into a different place where we're accepting that civilian leaders do have a stake, a controlling stake even, over military affairs."

Among other things, Rumsfeld has floated a plan to cut service chiefs' terms to two years, undercut the authority of Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki by announcing his successor 15 months in advance, and pressed to set up an undersecretary for intelligence, a separate intelligence analysis shop and other measures to assert more Pentagon control over intelligence process.

In recent weeks, he has asserted broader Pentagon control over the base-closing process and wiped out layers of internal review the Pentagon had developed over decades to evaluate how its money would be spent.

He also abolished the long-in-place term "commander in chief," or CINC, to refer to the powerful generals who control the military's unified commands based around the world.

They had become accustomed over the last decade to growing autonomy in establishing diplomatic-style relationships with militaries in countries in their purview. Privately, Rumsfeld told aides that the nation has only one commander in chief.

Rumsfeld's closest circle of advisors includes at least two military officers.

While his agenda varies wildly from day to day, aides say Rumsfeld insists on meeting every morning in person between 8 and 9 a.m. with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers; his deputy, Gen. Peter Pace; and deputy secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz.

But even Rumsfeld's proponents acknowledge that many senior military officers feel diminished under his tenure.

"He doesn't spend as much time with the service secretaries and the service chiefs," said a senior defense official familiar with Rumsfeld's management.

"I can understand why they feel out of the loop."

Being out of the loop in the Rumsfeld Pentagon is a dangerous place to be.

The fate of massively expensive weapon systems may be decided this year.

Top Rumsfeld deputy Stephen A. Cambone is pondering whether to cut or delay development of the Navy's next generation of aircraft carrier, the Air Force's F-22 Stealth fighter and three Army programs: the Comanche reconnaissance helicopter, the Stryker wheeled combat vehicle and the Future Combat System.

Those moves could save $10 billion a year.

Air Force Secretary James Roche has told aides his views concerning the future of the F-22 are not being heard. And Army Secretary Thomas White, a former executive at Enron Corp., has been so tarnished by the Enron scandal and his use of an Army aircraft for personal business that he is "a dead man walking," a senior defense official said.

"The service secretaries were brought in as corporate guys and told they would be given broad discretion with their guidance," one senior military official said.

"That's not what happened. Instead they get these little love notes from Rumsfeld's office saying $509 million is gone here or there."

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