TCS Daily

Rumsfeld Biding Time for Big Changes at Pentagon

By Ken Adelman - May 29, 2001 12:00 AM

The honoring of fallen military this past Memorial Day weekend prompts consideration of whether today's military men and women will get the best tools and training to minimize their future sacrifices.

The sound and fury of the vaunted "defense review" turned Donald Rumsfeld from everyone's poster child as the ideal defense secretary to being on "wanted" posters between Pentagon City and Capitol Hill. But even before conclusions are announced, he deserves protection against incoming attacks - a personal version of the national missile defense he's backing.

Pentagon brass and congressional staffers grumble that Rumsfeld's lips are sealed. He doesn't share much since he hasn't decided much yet.

He's said to be demanding. True. He indeed was the first, second, and third toughest boss I've had, in our three posts together. Rumsfeld compliments, not by even muttering "good job" to you, but by laying gobs more jobs on you.

The staff bears the brunt, but Rumsfeld's staffs can bear a lot. His first stint at defense followed his running the "war on poverty" at the Office of Economic Opportunity. There Rumsfeld quickly amassed Dick Cheney and Frank Carlucci -- three mighty defense secretaries-to-be in one teeny domestic agency - and added to that galaxy Jim Leach, Bill Bradley, Christie Todd Whitman, and others (including me and my future wife). His picks this time out - beginning with deputy Paul Wolfowitz -- portend another generation of stars.

Pentagon halls now reverberate on how he's "brusque." So big deal. This is the Army, Mrs. Jones.

No longer on the make for a higher job, Rumsfeld's on the march of a bigger job. He's bracing to change the Pentagon more than any secretary since (or even including) Robert McNamara.

That's why congressional, corporate, and military interests huddle together in mortal fear. They sense big changes coming by someone adept - throughout a stellar government and corporate career -- at making big changes happen.

At least, so I expect. And, hope - that the critics' worst fears come true, and then some. The defense establishment needs radical reform, starting at the top with grand strategy.

The Clinton strategy was to scale our military to fight two regional wars at the same time. Yet this scenario was conventional, in both thinking and armaments. It retained nearly everything defense traditionalists built during the Cold War.

To defeat large cross-border attacks, say by North Korea and Iraq, we'd use large forces in tanks, aircraft and ships - precisely as we planned to do when Warsaw Pact forces stormed across NATO borders.

Conveniently, that strategy assured us that our forces for the Soviet-era could work fine in a post-Soviet world. Thus little needed to change in the defense industry, Congress, or the military -- even though the whole world had changed.

Dropping "two-regional wars" turns the focus from conventional scenarios and weapons, to unconventional threats and systems. Beyond deterring and defeating, our forces can be discouraging potential foes from acquiring deadly systems in the first place.

The U.S. needs to retain overwhelming power in the world. This "margin of safety" will help preclude bad states from aggression and even from acquiring deadly armament initially.

Critics against national missile defense tout how few rogue states now have robust ballistic missiles. Well, the U.S. mission should be to keep it that way. The better our missile defense, the less scary any ballistic missile force they build. Hence the less incentive they have ever to get ballistic missiles, topped with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

Everyone knows what sophisticated weapons can do in barbaric hands. But few in the military establishment wish to do much about such threats. The Joint Chiefs, under perpetual budget crunches, always put their top priority on higher pay and more tanks, planes, and ships.

Yet what's needed for unconventional threats are mega-programs like national missile defense, space systems, vastly heightened intelligence, cyber-war assaults and protections, and massive information-sharing. None has constituencies in the Pentagon. All need the Secretary's push, or they die.

A similar thing was true a quarter century ago, during Rumsfeld I. Then he pushed relentlessly for cruise missiles, which arms controllers were keen on trading away (in SALT II) while military brass was un-keen on developing anyway. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs then, General George S. Brown, claimed they could identify "no military mission" for cruise missile deployment.

Rumsfeld sure could, and virtually mandated their development. Since then, cruise missiles dazzled us with precise lethality in the Gulf War and have become the weapon of choice for subsequent presidents.

While boosting new capabilities - many without constituencies -- Rumsfeld must scrap some popular systems. For what do we need Seawolf attack submarines anymore? What could Trident submarines conceivably target their awesome ballistic missiles on nowadays?

Conventional weapons systems that get the Rumsfeld "go-ahead" should meet tough high/low criteria. They should be high on lethality by carrying more, and more potent, munitions -- and especially by having far greater accuracy. They should be low on vulnerability to U.S. forces, by firing their potent munitions from places no enemy can hit. Such places are either out of range of enemy retaliation, or out of sight of enemy retaliation due to stealth and/or deployment features, such as high altitude for fighters.

Once systems meet such criteria, we should proceed to build them -- and soon. This flies in the face of Bush's campaign cliché about "skipping a generation" on defense programs. We've been there, done that.

We already skipped a generation of technology by last developing a new bomber, the B-2, twenty-two years ago (and ordered only 20 for the fleet). We've developed only two new combat aircraft in the last 26 years - the F-117, so spectacular in the Gulf War, and the dazzling-capable F-22, now coming on line.

We haven't launched a new Army tank since the Nixon Administration. The last surface-to-air missile began 33 years ago, and our attack helicopter started 27 years ago, its replacement now in its 18th year of development!

Rather than skip another generation, we should move into this generation of technology. That itself could be a radical reform for the Pentagon, which has taken decades to develop and deploy needed weaponry.

As for the rap that Rumsfeld doesn't communicate much to the public, I can only shake my head. For a quarter century now, I've lugged from office to office nine large (and heavy!) bound volumes entitled Public Statements of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. These 3,986 pages of public utterances were for his only 14 months in office then.

Imagine four -- or eight - years more of such Rumsfeld non-communications.

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