Fighting war on two fronts

Sunday, August 25, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The day before suicide hijackers flew an airliner into the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gathered some of his rank and file and declared war on the arthritic, money-wasting, change-resistant bureaucracy -- "not the people, but the processes."

After Sept. 11, Rumsfeld launched an entirely different war -- to defeat terrorism.

As both campaigns grind on, views are mixed on how close Rumsfeld has come to victory in either.

In any case, it is clear he sees no alternative to pursuing both simultaneously, even as the Bush administration considers whether, how and when to undertake a war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"We not only can do both -- we have to do both," he told troops at Fort Hood, Texas, last week. As for Iraq, he will only say that it poses a threat and the president is weighing his options.

'So far, so good'

Defense expert Andrew Krepinevich says taking the measure of Rumsfeld's success at this stage is like judging a skydiver before he reaches the ground.

"So far, so good," says Krepinevich, director of the Center for Defense and Budgetary Assessments.

"The war isn't over, and we haven't yet transformed the military," he says.

Nonetheless, he credits Rumsfeld with several small victories in his campaign to transform the Pentagon and the military: canceling the Army's cherished Crusader artillery system; invigorating the Pentagon's work on missile defenses; reducing reliance on strategic nuclear weapons and overhauling the military command structure.

The U.S. military succeeded in deposing Afghanistan's ruling Taliban that harbored al-Qaida terrorists, and it has all but eliminated al-Qaida's ability to train and operate from the country. But Osama bin Laden's whereabouts are unknown and the hunt for his top associates has produced few results lately.

Inside the Pentagon, Rumsfeld is meeting resistance on overhauling the bureaucracy. But he has kept up the fight, even though some had advised him to slow up until the war in Afghanistan is won.

"Our enemies, without question, are sharpening their swords," he told Pentagon workers recently. "They are plotting even greater destruction, let there be no doubt. To prevent that, we have to be stronger, more alert, quicker on our feet. If reducing bureaucracy and waste was important on Sept. 10th -- and it was -- it is all the more important now."

In hindsight, there is something eerie about the language Rumsfeld used on Sept. 10.

"Some might ask, how in the world could the secretary of defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people?" he said. "To them I reply, I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it."

President Bush alluded to the challenge Rumsfeld faces.

"Our secretary of defense is willing to think differently about how to structure our military and ... work with the Joint Staff, people in the Pentagon, to get them to think differently," he told reporters last week at his ranch in Texas. "It's not an easy task, but he can be a stubborn guy."

New thinking

Rumsfeld speaks now, as he did before Sept. 11, of institutional inertia, of bureaucrats and military officers set in old ways, of an urgent need to stop thinking of defense requirements in Cold War terms. The bureaucracy's inclination to act by habit, to perpetuate what is familiar, must be stopped or else the military will not be equipped and ready for 21st century threats, he says.

In at least two highly visible ways Rumsfeld's approach to his job has changed over the past year.

He has become much more of a public figure by holding regular news conferences to discuss the war in Afghanistan.

He spends more time traveling, both to meet with troops and commanders in the field and to consult with his foreign counterparts. Other than a one-day trip to Germany in February 2001, the only overseas trips he made before Sept. 11 was a European tour in June and a short visit to Moscow in August. Since then he has visited two dozen different countries, including Afghanistan twice.

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