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Jewish World Review August 2, 2001 / 13 Meanchem-Av 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Rumsfeld Makes Defense Reform Doubly Difficult -- DEFENSE SECRETARY Donald Rumsfeld has the hardest job in Washington, intellectually and politically, but both he and his boss, President Bush, are making it even more difficult.

As Machiavelli said in his famous treatise "The Prince," "There is nothing more difficult than to institute a new order of things," which is what Rumsfeld is trying to do with the nation's military.

Simultaneously, he's trying to "transform" the military to meet threats that may develop 20 or 30 years from now and "modernize" current forces to prepare for nearer-term contingencies.

He is trying to shift from a force structure built up during 60 years of the Cold War to deter or perhaps fight the Soviet Union in Europe to one that may have to handle an imperialist China - and in the meantime deal with Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

Besides replacing obsolete ships, tanks and planes and, presumably, increasing their numbers after too little was spent on defense during the past 10 years, Rumsfeld also has to prepare for unconventional threats from terrorism, cyber war, and che

mical and biological weapons. He also wants to reform wasteful bureaucratic practices at the Pentagon, reduce excess infrastructure and attract high-quality personnel with higher pay and fewer deployments away from home.

And, of course, Rumsfeld and Bush are determined to build a costly, technically uncertain national missile-defense system.

When he returned to Washington in January, Rumsfeld was widely deemed the absolute right man for this impossible job. He'd been secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford. He had also been a successful business executive and had played the roles of White House chief of staff and Member of Congress.

Rumsfeld was celebrated for his brains, tough attitude and decision-making ability. What he lacked in diplomatic politesse, those who remembered him from the old days believed, he made up for in will.

Six months later, though, there's widespread doubt among both those who wish him well and ill as to whether he can pull off what he's set out to do, and his own and the President's actions con

tribute to the skepticism. Of his policy goals, there seems to be consensus only on the need to improve salaries, health benefits and housing for today's military, which accounts for most of the $18 billion increase in the Defense Department budget for fiscal 2002.

Everything else is being challenged. Both conservatives and pro-defense Democrats claim that Bush and his budget office are giving Rumsfeld far too little money.

Rumsfeld's also facing heat from Democrats who believe Bush's tax cuts mean that Defense increases will force a raid on Social Security, and from top military officers who fear that change will come at the expense of their service.

In addition, leading Members of Congress were peeved that Rumsfeld took seven months to produce a new budget. Others are furious about his failure to consult them when he decided to slash and redeploy the B1-B bomber force.

Most Democrats oppose Bush's missile-defense plan, and some top-ranking military officers are also afraid its cost will eat up procurement and readiness budgets they contend are necessary to prepare for foreseeable conflicts.

The most stinging criticism of Bush so far has come from the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, which recommended that Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, tender their resignations to protest the budget office's repeated rejections of their funding requests.

After Bush criticized Clinton-era cuts and promised in last year's campaign that "Help is on the way" for the military, the magazine noted, Rumsfeld was not even forewarned when the White House decided to stick with Clinton's budget for last year.

Then, after Rumsfeld sought a $35 billion increase for fiscal 2002, the Office of Management and Budget made a case to whittle it down to $15 billion. Bush approved just $18 billion.

Yet more controversy surrounds the quadrennial Defense review, which Rumsfeld has turned into an effort to overhaul the military to meet long-term threats.

Henceforward, said a Rumsfeld aide, "Strategy will drive Defense budgets, rather than budgets driving strategy." However, there's clearly disagreement within the Pentagon about both budgets and strategy.

Rumsfeld aides say the service chiefs agree on replacing the so-called "two-war" doctrine whereby the United States would be prepared to fight two major conflicts simultaneously. But no agreement exists on what will take its place.

The Army is fearful that Rumsfeld will cut its 10 combat divisions by two or more. Other brass are worried that he will drop the 60-year doctrine of forward deployment of U.S. troops and ships - which gives America presence and influence overseas - and replace it with a "distant strike" concept of high-tech attack from the United States.

At a press briefing last week, Rumsfeld acknowledged the conflict within, saying he had rejected the recommendations of a key panel of senior generals and ordered them to be reworked.

"Anytime any change is made, somebody's not going to like it," Rumsfeld said, paraphrasing Machiavelli. It was a massive understatement. For starters, Rumsfeld needs help from the White House.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.

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