Seeking to end a running feud that has strained relations between senior Pentagon civilians and the top brass for more than a year, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz extended the olive branch to the Army yesterday.
"We appreciate what the Army does," Wolfowitz said in a speech to the Association of the U.S. Army, the service's alumni organization and lobbying group. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he said, the service "has had a major role in joint operations that have won two wars and liberated nearly 50 million human beings from horrible tyrannies."
Most notably, he lauded Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, with whom he clashed publicly last spring about the likely size of the U.S. occupation force that would be needed in postwar Iraq. When Shinseki left office as Army chief of staff in June, neither Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attended his retirement ceremony, a breach of protocol that raised eyebrows across the service.
"If you've been reading any newspapers lately, you undoubtedly know that we had a difference or two," Wolfowitz told his audience of several hundred, which generally reacted with silence. "What the papers fail to report is that I have enormous respect for what General Shinseki accomplished in his four years as chief of staff, moving the Army into the 21st century. . . . General Shinseki did much to bring the Army into a new era, and we will be grateful for him in the future."
In a tone that was conciliatory yet unapologetic, Wolfowitz also reminded his audience that the Army is subordinate to civilian authority.
He praised Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the U.S. commander in the spring war, for his willingness to subject his plan to invade Iraq to questioning by Rumsfeld and others.
But Wolfowitz noted, "Of course, he had an obligation, as all military leaders do, to listen to his civilian leaders, and in that case, it means listening a lot to my boss, Don Rumsfeld, and quite a lot to his boss, the president of the United States."
Wolfowitz also delivered a backhanded compliment to the Army brass by praising its "deep bench in the two-star [general] rank." That comment apparently criticized the service's higher-ranking three- and four-star generals, all of whom were passed over last summer when Rumsfeld named retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker to succeed Shinseki.
Schoomaker, meeting with reporters earlier this week, also signaled that he wanted to end the feuding.
Asked about the Rumsfeld-Shinseki relationship, he said, "I don't think either one of them were happy with how they were communicating." His own relations with Rumsfeld, he said, have been good: "I think he's demanding . . . but personally I find it refreshing."