Coming into office, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld looked like just the person to execute President Bush's campaign vow to "transform" the U.S. military.
He knew Washington from serving four terms in Congress and running Gerald Ford's White House as chief of staff. He knew business management from two decades as a corporate boss. He even had been defense secretary once before. Since then, serving on commissions on missile proliferation and space had kept him attuned to post-Cold War national security issues.
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Yet six months into an administration that campaigned on a promise to rebuild the military, Rumsfeld's ambitious plans are under fire from all sides. Even before Rumsfeld has reached any final conclusions, Congress has made it clear that it would resist even modest cuts in troops and traditional weapons systems. Conservatives have howled that the Defense Department is not getting the money it needs from the White House. And the top brass has proven resistant to his direction.
"There's a strong sense of alienation between the uniformed leadership and the civilians," said retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who supported Bush during the campaign.
Why someone as savvy as Rumsfeld is having such difficulty has become a major topic of conversation at the Pentagon and in national security circles. Certainly Rumsfeld has faced tough circumstances, including a $1.3 trillion tax cut that has squeezed the defense budget, as well as the lack of a political constituency for painful changes in the military. Some defense officials and outside experts also contend that he has alienated potential allies in the armed services and on Capitol Hill.
But the explanations all converge on one point: The defense review is likely to produce far less than once was promised. The lesson of Rumsfeld's return, some say, is that reforming today's military establishment may be impossible unless it is the White House's top priority.
Vice President Cheney, himself a former defense secretary, conceded in an interview that trying to bring change to the Pentagon has provoked "a great deal of resistance on the Hill and I guess in the building as well." But he said that anyone would have a difficult time reshaping the military after what he characterized as "years of neglect." He predicted that Rumsfeld would ultimately produce "significant new thinking about what our requirements are."
Cheney concluded with a hint that the fight is far from over: "It is going to be tough, and he's going to have to break some china. But he's just the guy to do it."
Rumsfeld's own explanation is that "change is hard," a phrase he and his subordinates have often voiced lately.
Others are skeptical that major change will materialize from a now deeply divided Pentagon. "How bad is it? I think it is pretty bad," said Larry Seaquist, who worked in the Cheney-era Pentagon. Seaquist said that senior career officials at the Pentagon, who had expected to work with professionals, "now fear they're shackled to incompetence."
A surprising number of experts say military transformation was doomed from the start.
This explanation reaches back almost two years, to a speech in which presidential candidate George W. Bush first laid out his ideas on how and why to change the U.S. military. The armed services, he said at the Citadel in South Carolina, were still organized for the Cold War. To Bush's eye, they looked big, slow and ponderous, better equipped to slug it out with the Red Army on the plains of Central Europe than to combat a host of emerging threats, from terrorists attacking U.S. soil to Third World nations with long-range missiles to cyber-attacks.
Bush called for developing an agile military that relied more on radar-evading "stealth" technologies and unmanned vehicles. His future armed forces, he said, would wield precision weaponry, build layers of missile defenses and react to new threats.
"As president, I will begin an immediate, comprehensive review of our military," Bush promised, that would cover "the structure of its forces, the state of its strategy, the priorities of its procurement." The review would produce radical change, he said, pushing the military beyond "marginal improvements" to "skip a generation of technology."