But several experts say that the time simply isn't right for such an effort, because there is little public clamor or political support for overhauling the Pentagon.
"Historically, reform has worked when we've suffered a major defeat, such as Pearl Harbor or Desert One [the April 1980 hostage rescue attempt in Iran], or we're faced with a major, looming crisis for which we're grossly unprepared," retired Army Col. Richard Dunn III said.
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Others argue that a key misstep came after the election, when, they say, the new administration picked the wrong people for the Pentagon. Some people criticize Rumsfeld personally, saying he was not heavily involved during the campaign in formulating the Bush defense policy he was later asked to carry out.
Others point to Rumsfeld's failure to recruit Richard L. Armitage for the No. 2 job at the Defense Department. Armitage had been the principal author of Bush's Citadel speech. And he was steeped in the issue of military reform, having served on the National Defense Panel, a congressionally mandated 1997 review that called for "fundamental change" in the military.
At their meeting in early January, Rumsfeld told Armitage that there was "less than a 50-50 chance of you being my deputy," a person familiar with the exchange said.
No, responded Armitage, a gravel-voiced, no-nonsense weightlifter, "you've got zero chance of me becoming your deputy." Armitage instead took the No. 2 job at the State Department under his old friend Colin L. Powell.
"I think that could have been a decisive moment, because there was no champion for the ideas we laid out in the Citadel speech," said John Hillen, a military expert who helped Armitage write the speech. "Rumsfeld came in and was handed an agenda that he had little or no role in shaping."
Confirmation of new officials also went so slowly that for months, Rumsfeld was virtually alone at the top of the Defense Department. One of the few officials he knew from his previous tour was Andrew W. Marshall, longtime chief of the Pentagon's internal think tank and an expert on how militaries innovate.
Last winter, one of Rumsfeld's first moves at the Pentagon was tapping Marshall to write a keystone study on U.S. military strategy. The selection of Marshall for such a crucial role made the top brass nervous: The veteran analyst had long antagonized the services because he and his subordinates had written studies questioning the future utility of some of their crown jewels, such as the Navy's carriers, the Army's tanks and the Air Force's short-range fighter aircraft.
As it began work, the Marshall group, like other panels Rumsfeld established, met behind closed doors, with the military sitting outside and growing increasingly worried. That exclusionary style hobbled the effort, some Pentagon insiders say. Military officers were kept off some of the panels Rumsfeld established to study key issues. And the service chiefs complained that they had to ask Rumsfeld's subordinates for documents that should have been provided automatically.
The point man for the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the review, Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, recently told other top officers the review was a "train wreck" being conducted in a "shallow" fashion, according to two Defense officials.
Military officers said they resented being treated as holdovers somehow tainted by service in the Clinton administration. They believed that under Bill Clinton and then under Bush, they had acted as loyal officers, subordinate to civilian authority. "People in uniform are very loyal to leadership," an officer at the Pentagon said. "They would have busted their butts for him [Rumsfeld] if he had said, 'Here's my vision, here's where we want to go.' He didn't, and I think that was a major failure."
Rumsfeld changed course in June, holding an unprecedented series of intense discussions with the Joint Chiefs on an almost-daily basis. But by then the damage had been done, a Pentagon official noted: "Once you lose the trust of military people, it is hard to regain it."
If Rumsfeld made miscalculations along the way, it was only part of the problem, according to many people outside the Pentagon. A more significant obstacle, that group says, is a military brass made up of generals and admirals wedded to existing weapons systems, troop structure and strategy. Seaquist, the former Pentagon policy aide, argued that "the military leaders were completely unprepared to offer any new thinking."