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Rumsfeld on High Wire of Defense Reform

Many of those interviewed said they are worried that the future of the institution to which they have devoted their adult lives is being decided without them. One senior general unfavorably compared Rumsfeld's stewardship of the Pentagon with Colin L. Powell's performance as secretary of state. "Mr. Powell is very inclusive, and Mr. Rumsfeld is the opposite," said the general, who knows both men. "We've been kept out of the loop."

Added another senior officer: "The fact is, he is disenfranchising people."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says his review of the military is rational and inclusive. (James A. Parcell - The Washington Post)

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Some noted that the Bush administration came into office vowing to restore the military's trust in its civilian overseers. "Everyone in the military voted for these guys, and now they feel like they aren't being trusted," a Pentagon official said.

The Army, which has the reputation of being the most doggedly obedient of all the services, appears to be closest to going into opposition against the new regime. Army generals are especially alarmed by rumors that they could lose one or two of their 10 active divisions under the new Pacific-oriented strategy that Rumsfeld appears to be moving toward but has not yet unveiled.

At the Joint Chiefs' "Tank" session on Thursday, one defense official said, the Army led the charge against the conclusions of a Rumsfeld study group on conventional weapons that suggested big cuts in Army troops. The service chiefs told their chairman, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, that they could not make sense of that recommendation without knowing precisely what strategy Rumsfeld wants to pursue. "It wasn't just the Army, but [Army officers] took the lead" in the criticism, the official added.

Retired generals often say in public what the active-duty leadership is thinking but can't utter. Sullivan, the former Army chief, appeared to play that role yesterday in a speech to a conference of Army reservists. He said he is worried that Rumsfeld would "propose a world in which we will be able to hide behind our missile defense," which he went on to liken to the expensive but useless Maginot Line that France erected against Germany after World War I.

In another recent talk, Sullivan referred to Rumsfeld's new emphasis on space as a "rathole" for defense spending. He also sent an e-mail criticizing Rumsfeld, and that message has circulated widely inside the Army.

Wary Generals

The military now appears so wary of Rumsfeld that officers perceive slights where none may have been intended. The generals are especially peeved by what they believe is a pattern of moves by Rumsfeld to reallocate power from the military to himself.

Earlier this month, for example, Rumsfeld dumped his military assistant, a one-star admiral who had been picked for the job just four months earlier, and replaced him with a three-star admiral. "It turned out I made a mistake, just to be blunt about it, thinking that a one-star could, simply because he was in the secretary's office, get the place to move at the same pace that a three-star could or a two-star," Rumsfeld explained. In other words, one flag officer commented, Rumsfeld felt he needed someone who could crack the whip over the top brass.

Rumsfeld also caused a stir in the services by bringing in retired Vice Adm. Staser Holcomb, who was his military assistant during his first term as secretary of defense, under President Gerald R. Ford, to look over the current crop of generals and admirals. Holcomb's queries may indicate that Rumsfeld wants to take over the selection of top generals -- one of the last prerogatives left to the service chiefs. The chiefs generally have little say about operational matters, which are the province of the regional commanders, or "CinCs," and they don't have much sway over weapons acquisition, which is a civilian responsibility. But they do get to pick who joins the club of top generals.

Rumsfeld said Holcomb is working on military personnel matters, especially in helping him look at who should become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Shelton steps down later this year. Asked whether he is stepping on the toes of the service chiefs by getting involved in the selection of two- and three-star generals, Rumsfeld grinned and laughed, but said nothing.

Rumsfeld has also been planning to start a new "Crisis Coordination Center" to be overseen by his office, defense officials said. They report that Rumsfeld believes that communications and responsibilities during crises have been handled hazily. Creating such a center -- a move that has not previously been reported -- almost certainly would diminish the power of the staff of the Joint Chiefs, which oversees operations.

Rumsfeld's views on crisis communications may have been crystallized by an undisclosed foul-up that occurred during the Feb. 16 air strikes against Iraq, the Bush administration's first use of military force. At the last minute, military commanders moved up the timing of the strikes by six hours.

But word somehow didn't get to Bush, said several defense officials. The president had expected the bombs to begin dropping as he headed home from a summit meeting in Mexico. Instead, the strikes started just as he arrived for that meeting, overshadowing his first foreign trip as president and infuriating him, officials said.

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