Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld held a combative session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff this week at which he expressed frustration about leaks of his plans to change the military. The service chiefs responded that they felt they had been excluded for months from his deliberations about those changes, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
But the two-hour meeting Tuesday in the Joint Chiefs' secure conference room, known as "the Tank," ended well, the officials said, as Rumsfeld and the service chiefs agreed to hold intensive discussions over the next six weeks to hammer out a new defense strategy.
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Taking steps to repair strained relations in two areas, Rumsfeld went to Capitol Hill yesterday to meet with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and also made plans to meet with the Joint Chiefs every working day next week, and probably into the weekend, officials said.
The strategy sessions with military leaders will be especially significant. From the strategy will flow conclusions about how big the military should be, what sort of weaponry to buy and the rough size of the defense budget.
Rumsfeld opened Tuesday's session in the Tank, at which only senior officials were present, with a 15-minute defense of his actions since coming to the Pentagon in January, emphasizing that he was determined to take a fresh look at defense issues and so had gone outside the military for help. He added that it had never been his intention to be exclusionary.
"It was very clear that the secretary wanted to get something off his chest," said one Defense Department official.
Despite its positive outcome, not everyone emerged from the meeting entirely pleased. At one point in the session, a service chief complained to Rumsfeld that he still hadn't been given a copy of the latest version of the overall strategy paper being written for Rumsfeld by Andrew Marshall, head of the Pentagon's in-house think tank. The services are worried about that paper because it appears to prescribe major shifts in the military, with new emphases on Asia and on long-range precision weaponry, but less use for large ground forces.
In response to that pointed question, the official said, Rumsfeld leaned back in his chair, turned to assistant Steven Cambone and said, "Steve, has anyone asked for it?" Cambone said no one had.
The Defense official said the chiefs were bothered by that exchange because it indicated that Rumsfeld doesn't understand that they think of themselves as his principal military advisers -- and don't believe they should have to ask an aide for papers being written under his guidance on military strategy.
The message the chiefs conveyed to Rumsfeld, the official added, was that, "This organization will work tremendously if it is included, and we will execute orders, even if we don't like them."
In a brief session with reporters at the Pentagon yesterday, Rumsfeld spoke generally about the state of his review of the military. "I think things are going along pretty well," he said. "There's no question but that change is not easy for people."
Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a spokesman for Rumsfeld, declined to comment about what was said in Tuesday's Tank session, except to say, "I think it's a travesty that he can't have a private conversation with the services' uniformed leadership."
Navy Capt. T. McCreary, a spokesman for Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Henry H. Shelton, said, "General Shelton doesn't discuss what goes on in Tank sessions. Those are periods of time set aside for the chiefs to talk off the record amongst themselves on serious issues. The conversations there aren't supposed to go outside the Tank."
In another effort to clear the air with his critics, Rumsfeld yesterday held the second of two meetings this week with members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. He emphasized, as he did with the Joint Chiefs, that he has come to no conclusions about how to change the military and only has some initial "impressions." He also promised to include interested senators in future deliberations.
To convey his view of the world, and especially of the necessity to change the military to meet the threats of the 21st century, Rumsfeld distributed to the senators a four-page handout. A major theme was the inevitability of strategic surprise -- the notion that threats will come from unexpected directions.
"History should compel planners to humbly acknowledge that 2015 will almost certainly be little like today and certainly notably different from what today's experts are confidently forecasting," the document said. "And recent events suggest that [the Department of Defense] at least give some thought to the flexibility of a capability-based strategy, as opposed to simply a threat-based strategy."
That jargon-laden sentence basically means that the U.S. military needs to move away from a Cold War structure designed to counter one large, clear threat -- from the Soviet Union -- and to develop capabilities to respond to everything from ballistic missiles to terrorist attacks.
"I would give the secretary the highest marks," Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said after Rumsfeld's appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday afternoon. "I think he's doing the best job he possibly can."