At Pentagon, Less Ideology, More Balance
Monday, August 22, 2005
The new civilian leadership team that has moved into place under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over the past few months is shaping up to be less ideological, more balanced and more attuned to Congress than the first-term group it has succeeded, according to defense analysts and lawmakers.
Although Rumsfeld has resisted calls from some in Congress and elsewhere to resign over his handling of the Iraq conflict, his deputy and several top advisers responsible for policy, procurement and management of his inner office have departed. Gone are Paul D. Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's previous number two civilian, and Douglas J. Feith, the former policy chief -- both prominent neoconservative figures who helped craft the administration's approach to Iraq and who became public targets for critics of the invasion and decisions affecting its aftermath.
After four years in which the Pentagon often found itself enmeshed in controversy over such issues as the use of a preemptive strike, the quality of prewar intelligence and the treatment of detainees, the new team members by contrast have drawn little political fire as they transition into their new jobs.
Gordon England, who has taken Wolfowitz's place as deputy, still faces the ongoing challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has said little publicly about those conflicts or other international policy questions since taking office in May. Instead, he has focused on more parochial Pentagon priorities, most notably the streamlining of the department's business practices and the refashioning of the armed forces to deal with less conventional missions.
Eric Edelman, who this month succeeded Feith as policy chief, also has little public record of engagement in Washington's ideological battles but comes with a reputation as a skilled career diplomat with an easygoing personality.
And Robert Rangel, a longtime congressional insider who was staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, recently started operating as Rumsfeld's chief of staff and using his Capitol Hill expertise to help smooth the way for Pentagon initiatives. In one sign of a fresh push to work more closely with lawmakers, Rumsfeld hosted the senior Democrat on the House committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), at a private breakfast last month, the first time the two men had dined one-on-one, according to Skelton.
"It's not so much the quality of the people in the new team, since the old team also had a fair amount of ability," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution. "Rather, it's a matter of balance. There's a better balance than before, when the neocons appeared to dominate."
Staff restructurings are customary at the start of second terms in Washington, and several defense officials cautioned against viewing the Pentagon's senior personnel changes as signaling any basic shift in course. Indeed, Rumsfeld's new picks appear to reflect as much a premium on familiarity, loyalty and trust as anything else.
Lawrence Di Rita, Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, noted that the Pentagon leader has often bemoaned the frequent turnover of civilian as well as military personnel in the department. "If he can promote from within, or bring somebody in who's been part of the operation in some other capacity, he likes to do that," Di Rita said.
England, for instance, served two stints as Navy secretary, with time as the Department of Homeland Security's first deputy chief. Kenneth Krieg, the new undersecretary for acquisition and logistics, is in his third Pentagon job in four years, after positions as the department's top program analyst and executive secretary of a senior-level council.
Even Edelman, who came from the State Department and a posting as ambassador to Turkey, has ties to other senior administration figures. He advised Vice President Cheney on national security matters during the first two years of the administration and served under Wolfowitz at the Pentagon in the early 1990s, when both were in the department's policy branch.
"From a policy perspective, you're not going to see any fundamental changes, nothing beyond some little stick-and-rudder movements," said an administration official involved in defense policy who is not authorized to speak for attribution.