Rumsfeld: Plaques of Biblical Job: Donald Rumsfeld Inherited a Demoralized Military Where Warrior Qualities Had Lost out to Political Correctness. Today, He Is Winning on Two Fronts: Afghanistan and the Pentagon. (Cover Story)

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As the Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan imploded under military and diplomatic pressures carefully coordinated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the president's national-security team, a disgusted senior Defense Department official summed up the plagues of the Clinton defense bureaucracy that Rumsfeld had inherited. "This is the only building in Washington that doesn't know we're at war" the official said, ticking off examples of what the Clinton years did to the military culture there:

* A remote-controlled aircraft had a perfect shot to eliminate Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the main sponsor of terrorist Osama bin Laden. But Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of the Central Command who runs the war in Afghanistan from the U.S., called in a lawyer and let the Taliban fanatic, escape on the advice of legal counsel.

* Less than a week into the bombing campaign against the Taliban, Navy top brass found troubling rogue activity aboard the USS Enterprise in the Arabian Sea. A sailor was caught writing an antigay slogan on a bomb to be dropped on the Taliban. Back in Washington, senior admirals ordered fleet commanders to "prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate event."

* On the Pentagon Website (www.defenselink.mil), a major source of information about the war against terrorism, a rotating banner gives equal billing to news about Operation Enduring Freedom and Native American Heritage Month. In addition to week-old photos from the war front, the site currently features "delicious foods and recipes from Native American Indian tribes" and a pulsating "dream catcher" complete with audio pagan chants.

War or no war, political correctness continues to reign in the U.S. military. Rumsfeld is said to have exploded when that Pentagon lawyer saved the life of bin Laden's chief sponsor, making it painfully clear to the political generals that George W. Bush, not Bill Clinton, is their commander in chief. It's been a protracted, uphill battle for Rumsfeld since he returned to the Defense Department last winter. Some liken his tribulations to the trials of the biblical Job. Others admiringly paint him as a hero who, at age 68, ditched a comfortable retirement to embrace a crushing 14-hour-a-day, six-and-a-half-day work week. Bush appointees interviewed by INSIGHT say that though the schedule is grueling, they take great satisfaction in following Rumsfeld's lead. And among uniformed personnel, sickened by Clintonista holdovers, INSIGHT found officers who are downright pumped.

Rumsfeld inherited a demoralized armed forces stretched thin on seemingly aimless and endless peacekeeping missions from Haiti to Bosnia. Its enlisted personnel and their families often were forced to live in slum conditions, and there had been a fire-hose exodus of highly trained and skilled people. Top military and civilian leaders had arrived at their posts under a promotion system and standards set by the Clinton administration, where critics say political correctness, not warrior qualities, led to professional advancement.

Rumsfeld had to force his top generals to stop thinking like Bill Clinton. The Joint Chiefs of Staff's original attack options against the Taliban, drawn up under the previous administration, consisted only of cruise-missile strikes. Rumsfeld bluntly told his generals that the plans were bullshit and to go back and draw up something that would crush the regime and the destroy terrorists. "He doesn't take any B.S.," says a senior officer who recently presented the secretary with an action proposal. "He'll tell you exactly what he thinks, but he does it in a human way that makes you appreciate his judgment, even if it's painful."

The 23,000-strong Pentagon bureaucracy has resented and resisted Rumsfeld's commitment to a total reconfiguring of the armed forces to face new and emerging threats. Big consulting firms meanwhile keep ex-Clinton officials wired into the defense decisionmaking apparatus on fat Pentagon contracts. …