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Command Performance: President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld Have Been the Leaders of a Paradigm Shift in the Mission, Structure and Post-Cold War Objectives of the U.S. Armed Forces. (Cover Story)

By Waller, J. Michael | Insight on the News, March 4, 2002 | Go to article overview

Command Performance: President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld Have Been the Leaders of a Paradigm Shift in the Mission, Structure and Post-Cold War Objectives of the U.S. Armed Forces. (Cover Story)


Waller, J. Michael, Insight on the News


He is shifting the way America sees itself and its role in the world, and radically changing the way the country defends itself and wages war. He began with a vision more than a year ago -- a vision that since the attacks of Sept. 11 has come into sharper focus than even he may have imagined. Necessity and reality have propelled what began as a managerial agenda to meet future threats into a race for defense of the U.S. homeland and the safety of the free world.

With but a handful of loyal appointees, President George W. Bush has dragged the Pentagon's apatosaurus-like bureaucracy into the 21st century, kicking and screaming as it goes. Under the day-to-day leadership of his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, Bush has reached into the military to force long-resisted changes, while showing confidence in the officers carrying out a "transformation" of the armed forces from their obsolete Cold War configurations.

Transformation started a decade ago with the Persian Gulf War, with the changed threat environment and the rapid advance in information technology and other developments. Bush brought the indomitable Rumsfeld out of retirement as a no-nonsense, cut-the-crap Pentagon veteran to force-feed the bureaucracy what was good for it, with Rumsfeld generating more than a few disgruntled enemies in the process. Indeed, some pundits predicted last summer that Rumsfeld would be the first Cabinet secretary to be sent to the showers. But Bush stuck by him, with even administration soft-liners and outside critics subsequently echoing the hardline, America-first views of the Pentagon chief and his deputies.

Bush's strong push for more rapid change, his delegation of authority and constant demands for innovation and risk-taking helped shift the climate within the military before Sept. 11 which is credited with allowing the creativity and boldness, from general to grunt, that the unique war against terrorism requires. The day of the overly cautious bureaucrat in uniform, the chicken generals who tend to rise in peacetime, soon may be over. Under Bush, courage is rewarded. Military leaders are emboldened by their victories.

"The reason this happened was the mind-set change of the leadership," Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently explained to junior officers. Bush has given commanders "the freedom to make mistakes, to try things ... and know that your boss is going to let you make the mistakes and pick yourself up and clean yourself off and get back in the game -- huge mind-set differences."

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief (CINC) of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), who leads the war in Afghanistan tells it straight from the shoulder: "We do it differently now than we did four months ago. I predict we'll probably do it differently four months from now than we did four months ago." Military services are working with the CIA and other agencies better than ever and on an unprecedented real-time basis. "I think I'd probably characterize it as the very best relationship that I've seen since I've been in this line of work," says Franks, "not as a CINC, but over 35 years."

That took toughness and leadership from the president and his team. Rumsfeld has had harsh words for the Pentagon bureaucracy and the inherited mind-set throughout the ranks, especially at the top. "There's something about an awful lot of people, the higher up they get, that it's increasingly difficult for them to adapt and adjust and change. It's just a fact."

Rumsfeld chose a significant venue in which to rip into the sluggish and counterproductive military establishment while elaborating on what the president means by "transforming the military." His audience was mostly junior military and intelligence officers at the National Defense University. He invited junior officers to speak their minds and, in so doing, provided them with political cover by inviting generals Franks, Pace and others to take the questions and comments.

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Command Performance: President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld Have Been the Leaders of a Paradigm Shift in the Mission, Structure and Post-Cold War Objectives of the U.S. Armed Forces. (Cover Story)
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