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January 26, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

Early bird
In the job one week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has shown himself to be an early bird in more ways than one. He is at his E-ring office by 6:30 a.m. as he bones up on myriad policy and budget issues.

His daily pre-dawn arrival is causing Pentagon officials to shift their schedules, right down to the office that puts out one of the hottest publications in Washington.

The Pentagon Early Bird is a must-read for generals, admirals and civilian policy-makers. When the publication switched from print to electronic version, people scrambled to acquire the needed access codes.

Mr. Rumsfeld prefers a paper copy and wants it on the back seat when his limousine picks him up. So Early Bird editors have moved up their deadline from 6 a.m. to 5:15 a.m. to keep the boss happy.

Pentagon officials say the defense secretary is spending gobs of time educating himself on how the modern 1.37 million-member armed forces operates.

When he was Pentagon chief a quarter-century ago, the Joint Chiefs of Staff drove budget requirements. But today, power has shifted, under law, to regional commanders in chief (four-star officers who look after places like North Korea, Iraq and Russia). They wield enormous influence.

Mr. Rumsfeld is scheduled to meet the CINCs in February in Washington where the top brass will also likely meet President Bush for the first time.

The gathering will give him a chance to size up candidates for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The job of top military adviser goes vacant Sept. 30. By law, the successor must be a CINC or Joint Chiefs member.

A vigorous 68 years old, Mr. Rumsfeld is soaking up briefings, which he likes delivered in a brisk, to-the-point manner. "He doesn't suffer fools gladly," said one official.

He is also trying to figure out how he will exercise his own powers, a process that is currently difficult because he has yet to name any of the under and assistant secretaries who would carry out his mandates.

Mr. Rumsfeld will use special assistants as opposed to a chief of staff. Stephen Cambone, a Pentagon official in the early 1990s, is currently serving as his personal assistant.

Unlike all other defense secretaries, Mr. Rumsfeld will not have to wait until he exits the Pentagon before his official portrait is hung. One is already on display from his first 14-month stint in 1975-77.

Budget options
One of the most urgent tasks for the new defense secretary and his team will be to craft a defense budget in the next several weeks. The $300 billion annual plan is said by analysts to need between $60 billion and $100 billion in new funds to make up for shortfalls left as a result of the Clinton years.

Pentagon officials tell us Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is looking at three options. First, he can crack the whip on the team of leftover Clinton officials and new appointees to produce a proposed defense budget in time to be submitted to Congress early next month.

A second option is to send the budget proposal developed over the last 10 months by the Clinton officials with an additional "augmentation package" in the spring.

The last option is to send a budget that is part-Clinton, part-Bush that reflects added spending on only the most urgent areas.

Officials say the wild card in the whole process is Congress. With Republicans in control of both the executive and legislative branches, there may be few contentious issues. Some lawmakers have sent signals that the budget may arrive as late as May, giving Mr. Rumsfeld time to more carefully craft his defense vision.

No Gun Ri
An alert reader sent us a portion of a Time magazine "Time Capsule/1950" published in 1967. The clipping reveals that the highly publicized No Gun Ri incident investigated by the Pentagon recently is not new news.

This dispatch from the front of the Korean War on Aug. 21, 1950, shows the dilemma faced by U.S. soldiers threatened by North Korean troops hiding among retreating Korean refugees:

"It is midnight, and all around the hills are astir. Here a sharp burst of small-arms fire, there the flashing life and death of an American shell, searching out the enemy who are gathering 5,000 yards from this command post.

"One of the field telephones rings, an officer of the staff picks it, listens a moment and says, 'Oh Christ, there's a column of refugees, three or four hundred of them, coming right down on B Company.' A major in the command tent says to a regimental commander, 'Don't let them through.'

"And of course the major is right. Time and again, at position after position, this silent approach of whitened figures had covered enemy attack. Finally, the colonel says in a voice racked with wretchedness, 'All right, don't let them through. But try to tell them to go back.'

" 'Yeah,' says a staff officer, 'but what if they don't go back?'

" 'Well,' the colonel says, as though dragging himself toward some pit, 'then fire over their heads.' " 'OK' an officer says, 'we fire over their heads. Then what?'

"The colonel seems to brace himself in the semi-darkness of the blacked out tent. " 'Well, then fire into them if you have to. If you have to, I said.' "

An officer then gave the order over the phone.

The Time article puts into context the recent Pentagon report on the No Gun Ri incident that stated that enemy troops hid among retreating refugees during the early part of the Korean War and that civilians were killed as a result of clashes with U.S. troops.


  • White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has asked the Pentagon to send over a one-star general or admiral to help run things. "They need someone to make sure the trains run on time," said a defense official.

  • Republican sources say President Bush passed over other defense secretary candidates in favor of Donald H. Rumsfeld for one prime reason: Secretary of State Colin Powell. The sources said Mr. Bush did not want the retired four-star general to dominate the internal national-security debate.

    Mr. Rumsfeld, no slouch on the stature meter, is known as a tenacious infighter. Mr. Bush even went so far as to tell reporters during the transition that he wants national security disagreements hashed out as a path to reaching the right policy.

    "Colin Powell is larger than life. An American hero," said one Republican defense adviser. "But you can't let him dominate the debate."

  • Richard Danzig, who dedicated his tour as Navy secretary to making shipboard life less tedious and more productive for sailors, would like to host a television talk show. While pursuing broadcast leads, Mr. Danzig has become a senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analysis and is eyeing "private sector opportunities," a spokesman said.

  • The Heritage Foundation, sure to rise in influence in a town where Republicans rule, has issued a white paper on defense calling for an immediate increase of $35 billion this year and the same amount next year.

    Heritage wants the Pentagon to buy more submarines, surface ships, tactical aircraft and spare parts, and push a global missile defense to protect the United States and deployed forces. To save cash, the Defense Department should do another round of base closings and consolidate drug purchases by DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The conservative think tank also urges reopening of the B-2 bomber assembly line.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are syndicated columnists. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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