Return to

May 25, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

Rumsfeld's busy month
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has spent an especially busy couple of weeks. Known for working 6 and 1/2-day weeks, the former corporate dynamo marked his fifth month on the job by pressing the White House for big increases in the defense budget and reaching out to those he needs to support his budgets.

Amid complaints of a lack of communication, Mr. Rumsfeld met Tuesday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the secure Pentagon enclave known as the "tank." The gathering produced a few hours of lively back-and-forth on the evolving new defense strategy.

On Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld traveled to Capitol Hill to meet privately with members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

Pentagon insiders described the "tank" session as a robust discussion of ideas, with particular emphasis on the course for the restarted Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The QDR, the congressionally mandated process for sizing the armed forces, was pushed to the side when Mr. Rumsfeld took his post Jan. 20 and ordered his own top-to-bottom review of forces and strategy.

With most of his 20-some panels completing their work, the QDR is now back on stage No. 1 and will be used to produce the final strategy.

"He listened," said one official, describing Mr. Rumsfeld´s demeanor during the two-hour chat.

He did not buy into everything, the chiefs said.

Mr. Rumsfeld is expected-- but is not certain -- to amend the current national military requirement that the nation be able to fight two regional wars nearly simultaneously. As one Pentagon insider told us, there are insufficient forces to carry out that mission anyway, so why keep it.

Meanwhile, the defense secretary is urging the White House to follow through on President Bush´s campaign promise to rebuild the military. The Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps estimate they need from $60 billion to $100 billion annually in additional funds to modernize.

But Mr. Bush is telling the Pentagon a big defense boost may have to wait, and it´s doubtful that even the $60 billion mark will be reached. "The White House wants to put some points on the board first with the American people," one well-placed adviser told us. He was referring to the president´s priorities: to get a tax cut and education reform bills signed.

The president is expected to give some hint of his new military strategy today when he delivers the commencement address at the Naval Academy. His speechwriters have been busy for weeks gleaning all the information they can on where the top-to-bottom review is headed. Sources say Mr. Rumsfeld is still weeks away from settling on a final product.

The budget scenario looks this way: Mr. Rumsfeld is on the verge of requesting a $6.5 billion emergency supplemental budget for 2001, followed by augmentation of the pending 2002 budget of $310 billion.

Major decisions on force size and weapons purchases will await the 2003 budget drafted this fall and presented in early 2002.

Williams moves on
Chris Williams, the former national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Mr. Rumsfeld´s temporary defense policy adviser, is now working at the National Defense University.

Mr. Williams is waiting for a position in the private sector to come along, we are told.

Mr. Williams was the fall guy for White House intervention to reverse Mr. Rumsfeld´s decision earlier this month to kill the questionable program of military-to-military exchanges with China. He had written a memorandum carrying out Mr. Rumsfeld´s decision. The April 30 order called for "suspension of all Department of Defense programs, contacts and activities with the People´s Republic of China until further notice."

Two days after the memorandum was circulated, the White House got wind and reversed the policy shift. Pro-China officials still in place from the Clinton administration made back-channel appeals to the White House not to end the program. Critics contend the contacts help the communist regime learn valuable war-fighting skills, while providing little of value to the United States.

Hours after television news reports broadcast that the exchange program was dead, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was on the telephone to Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, then Pentagon chief spokesman, dictating a press release backtracking on the cancellation.

Officials privately put out word that it was Mr. Williams who "misinterpreted" Mr. Rumsfeld´s position on the exchange program. The corrected memo says each contact will be reviewed on a "case-by-case basis." Defense sources blamed "Clinton holdovers" -- officials in place from the past administration -- for the reversal.

Pearl Harbor
The Pentagon wholeheartedly supported the production of "Pearl Harbor," which opens today in theaters around the world in time for Memorial Day commemorations. Disney went out of its way to tell the story of the deadly Japanese sneak attack without demonizing Japan. Pentagon script reviewers blessed this approach, but did object when they believed the storyline strayed too far from the facts.

For example, an early script said Jimmy Doolittle´s raiders returned home after the daring 1942 bombing of Tokyo. The Pentagon objected because the draft left out the fact that Japan executed three of the 82 fliers, that one died in prison and that four did not return until war´s end. After the Pentagon objected, the scriptwriters deleted all references to the crew returning home.

The Pentagon is billing Disney for about $1.5 million in production support. But it did provide the carrier USS John Stennis free of charge so Disney could debut the film in style -- on the ship´s flight deck in Pearl Harbor, a stone´s throw from the memorial to the sunken battleship USS Arizona.

The Navy argues it got its money´s worth, Stennis sailors did scores of media interviews seen or heard by the folks back home. It´s exposure that will help recruiting, the Navy predicts.

Beret battles
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, has attracted 34 co-sponsors to his bill to prevent the Army from handing out black berets to non-beret-wearing units. Among the names on the updated list is Rep. Floyd D. Spence, South Carolina Republican, who heads the House Armed Services subcommittee on military procurement. The endorsement raises the possibility that Mr. Spence may include the beret ban in the chairman´s mark-up of the fiscal 2002 procurement budget. If he does, it would take a majority at the committee or House floor level to knock out the amendment before the bill goes to a House-Senate conference.

Democrats are countering with a letter to colleagues urging them not to meddle in the beret decision by Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff. Calling the general a "selfless patriot and war hero," the letter states, "He should be allowed to do his job and to make decisions about what uniforms soldiers should wear unencumbered by congressional meddling."

The beret policy, announced as a symbol of a lighter, more agile Army, has run into bumps at nearly every turn. Special operations soldiers say it cheapens berets already issued to elite units. Gen. Shinseki was forced to reject berets being made in communist China in the face of protests. Millions of other berets made overseas were found to be substandard.

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

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns
    Return to