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Pentagon Dampens Expectations for Change

Wednesday, 30 May 2001 12:00 AM

During the presidential campaign and as recently as February, Bush promised he would build a new strategic vision and agenda for the military, which he characterized as broken and demoralized after eight years under President Clinton.

"Help is on the way" became a frequent mantra of the Bush-Cheney team whenever they campaigned at military stops, to great applause.

But with a series of Pentagon reviews now drawing to a close, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon handlers are trying hard to dampen expectations, saying the studies are meant simply to "stimulate" Rumsfeld's thinking, and no great changes should be expected.

"I think there was a widespread perception that there would be much more near-term -- many more near-term announcements of dramatic change than what we're actually going to see," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said Tuesday at a news conference.

But the White House and Pentagon fueled precisely these expectations by saying they wouldn't answer questions about Bush's policy toward Iraq, the Balkans peacekeeping missions and other national security issues until the review was finished, creating the impression that the review would profoundly impact policy in these areas.

By contrast, Tuesday, the review was presented as merely an element of a long-planned congressionally mandated review of defense priorities, which one critic of the Pentagon described as a "formula for bureaucratic inertia."

"What now seems to make the most sense is to fold them (the studies which make up Rumsfeld's review) into ... the Quadrennial Defense Review," Quigley said.

Last week, Rumsfeld was even more blunt about it.

"The reality is that no one is going to be making any dramatic changes in anything because that's just not how Washington works. Government doesn't work that way," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld's tone is markedly different from President Bush's just four months ago. Bush said the studies would pinpoint exact priorities for Pentagon spending and usher in major changes for military strategy.

"Before we make our full investment, we must know our exact priorities, and we will not know our priorities until the defense review is finished. That report will mark the beginning of a new defense agenda and a new strategic vision and will be the basis for allocating our defense resources," Bush said on Feb. 14 in a speech at Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va.

And during a primary presidential debate in January 2000, Bush sounded a warning that this review would result in the cancellation of some major weapons programs.

"What's needed to happen is the top down review of the military so that there's a strategic plan to make sure that we spend properly," Bush said. "There's going to be a lot of programs that aren't going to fit into the strategic plan for a long-term change of our military."

By his own admission, Rumsfeld has not yet figured out what that change will be.

"We certainly think we can come up with something better, but until we do, we have to keep looking," Rumsfeld said Friday in an interview with PBS.

John Isaacs, president of Council for a Livable World, a Washington, D.C., think tank and advocacy organization that tends to oppose Bush's national security agenda, believes that Rumsfeld is trying to prepare the way for no great changes to happen without making his four-month review look ineffectual.

"They have been getting some resistance. Anytime anyone mentions a weapons program that could be cut back, be it the V-22 or aircraft carriers, members of Congress start squealing," Isaacs said. "I think the military/industrial complex remains as strong as ever. And Rumsfeld is not separate from it. He has been a part of it."

Rumsfeld acknowledged the resistance he may face from industry and the institutional Pentagon if he proposes any major changes.

"Well, that's unsettling for people. They say, 'Oh, my goodness, things could change.' And, of course, the defense contractors don't want any change," he said in the May 25 PBS interview.

"The building is uncertain about change because you don't know how it will affect them. Congressional districts worry about it from the standpoint of contracts and the like. So it immediately injects a little fear and concern into it. And I understand that."

But Rumsfeld runs the risk of being considered ineffectual if he does not live up to Bush's perceived campaign promises.

"After all this reviewing, if they didn't kill any weapons programs and all they did was the same as usual, the reviews will have been seen to fail," Isaacs said.

The Pentagon appeared to be trying to close the door on that possibility Tuesday.

"When the secretary initiated the studies to stimulate his thinking, it was understood that the results of those studies would feed into his thinking, which would then feed into the QDR," Quigley said.

Isaacs said wrapping the review findings as Quigley suggested into the Quadrennial Defense Review, which will begin in earnest this summer, is a "formula for bureaucratic inertia."

The QDR is headed by the military services and reviews military strategy, weapons programs and roles and missions. The last QDR, conducted in 1997, is widely derided within the Pentagon as a device to validate a too-small budget. Military officials were given a "top line" budget and told to make it work, rather than invited to look at the threats and decide what they needed to spend to meet them.

The apparent attempt to lower expectations is not the only overhaul going on at the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld has been a frequent target of criticism for failing to inform and involve Capitol Hill and the military in his work. Quigley announced Tuesday that Rumsfeld will begin a week of intensive meetings with the military service chiefs and the worldwide commanders to discuss the way ahead for the QDR.

This week's consultations follow a series of meetings on Capitol Hill between Rumsfeld and top defense lawmakers designed to placate an increasingly restive Congress. Capitol Hill is impatient for a much-delayed defense budget and a supplemental appropriation request.

"There was a concern raised by a number of members in the committee today about being involved at an early stage in this process. That concern was raised," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., on Thursday. "We received assurances from the secretary that a process is going to be worked out where there will be a very detailed involvement by members of this committee at an early stage in this process before it is formed up -- before it gets to the point where you can say options have been discarded."

Rumsfeld will meet for up to 90 minutes a day with the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Tuesday until Saturday - not including Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton, who leaves for India and the Middle East Wednesday. On Saturday the regional commanders will join in.

Rumsfeld hopes to produce a written "terms of reference" outlining the objectives and methods for the QDR.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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During the presidential campaign and as recently as February, Bush promised he would build a new strategic vision and agenda for the military, which he characterized as broken and demoralized after eight years under President Clinton. Help is on the way became a...
Wednesday, 30 May 2001 12:00 AM
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