The Army Versus Rummy

Now that the freshness and novelty have worn off the story of the latest assault on SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, with the multi-pronged campaign to get him tossed out having failed at least temporarily (though that appears to be John Kerry’s great hope to remain in the public eye- see this-, it is time to step back and look at the subject with a bit more perspective. To this observer the recent war against Rumsfeld was about winners and losers in the military transformation process, not whether troops in Iraq are adequately supported or even large enough in number.

With that one reporter-planted question about HMMWV armor, Rumsfeld returned to the bulls-eye of the stabilized infrared sights of everyone in Washington- a “perfect storm” combination of several groups, each with its own agenda:

a) the US Senate- egos plus money, enough said (Truman’s Secy of State, the patrician Dean Acheson, famously said that he had been criticized because “I don’t “suffer fools gladly; I respond that those who say this fail to give me credit for the amount of time I spend with the US Senate”)

b) the Fourth Estate, for reasons that are obvious, ranging from near-universal knee-jerk anti-war views to Rumsfeld’s own unwillingness to suffer fools (most of the Washington press corps writing about military affairs) gladly; besides, with the election over and Scott Peterson’s trial finished, the news is a bit slow….

c) high level uniformed personnel, essentially the Army, but certain elements of each Service, with a dual stake in preventing reform of the military establishment and getting revenge for prior perceived indignities

d) the paleocons, the standard group of anti-Israel isolationist anti-immigrationists led by Pat Buchanan; Robert Novak weighed in, accusing “the neocons” of going after Rumsfeld to shift blame away from themselves for their primary role promoting The Disastrous War In Iraq.

e) the rest of the anti-Bush opportunists

What makes the story notable is not that the various MSM outlets and leftist groups have piled on, but that so many on the right- traditional supporters of the military- joined the attack, and on the purported basis that they are nobly protecting the military. The Usual Suspects were led this time by Senators McCain and Hagel (is just so disillusioning to see US Senators actually posturing for cameras; it would almost seem like they are look for favorable publicity to promote future ambitions).

But the larger Washington firestorm broke when “The Weekly Standard” joined the fray (Et tu, Brute?), leading off with a Washington Post op-ed written by William Kristol, which bluntly called for Rumsfeld’s scalp, followed up by two more hit pieces (see below) in the magazine as part of an entire issue largely devoted to pointing fingers elsewhere for any possible long term negative fallout flowing to “neocons” from Iraq (if the bad guys don’t give up fast enough; so much for patience to prosecute a multi-year war on terror; and so much for conservative loyalties.)

As usual, the Right doesn’t lose as much to MSM bias as it does to friendly fire.

The Weekly Standard followed Kristol’s op-ed with a hit piece in the 12/27/04 issue written by national security and history writer Frederick Kagan, entitled “The Army We Have”. The article was a poster exhibit of how to mount a left wing (!) assault using half quotes and misconstruction to hide the real objective. To this was added a 12/16/04 “Daily Standard” article from military affairs contributor Tom Donnelly (, about “Rumsfeld’s War- Imagination, transformation, and reality in Iraq”. Finally, even the estimable Cap’n Ed Morrissey, here ( ) suggested that the Capitol Hill revolt over the “up-armor HMMWV ‘shortage’” might, at last, be a means to get rid of the SecDef, in favor of one whom his enemies might find a bit more malleable.

I see. Bravely do the necessary and unpopular, and you will be thrown overboard as a means of rewarding those who lie about you. The logic approximates that of rewarding Zarqawi by delaying Iraqi elections.

As perceptive observers (e.g., Powerlineblog- ) note, the current HMMWV armor protection issue is a dust-up that hit the headlines after the problem had been quietly solved using the standard wartime processes of the DoD. For the previous example of the military taking care of a problem before the press noticed that it existed despite months of press releases, review the time line of Abu Ghraib, which hit the WaPo daily front page well after US CENTCOM had held a press conference, announced their discovery of the problem, the on-going high level investigation, and the plan to address it (all of which were ignored by bored reporters until Seymour Hersh completed his New Yorker screed).

I believe that one can make a very strong case that the core of this undercover war against Rumsfeld is nothing new- though the latest round was initiated by an ambitious reporter, the larger flack comes primarily from category “c” above- those in the military establishment, led by traditionalist general officers in the Army, who are intractably opposed to military transformation. The rest of the people in the various groups are merely opportunists piling on.

Before I go on, let me vehemently assert that these comments are in no way directed at the incredibly brave, selfless, and capable men and women of our military, all branches and ranks, fighting out in the field. This is about the bureaucratic wars of military mission transformation and top management military and civilian careerists, active and retired, who are extremely loyal to the Army or Navy as institutions- in ways that may cloud their perspectives about the defense of the USA in the 21st century. It is not about the warfighters.

This Army-opposed-to-military-transformation issue actually has its roots in the National Security act of 1947 that formed the Defense Department, in part by creating the US Air Force by splitting the Air Corps off from the Army. This was the equivalent, in the view of the Army at the time, of a business executive designating a favored protégé and then being stabbed in the back by the ungrateful little whelp.

The Army has always had a general view that it is the Service that regularly gets the shaft, and opines to that effect regularly. The publications of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), the Service trade association, are constantly leavened with gripes over comparative budgets, roles and missions, budgets, differences between Service budgets, responsibilities, size of budgets, and budgets. They also complain a lot about how much money they get compared with the Air Force and the Navy. Oh, and did I say that the Army is unhappy with its budget? Every year? (this is not unique in Washington, by the way, so don’t pile on the Army just because of that, pile on instead because of the substance of the resistance to change).

In the post-Cold War downsizing, it is unquestionable that the Army took major hits in personnel. People cost a lot of money, and the Army had a lot of people set up for central European land warfare. The so-called “peace dividend” was able to harvest nice chunks of cash from cutting the Army and its central anti-Soviet ground mission. The universal sense in the Army was that the reduction from 16 active divisions down to ten, with several of the remaining battle entities designated as smaller “light” divisions, was wildly unfair in the Army’s view. Also unwise, and in retrospect they are probably right. They have never stopped lobbying earnestly to restore some portion of what had been lost.

The “Build the Army!” lobby now believes that Bush (Rumsfeld) has had four years to fix the egregious problem of an undersized land force. However, instead of fixing the broken Army we are in a war, equivalent to military malpractice. The idea suggested is not that “you go to war with the army you have”, it is that you should never go to war at all until everything is perfectly up to snuff. The Japanese and North Koreans forgot that rule, if I recall.

Donnelly and Kagan adopted that exact same theme, and it is not a new message- it comes right out of the talking points and press releases of the AUSA as they have been issued weekly almost since the end of the Vietnam War. I heard it constantly in the Army wing of the Pentagon when I was around there starting in the mid-1980’s (“Once again, we’re the #@**&# billpayer for the Air Force’s fancy new airplane…” I can’t identify the precise source and date to say that this is an identifiably direct quote, but it is far more accurate than those CBS memos).

Of course, Bush is quite popular with the fighting active duty military, the alternative candidates are all a lot worse (imagine how happy John Kerry would have been to fund Crusader, a bunch of new tanks, a few new heavy divisions, and so on), and you don’t throw rocks at the president whose re-election you had just strongly championed. So you stone the surrogate (Rumsfeld) instead.

The current dust-up is partly a combination of ego-versus-ego (how does a Boy Scout start a fire without matches? He puts a general officer, a Senator, and an arrogant civilian executive in a room together and holds the tinder up to catch all the sparks) (I made that up; but I stand behind the science), and post-Iraq occupation grandstanding and scapegoating.

In the larger sense the core of the controversy has little to do with any of those matters. It is better understood as simply one more chapter in the long “uniformed Army versus the Pentagon Whiz Kids” saga that began in earnest with the Kennedy’s administration in 1961, though it has roots going back in the Korean War with the firing of MacArthur by Truman. It is about who runs the Defense Department- the uniformed bureaucrats or the civilian political appointees. One could think of the two sides as future-thinking analysts arrayed against the traditionalists among the uniformed brass who are following in the best tradition of fighting the last war, based on very real experiences.

The “old soldiers” group is reminiscent of the “never let traditions die” attitude that had horse cavalry units operational in World War II (The 1st Cavalry Division, the 112th and 124th Cavalry all were sent to the Pacific, where they fought dismounted as infantry). The analysts think that the traditionalists have feet set in concrete, and the traditionalists think that the analysts are unrealistic and dreamy about things that are real. Both sides have lots of civilians and military officers in their numbers, and both are partly wrong and partly right about the other.

But Rumsfeld is somewhat unique in this long saga. He is the first proactively “reform-minded” SecDef whose first objective is improving the warfighting capability of the military- not saving money by controlling those bloodthirsty money hogs, gradually disarming, or diverting budget to political and social crusades. He knows that a bureaucracy, especially a large one, is not going to be perfectly efficient. As one who has no particular other personal ambitions, he can, and does, burn bridges when necessary to at least get everyone focused on urgently needed reprioritizations, which means that he refuses to play The Money Game with them.

And anyone who has actually spent any time in the Pentagon knows that it is a game. I remember walking through the Army wing one day in 1985 and seeing a sign on a door- “Army Space Office”. In equal parts bemused and curious, I went in and asked the sharp young Major, seated by himself inside with a very clean desk and air of boredom, to explain to me what prompted the establishment of the office, and what the expected mission was to be. After a thirty minute conversation, neither of us knew the answer to the question beyond the idea that it was important to establish a beachhead so that the Air Force didn’t get all the space-based SDI money. Or something. I never did notice a Navy Space Office- I suspect that they realized that they needed to wait on that until water could be discovered on Mars.

US war plans for the last 40 years or so have been built around the large scale and sophisticated opposing capabilities of the USSR, directed toward stopping a land invasion of Central Europe. There have been certain military cadres that have consistently been ascendant and run the Services- based on the importance of their particular branches to classical anti-Soviet war planning. This is described very well by Professor Owens (

and John Hillen ( In one way, this is not much different from the determination of the Sunni Baathist minority to maintain their power and control in Iraq- they’ve always had the upper hand, so it can’t change. It is almost a divine right when that is all you’ve known.

Every change in any organization has its winners and its losers. Military transformation is several steps beyond a mere reorganization. In the corporate world, the losers go on to other jobs in other firms. In the DoD, they stay right there and keep fighting to restore things back to the way they have always been (only with more money….) and the way the war, in their career spans, have always been approached. Since the 1970’s, opponents of military reform have known that they could outlast the evil reformers and they always have.

It is very easy to undercut a Congressman Aspin or a showpiece caretaker William Cohen. It is less easy to fool Rumsfeld. He’s been there before.

US wars are run in the theater of operations by the “maneuver commander”, the Army ground commander. Every other element, no matter how strategically important to the battle, is there to support the ground commander. What this means in terms of career prestige in the military is that the route to the top for ambitious Army officers, with one slight exception noted below, is to be in a “maneuver” branch. Conversely, prestige and glamour in the Air Force and Navy is tied to leading the missions where those Services are the boss- most emphatically not the elements that are designated primarily to support the Army-led ground operation.

In practice, this means that for decades, the top levels of the Army have been run by men who came from the Armor Branch, the Infantry, or, (and here is the slight anomaly to classic front-line “maneuver”) Field Artillery. For example, if you look at the Army chiefs-of-staff for the last 25 years prior to the current Rumsfeld selection, you find two armor officers, two artillerymen, and two infantrymen. These Branch identities and loyalties are pounded into the soldiers from the time they start basic training, as an essential element of the team spirit and morale-building necessary to prepare them to go to war together, and endure the risks and terror involved, in a way that optimizes the collective opportunity for mission success. It is totally natural for them to cling to these identities as they rise to the top, and when they get into power, to determine that this is the opportunity to “take care of the armor” (or artillery, whatever).

In the other Services, the glamour spots, as was mentioned, have been the special missions of each Service, those strategic aspects not ruled by the ground commander. For the Air Force, it is “air superiority” that rules (for vital strategic reasons), and for the Navy, anti-submarine warfare has trumped much else (again for vital strategic reasons). If you own the skies and have taken out the enemy air forces and anti-aircraft defenses, you are then free to provide effective close air support to the ground commander. If you own the oceans and have taken out the enemy’s submarines, your aircraft carriers and sealift forces are free to operate in support of the ground commander.

While the primary enemy was the USSR, which had highly sophisticated air and undersea capabilities and strong anti-aircraft defenses, the path to position and promotion was clear. But in this world where we face new kinds of war, the power inside the military shifts just as the threats and methods of warfare have shifted, and all of a sudden you see the entire Army ranks of Armor and Field Artillery general officers passed over in favor of an Airborne Special Operations commander- Gen Schoomaker- who was, worse yet, pulled back out of retirement.

Now we have a totally different world imposed on people who have devoted their lives, and in most cases, their blood, to certain parts of a cause for thirty years, and they are being told that their way of viewing the world may be obsolete. Look at some likely winners and losers in the world of military transformation:

Army winners- Airborne(e.g., Rangers), Special Ops, Infantry, Combat Aviation, Military Police, Civil Affairs; Army losers- Armor, Field Artillery. Probably little significant change for Engineers and Quartermasters, though some shift in focus and conditions.

Air Force winners- Close Air Support, Military Airlift, very long-range conventional air-to-ground assault using strategic bombers; Air Force losers- Air Superiority (air-to-air “Top Gun” dogfighters), Strategic Air Command.

Navy winners- Carrier Operations, Seals, USMC, Military Sealift; losers- Anti-Submarine Warfare, nuclear submarine forces, classic battleship warfare.

Winners across the board: public affairs, and anything to do with RSTA (recon, surveillance, target acquisition) and intelligence.

Note that the “losers” don’t go away or have their missions eliminated- there are still very real threats out there of all types. But- they no longer rule as #1 in the way they have, and give something up to support the newly rising missions. Whe you’ve been frustrated about budget for decades, taking another hit for transformation is like waving an extra cheese pizza in front of a football team.

The winners are primarily non-traditional areas, the losers are the former power brokers, their contractors, and Congressmen. For example, consider the non-military stakeholders in the transformation process. Throughout the Cold War, there was a certain set of military-industrial players who worked with their counterparts in the Services and Congress to keep procurement money flowing. Much conventional (“dumb” ballistic) ammunition was used in high volume to make up for its lack of accuracy, and it was manufactured in whole or in part in government-owned plants. The weapons were made by more industrial firms with unionized employees and stored and maintained in Southern depots near those ubiquitous bases throughout the South. The large Army had lots of people to train and house in the US, Air Force bases dotted the landscape, and East and West coast docks and shipyards took care of building, maintaining, and loading the many large ships.

The Congressmen for the districts in which these facilities were located fought to keep them “workloaded” long after their efficient usefulness was a thing of the past. This has been such a thorny problem that Congress established the Base Closing Commission (BRAC) and vested it with authority to act without positive approval from Congress to avoid the horrific specter of having to vote on the closings (then, as each list of facilities to be excessed was released, the Congressional staffs of course did their best to undercut the process).

Transformation warfare uses a fraction of the conventional arms and ammunition as was required in the old days. In the hyper-public-relations world of 24 hour cable war coverage, you simply do not engage in “carpet bombing” or artillery mass fire-for-effect. There are too many innocent people who can be injured, so all weapons must now be highly precise. When you make a mistake and kill innocents, it is generally because you had bad information, not because your aim was lousy. The shift from thousands of dumb bombs to a few JDAMS takes the bulk of the budget money from a unionized government arsenal and hands it to Martin Marietta in Florida. Cancellation of the Crusader shut down plants in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and lots of other places with companies and Senators; but we simply don’t have a need for advanced “scoot-and-shoot” big ballistic guns when it is more flexible and precise to send an aircraft to shoot a missile.

Rumsfeld correctly killed the Crusader self-propelled howitzer, and that was the public symbol of the fact that the historic practice of log-rolling and mutual back-scratching by generals and Senators bringing home bacon steadily and reliably is finished. This has absolutely nothing to do with political affiliations, either, as anyone who has ever seen Ted Kennedy at a Senate Armed Services Committee Bill “mark-up” can attest. He may crow about his anti-war principles, but check out what committee assignments he has demanded for 30 years (can anyone spell “SASC”?) and how the “made in Massachusetts” programs have fared in the budget. Teddy was a fine friend to Raytheon and GE, thank you very much, just as the California delegation’s Feinstein and Waxman, etc. just loved and preserved Fort Ord long after it was surplus to mission. Rummy is also correct in ordering the review of intr-Service roles and personnel placements. Back when I worked in the Army’s procurement shop, we had a lot of captains and majors wandering around doing paperwork. The O-6 commander needed to be there, but they could have shifted a lot of other people out of the bureaucracy and into the military world.

Check out how much action there is in Mississippi after the totally money-wasting and unnecessary construction of the Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant ended up with no significant workloading (at the time it was built, the Army was shutting down plants all over the country) and you know why Trent Lott wants a new SecDef. My own Minnesota appropriators, Martin Sabo on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, and James Oberstar, have been anything but hostile to such pork through the years, providing appropriations for projects urged by Minnesota defense companies such as Honeywell, Rosemount Engineering, and Control Data.

The delicate dance and balance of “you vote for my earmark and I’ll vote for yours” has thrived among all for fifty years. Everyone recognizes that some pork-driven inefficiency in the defense budget has always been the price of maintaining a good capability, and as long as the stakes were not visible in peacetime, we happily paid it. The key for any particular project was just to make sure that your system production team had the right geographic balance, the right companies with nice unionized factories located in the right places (districts of powerful Congressional members). This has worked until now- with Crusader. That program was painstakingly put together politically, and its cancellation was a shot across the bow, providing unequivocal notice that the old rules no longer apply, and Rumsfeld is the man pulling the lanyard.

The key point is that when Rumsfeld took his position, there was some hope among the uniformed military that they would re-gain some of the past glories, because he had a history of serving and supporting military effectiveness, not of playing caretaker for a president who merely wanted to keep costs under control. But Rumsfeld is actually temperamentally more of the McNamara or Brown/Perry type, with the one important difference that he also truly cares about field troops and building US defense capability at a time of major threat change.

The other fact that everyone knows is that the invective about starving the war and the need for “more troops” is patently disingenuous. If Congress wants more troops available, Senator Clinton and Senator McCain can sponsor a Bill any time they desire to authorize the levels, and they can also volunteer to cut their states’ federal support to pay for them. Even then, it would take years, not months, before they were fully trained, equipped, and deployable. Much of the “more troops” meme is part of a strategy to force Bush, not Rumsfeld, to give up on extending the tax cuts (note all the recent commentary drivel about “asking the American public to make Sacrifices”- translated, that means volunteer tax increases for support of domestic programs).

Funny thing, you actually DO “go to war with the Army you have.”


One Response to “The Army Versus Rummy”

  1. Bill Adams Says:

    Veteran’s Day is November 11th and I hope that EVERY American will be flying the flag in honor of our troops fighting in Iraq and around the world to preserve our freedoms!

    I can even tell you where to get one for free! Visit right now and they’ll send you a FREE American Flag. These flags were $19.99, but now they are FREE. You pay just for shipping/handling and they’ll ship one to your door. (Actually – I’ve ordered more than 20 from them to give to my neighbors, as gifts, etc!)

    Get your free flag now: **FREE AMERICAN FLAG**

    Semper Fi!

    Bill Adams

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