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thomas white

When Vice President Cheney and others are campaigning four short years ago, they say, "The grown-ups are coming." What does that mean to people in the Pentagon and in the uniformed military services?

The gist of it was that bills had not been paid, that readiness was deteriorating, aircraft fleets and tank fleets were aging; that we were on a downward spiral and that the new team would come in and would reverse that. So I think the uniformed military was very, very hopeful when the Bush administration took office.

And when that administration picks Donald Rumsfeld as the secretary of defense?

I think everyone by and large thought it was a good choice. He had been secretary of defense before. He had been involved in a lot of the debates of contemporary military issues, ballistic missile defense and that sort of thing. The president obviously had great confidence in him. So the promise was, or the hope was, that he would be a very strong secretary of defense.

What would you say were probably the first things he had to go in and face?

I think he, number one, had to show everybody in the structure that he was in charge and that he was going to manage things perhaps in more detail than previous secretaries of defense, and he was going to involve himself in the operational details. There are a number of different styles, I guess, that have been adopted by previous secretaries of defense, and I think he had to stake out his turf, which he obviously did.

The principal vehicle at the time was the Quadrennial Defense Review. Every four years a new administration is required to review its strategic posture and that sort of thing. He personally drove that train in great detail, right down to the sentences and the commas in the documents. He involved himself in a very close, tight view of the details. He spent an enormous amount of his own time, engaged all of us in the process. So I think that was the vehicle to say, "I'm in charge here, and I'm going to be involved in all the details."

photo of white

Gen. Thomas White (U.S. Army-Ret.) was Secretary of the Army from 2001 until April 2003, when he was fired by Donald Rumsfeld. In this interview, he talks about Rumsfeld's leadership style and drive to remake the military, the Defense Department's rigid control in planning for a post-war Iraq, and why he believes the Army is on the brink of being broken. "What we are all worried about is that the manpower situation will come unglued. ... The Army is people; it's not weapons or platforms. Somebody once said, 'A soldier's not in the Army; they are the Army.'"This interview was conducted on Aug. 12, 2004.

How do you think the uniformed military viewed him in those early months?

I suppose there were mixed reviews. On the one side, it certainly is a good thing to have a strong and aggressive secretary of defense from the military's perspective. On the other side, the question is, "Will he pay any attention to our advice, or does he have his own agenda and we're just along for the ride?"

When you took the job as secretary of the Army, what did you notice immediately as problems you were going to have?

Well, it's very complicated. On the one hand, as the secretary of the Army, you have executive authority over this wonderful thing called the Department of the Army. On the other hand, you have no operational responsibility whatsoever. So you man, equip, train, do all these other things to prepare an army to fight, and then somebody else heads off and runs it on the operational side. ...

We're on the brink. We are grossly overdeployed, and it is unlike any other period in the 229-year history of the Army. We have never conducted a sustained combat operation with a volunteer force.

The other problem is the complicated nature of the various entities that interplay here: the Congress with oversight, constitutional responsibility; the office of the secretary of defense and a very, very large and intrusive staff there; the buildup and growth of the Joint Staff and the power of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. All of that conspired, I suppose, to create a very complicated leadership and management environment to operate in. And it makes it, quite frankly, difficult to get things done.

What was it like to deal with Don Rumsfeld in those first interactions that you had with him?

He's very smart; he's very tough. He's very focused and directed. And we spent an enormous amount of time together, all of us -- the service secretaries, the chiefs of service, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs working on this QDR. He's smart, hard-driving, drives himself harder than anybody else, very disciplined, very disciplined person. Very high level of attention to detail. Does not suffer fools gladly. But he micromanages, overcontrols, can be intimidating, almost abusive. He tends to stifle communication, overworks things that he ought to delegate. That's the worst side of it, I suppose.

There's a famous story: It's a Saturday, and everybody's in the room, and they're not feeding back whatever he wants, and he gets up and walks out. Do you remember this story? Is it one of those QDR sessions that you guys had?

Well, the QDR was heading towards its conclusion -- this would have been just before 9/11 -- and we were meeting almost daily. ... There were some views on the table that force structure could be reduced. But there were very strongly held views, myself included, that that was not the right answer; that the Army was already hard-pressed with what it was trying to support and that if we ever did go to war, there wouldn't be enough Army to go around, and therefore, we didn't want the Army reduced. We would argue it needed to be increased. And I don't think [the] secretary was too happy with that. ... He just got up and walked out. It was a signal to all of us that he wasn't terribly happy with the results of the meeting.

Is Rumsfeld a strategic thinker?

I would describe him more as a pragmatist. ... He has certain things he wants to get done, and he sets out to get them done. I never viewed him as an ideologue, the way I would characterize [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz.

We've mentioned before that he's a kind of [Robert] McNamara-like character. What do you think of that?

I think it's a fair comparison. [Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson] McNamara was a guy who was absolutely convinced that he was right, even when 99 percent of the world was telling him that he was wrong. ... I don't know whether you'd characterize that as intellectual arrogance. What they say about [Secretary of State under Nixon and Ford] Henry Kissinger was that he was not burdened by a great deal of self-doubt. I think that's true of Don Rumsfeld; that he thinks it through, and he arrives at a point of view, and he will execute to that point of view and get it done. Once he's made his mind up, that's it. That is both a strength and a weakness. If that's your approach, you'd better be right 99.9 percent of the time.

There is the famous chapter in the history of the Pentagon which we'll call the war with [Gen. Eric] Shinseki. What was up between Shinseki and Rumsfeld?

I don't know, to tell you the truth. Here was a chief of staff of the Army who in the fall of 1999 launched the Army on a course of transformation that seemed to be entirely consistent with what the new administration was talking about. ... There were some feelings that Shinseki had been too close to the Clinton administration, which I think is nonsense. And maybe it was just the personalities involved, but it was very clear that they just didn't hit it off for whatever reason. It started in the QDR. ... We were kind of hanging on by our fingernails just at the level of operations pre-9/11, and we advanced that view very strongly in the QDR process. I don't think that was well received. And so then all of a sudden the view of the Army becomes: "Well, they're stodgy. They're intransigent, and they don't understand. They don't get it, what all this stuff is about."

You witnessed at this moment what it must be like for somebody with a personality of Gen. Shinseki to be in the gunsights of somebody with a personality of Donald Rumsfeld.

It's painful. I mean, here's the chief of staff of the Army, a man who's given 38 years of service to his country, who has tremendous respect and support from the Army itself and from the Congress, and yet Secretary Rumsfeld announces his replacement 14 or 15 months before he's due to rotate out.

Why did he do it?

Some of it is just his style. I don't think he personally meant to insult the chief of staff. They were in the business of trying to lay out, as they should have, a long-term slate. ... Somebody leaked that either to the Post or the Times, and it was in the paper, and the damage was done. I don't think that the secretary ever really thought that it was as damaging to the chief of staff to have everybody know his term was up in 14 or 15 months and the replacement at the time was going to be Jack Keane. ... His view was kind of as I just said, that "It's unfortunate the word got out, but the word did get out, and no big deal."

And Gen. Shinseki?

He was upset about it, as he would be, as you or I would be. And from that point forward, the relationship between [him] and the secretary of defense was not good. ... He's a human being; I think he was hurt by it. In my experience, I'd never seen that happen before. Usually, the replacements for the service chiefs are announced later rather than sooner because there's a lot of debate over who they should be. ... I assumed from that point forward the Army's going to have a difficult time of it in this environment. We're going to argue about all sorts of things. And the war that's coming, the burden will principally fall upon the Army to fight that war.

The style and approach of the secretary of defense famously turns to you at some point. Tell me the Crusader story.

Actually, when you look back on it, it's kind of silly. Crusader was a replacement for the medium-range artillery piece for the Army. It had been, like a lot of major systems, in development for a long time. ... The weapons system had challenges in its development. It had become heavy; people had glommed stuff onto it, as they typically do, and so it needed a crash-weight reduction and restructuring and so forth, which we did. But the fact of the matter was, the Army was has a long history, 220-some years, of being outgunned by its opponents from an artillery perspective, and it was always our greatest concern in the Cold War when we matched up with the Soviets: What on Earth are you going to do about the artillery imbalance?

So the president, in his Citadel speech before the election -- someone writes in their forum that this Crusader is an example of Cold War thinking, and it's bad; get rid of it. So when I take office, we immediately looked at the Crusader; we do a lot of things to modify the program. And what I probably should have done at that stage is, I should have renamed it, you know? And then everybody would have been happy.

"The Transformational Crusader."

Right. We argue it all out, and we decide that it stays in the budget. The president signs off on the budget. The budget's forwarded to the Congress in January with Crusader in it. Gen. Shinseki and I go to our normal budget testimony in front of the four committees. We're asked about Crusader; we support Crusader. It's in the president's budget; that's what we do. The president's budget is what we defend.

And then all of a sudden, completely out of school and out of cycle, I start getting this feedback, mainly from Wolfowitz, about "Well, we want to rethink the whole Crusader business." And this very quickly degenerates into "We're going to terminate this thing." ... So now we are caught in the middle: Do we support it or not support it? Wolfowitz drives the train. They cancel it for stupid reasons, in my opinion. The net result of all this is a very public dispute. ... When all the dust settles and all the yelling and screaming settles down, we end up with more money in the indirect fire-system accounts than when we started out with Crusader. So I was very happy with the outcome, and it didn't bother me a great deal if I got beat up publicly over this. The Army ended up getting more money, and we ended up in a better position than when we started out. But it was not the finest hour of any of us in the Pentagon in how to deal with this.

What's it like to be matched against the secretary?

Well, you're not going to win. The only question is, how are you going to minimize your losses? ... The question is: "You're going to lose. They're going to kill it; they've decided to do that. Strike the best deal you can get."

There's this famous moment where you guys do a press conference.

Right. At the press conference, I'm asked, "Do you support the decision?" I say: "Of course I support it. Otherwise I wouldn't be standing here. I'm the secretary of the Army; I work for the secretary of defense," or words to that effect. "He's made a decision to do this, and the Army will support it."

The next day I got a call from him personally, which was unusual, and he was upset that someone in the public affairs universe, probably [former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs] Torie Clarke, had looked at the tape of the press conference and thought that my body language was bad. So we had a little discussion about body language.

9/11 happens. Tell me about that day. You didn't happen to be sitting in a room with Don Rumsfeld when the plane hit?

We were just before that. We had a breakfast in the secretary of defense's conference room, where we had all of the chairmen of the four oversight committees, and as that breakfast was breaking up, the first plane had hit the World Trade Tower. ... We all went on with the day's business. I had a speech to give up at the Army Navy Country Club. So I was up there when the plane that hit the Pentagon came right over the top of the Army Navy Club and bounced down the hill and hit the side of the Pentagon. ...

We'd just spent this four- or five-month intellectual exercise in the QDR where the Taliban or Al Qaeda or fundamentalist terrorism was not a central focus of the exercise. And the whole world changes that morning. And so then the immediate question is: "What are the operational impact implications of this? What are we doing in the Department of the Army that we're going to stop doing because we're now at war?" We're going to focus on the war. I mean, it just changes everything.

When do you begin to hear that Iraq is in the gunsight?

We start talking about Iraq on my radar screen very, very early in 2002 because we, on the Army side, are going to have to do a lot of things, logistically, operationally, to get in a position to support this operation. So we start working on it in 2002.

You must have heard scuttlebutt before then. When you start hearing about Iraq, what do you think?

I had no information to counter effectively what Secretary Powell later made public: that the case was they're in possession of weapons of mass destruction; they're in cahoots with terrorists; they'll give the weapons to the terrorists; the terrorists will visit them on us, and therefore it is, in fact, an integral part of the war on terror; and it represents an imminent threat to the security of the United States, and therefore it has to be dealt with. I bought that logic totally.

So then we get to, let's say, January of 2002. There's one guy who's come across our radar screen named Col. Douglas Macgregor. What do you know about him?

Macgregor is a guy that has theorized about how to reform the Army, mainly to build the Army around brigade-level structures as opposed to the division and core structure that exists. I think he's served a productive purpose. And the Army's always been blessed to have guys that don't agree with the school solution, and he's one of those guys. ... I don't agree with all the stuff he's put on the table. He's currently critical of the restructuring that the new chief of staff has launched. He's critical of Army transformation. I guess he's critical of anything that doesn't dovetail precisely with what he writes.

One of the stories that he tells is that he was asked by the secretary to come up with some ideas on Iraq. He said: "Fifty thousand guys at the most, that's all you ever need. Get in there fast." They say Rumsfeld was fascinated by this.

Rumsfeld was always of the view that the military was excessive in its manpower demands and that they would always ask for three or four times more people than they really needed just to give them an enormous measure of assurance; that they would complete this thing, and that his role in life, therefore, was to save them from themselves and to discipline the process by convincing them that they could do a lot more with a lot less.

And when Macgregor says, "It wasn't that hard in '91. These guys really were paper tigers. All you've got to do is kill three Arabs, and a thousand run," and that this is all about pork and defense contractors, what's the response?

Well, in 1991, we didn't go into Iraq. All we had to do is eject the Iraqis from Kuwait, which we did in fairly short order. Going up the road in Iraq is quite a different matter, as we found out.

Were you worried about the size? I mean, there were only 120,000 guys.

Yes. I was worried it was too small, and so was the chief of staff. But you have to take, at the end of the day, the view as combatant commander, and Tommy Franks was okay with it, and so was the secretary of defense, and that's what we went with. They get paid to make those decisions.

The Powell Doctrine, as a kind of overarching presence -- how real, how palpable is that at that moment inside the Army and the Defense Department?

Well, it's very real. Everybody sitting around that table, all of us were Vietnam veterans, and this business of the Powell Doctrine -- and I guess it came from [Reagan Secretary of Defense Caspar] Weinberger as well before that -- was "We're not going to do Vietnam again." And what we did in Vietnam is we kind of went in an uncommitted way. The strategy was flawed. We didn't have adequate forces to execute it, and therefore we had no way to win this thing, and it just dribbled off, and it ended up destroying the United States Army and seriously damaging the country at that point in history. And we were just not going to be a party to anything that looked like that again. It came up in the '80s; it came up in the Gulf War. We assembled an overwhelming force -- we waited until we had two full corps on the ground rather than going with one -- because we wanted to be able to conduct an overwhelming offensive operation, not just a parody type of thing.

To get ourselves to the position where we "cold start" or whatever we called it, rolled out of Kuwait, there needed to be a year and a couple of months of political will gathering, right? As a high-ranking government official, were you worried as you heard about this information?

As an Army, we really focused ourselves [on] getting ready to conduct the operation and the thousand different things that had to be done to get ourselves in the best possible posture to conduct the operation. ... The business of [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi looked, from where I was sitting, that there was going to be this great groundswell and that all these Iraqis that were in exile were going to sign up to come back and carry rifles and be a part of this assault, so we were ordered to set up a training operation for these Iraqis in Hungary. We sent a lot of people to Hungary to get ready to train thousands of these people, which I think is the way it was billed, and I believe the final count was around 60 that actually showed up. And so that would indicate that these people perhaps were not interested in leading the assault.

Who ordered you to do that?

Wolfowitz. And we set up an extensive operation to conduct basic-training types of things to get these people a free Iraqi force ready to go and participate in the military operation. And 60 some people showed up.

Well, I said, "What a waste of time!" I mean, this is not inexpensive to go ahead and set up and get ready to conduct this training. And we did it in our customary detailed fashion, and then nobody showed up. So I viewed it at the time, not so much from an operational perspective as "This has called into question certain things about the campaign," but more so "This is a waste of our time, and we've got a lot better things for these soldiers to be doing than sitting here waiting for Iraqis to show up."

When somebody like Col. Macgregor worries about the generals [David D.] McKiernan, [William S.] Wallace, [David H.] Petraeus as not being guys who killed Arabs, as he said -- guys who are basically chickens, he's alleging -- does it matter?

I handpicked all three of them or nominated them, and they were selected for those jobs. And I thought they did a tremendous job. Douglas Macgregor, may I remind you, is a colonel who is nonselect to command a brigade in the United States Army, so I give him great credit for the theoretical works, the intellectual capacity and being the kind of a hair shirt to say there are other ways, and I respect that role. But when he starts talking about the quality of guys that were his peers and that far outstripped him in the process, he's a little bit beyond his pedigree.

Okay. Face-forward planning: What happened?

The working assumptions were that the Iraqi people would behave themselves. There will be a few dead-enders and former Baathists that will have to be dealt with, but by and large, they assumed away the problem. ... Now, mind you, Gen. Rick Shinseki was the only guy in the whole senior structure who had actually had hands-on, on-the-ground experience in running a stabilization force. In his case, it was Bosnia. So you would think that his views on the subject would have carried some weight, and unfortunately, they did not.

Wolfowitz says to a congressional committee that he can't conceive of a situation where the forces required for the stabilization phase would be greater than the forces required for the military operation. All of us in the Army felt just the opposite, that there was a long history of that being absolutely true; that the defeat of the Iraqi military would be a relatively straightforward operation of fairly short duration for all the reasons Doug Macgregor had to say. That was all true. ... But the securing of the peace and the security of a country of 25 million people spread out over an enormous geographic area would be a tremendous challenge that would take a lot of people, a lot of labor, to be done right. And nobody wanted to hear that. And we are dealing with the consequences of that to this day.

What I don't understand is how a guy like Don Rumsfeld, who you've described as micromanager, down in the muck, wanting to know everything, can let the "winning the peace" side of the equation go.

A part of it was that we had had this operation in Afghanistan, and in the post-combat phase, the difficulties never bubbled up to significant levels. So there was kind of this mind-set, and also that the postwar deal is kind of a lower form of life; it's kind of a necessary evil. But they've got Chalabi and all these other guys who are blowing in their ear that this will not be a problem. ... To do that portion of the operation justice, you probably would have had to slow down the military operation itself, because you'd have to convince yourself you would be ready to do a phase four of that magnitude. It would have slowed down the whole thing because you would have needed to have the additional forces in place. An enormous amount of planning would have had to go on, and none of it went on. It was easier just to keep on the short track of the logic of the war: the imminent threat to the United States. Therefore we have to attack quickly, and oh, by the way, we'll just kind of bumble along when the war's over, and hopefully it will turn out okay. And it didn't.

In the planning phase, or lack-of-planning phase, there has been State Department activity.

Lots of people, lots of smart people, experienced people in that region. But that is an issue -- that means if we take in their views and their thought and ideas, apparently we have to give up control of this thing. And the Defense Department is going to exercise rigid control over this whole operation, and therefore none of those people, some of whom Jay Garner apparently wanted to hire, are deemed to be acceptable. And so we just exclude that.

Maybe some of it didn't track to this party line. The Iraqi planning group got into the details of currencies and markets and all of these things that would be necessary to consider to get the country back on its feet and moving. Secretary Wolfowitz goes in front of a congressional committee and says, "Well, the Iraqi oil revenues will pay for all of this, basically." We're $200 billion into this thing now, and the Iraqi oil, when it flows, is not paying for very much of it.

Is that idealistic or ideological?

I think it's ideological. I think he is a true believer in the neocon agenda, and that colors the way he looks at this. This business of the way to deal with the Islamic issue of fundamentalism is to make the world democratic or make it look like us, and therefore planting our flag in the middle of the Arab world and making Iraq a showplace for democracy is the right thing to do regardless of what the cost is. And I think he truly believes that.

When Gen. Shinseki testifies, he's uncomfortable answering the question, "What's the number? How many do we need?" He doesn't want to answer it, and then he kind of does a math problem, and then he answers it. I think it's two days later Wolfowitz comes in.

Oh, yeah. First of all, it's the Senate Armed Services Committee, and it's Sen. Carl Levin. And Levin wants a number, which is not an unreasonable thing for Sen. Levin to be asking for -- "What's going to happen when the war's over? How many people?" -- right? That's a reasonable question to ask.

And so Shinseki tells him, "Maybe as many as 200,000," or some words to that effect. But the number 200,000 was out there. I thought that was perfectly reasonable. So the next morning, I get a call from Wolfowitz, who is upset that Shinseki would give this number. And I forget exactly what I said, but I said: "Well, he's an expert. He was asked. He has a fundamental responsibility to answer the questions and offer his professional opinion, which he did. And there was some basis to the opinion because he is a relative expert on the subject ."... They go public shortly thereafter to discredit Shinseki. And [Wolfowitz] says "wildly off the mark," and he gives this little speech about he "couldn't conceive of how you would have a case where it takes more people to secure the peace than it does to win the war." Well, you can look over the past 50 years in stability operations, and it's quite clear that that's precisely how the equation normally comes out, that Shinseki has a basis for this view. And Rumsfeld says something about it as well at the time.

So they discredit Shinseki. Then a week later, I get in front of the same committee. I see Sen. Levin before the hearing starts, and he says, "I'm going to ask you the same question." I said: "Good. You're going to get the same answer."

At that point, Shinseki and White are not on the team, right? We don't get it. We don't understand this thing, and we are not on the team. And therefore, actions are going to be taken.

And the implications for you personally were what?

That would have been April. And on the 26th of April, I was called in late on a Friday afternoon and told by Rumsfeld, with Wolfowitz standing there, that I was going to be replaced. And that was it. ... I said something to the effect of "Well, thank you very much." I consider the fact that I was secretary for two years to be an honor, and the chance to serve in the president's administration and to represent soldiers and their families. And the secretary is free to fire me anytime he wants. And if our positions were reversed, I would have fired him.

The aftermath is increasingly horrible, and many people blame the problem on the fact that the Iraqi military itself was disbanded, that we let those men with their arms go disappear into the fabric of the society. What do you think about that decision?

Well, there was always a difference to me between the Republican Guard, the political part of this, and the plain old infantry battalions. To the extent that they could have been kept on active duty, they would have been enormously useful in dealing with a lot of these things that we're now reconstituting a force, perhaps with some of the same people, to deal with. And I just think it set everything back a long ways.

Why do you think the decision was made?

Just bad advice, I suppose, arrogance -- I don't know. To me, there were three really, really ill-informed decisions that were made. One was this whole business of how large the force would be required for the post-combat operations and the adequate planning for how that force would be. For example, we take Baghdad, the looting begins, and the troops have no clear orders as to what they're supposed to do about it, and so they don't do anything. And it's dealt with as a trivial kind of problem in the initial press conference: "Well, democracy is untidy," or "This will quickly die out." And they cart off the whole bloody country, lock, stock and barrel, enormously complicating the reconstruction process. So that's kind of terrible decision one.

Terrible decision two is the disbanding of the Iraqi army. And you immediately make a bad security situation a lot worse. And the security situation is the fundamental issue in the country to this day.

And the third was a Chalabi-inspired decision, and that's to de-Baathify the government in such a rigorous way that you lose the competence of the civil service, the ability to run the country, which all has to be reconstituted. And I think those three things have caused us to have an enormously difficult time and not be, I would think, happy with where we find ourselves today. ...

We assumed that postwar conditions would be fairly benign. And if they were totally candid about it, they sent in an invasion force that was larger, perhaps, than they had wanted. And they thought there were adequate people on the ground to get it done. And they viewed the problem as kind of de minimus; in other words, that this reconstruction process would take place in a relatively benign security environment minus a few die-hards and so forth, which we originally wrote the insurgency off as. ... And I think the situation just got away from them. All of a sudden, we're into nation-building, which is ironic, because we said that's precisely what we weren't going to do when we criticized the Clintons before we got elected. But we are in nation-building on a grand scale, orders of magnitude more difficult than the Balkans. And I just think we were totally unprepared for it.

Rumsfeld says to the president: "100 percent responsibility if you give me 100 percent authority. I want it all."

I would say he got exactly what he asked for. And he is accountable for that, therefore, using his construct. If you get complete responsibility, you are accountable for the decisions you make, good, bad or ugly. And unfortunately, this turns out to be ugly.

Is the Army broken?

Yeah, I think so. We're on the brink. We are in a situation where we are grossly overdeployed, and it is unlike any other period in the 229-year history of the Army. We have never conducted a sustained combat operation with a volunteer force, with a force that we have to compete in the job market to hire every year. Every other force that we've ever done this with, going back to the Vietnam period to something comparable, has been a draftee conscript force.

So what we are all worried about is that the manpower situation will come unglued. ... The Army is people; it's not weapons or platforms. Somebody once said, "A soldier's not in the Army; they are the Army." And the quality of the soldiers [has] been the enormous advantage we've had since the volunteer force was put in place, and the quality of the noncommissioned officers corps.

Well, that is a married Army, among other things. You may recruit soldiers, but you retain families. And I think we're all concerned that we are teetering on the brink here and that if we can't get to a lower operational tempo, or at least have some point in the future that we can set our sails against where it might occur, that the Army on the manpower side's going to come unglued.

So that Army that we talked about at the beginning that was happy to see the grown-ups finally come, that military is how different than the one the next administration will inherit?

Enormously different. The one that they inherited had very low Reserve component mobilization, for example. That Army maybe had seven or eight brigade-sized units deployed overseas. So maybe one brigade in five was deployed; now we have two brigades out of three, or three brigades out of four. ... So while the good news is you have a veteran, higher level of combat experience between the active component of the Reserve of any Army since the Second World War, the price is that particularly Reserve component people will say, "I'm as big a patriot as anybody else, but I've been gone three years out of the last four, and that's not what I signed up for." And I think we're all concerned that that's where we're headed.

There are many stories about the secretary getting down inside the actual operational plans of things. Tell me about that.

Well, the secretary by nature likes to get into the details of things. And a view that he always held was that we were sloppy with manpower, that we would deploy too many people; we would deploy them before they were really needed and so on and so on and so forth. ... He decided to micromanage every one of the deployment, incremental packages by itself, and it drove everybody just about to the point of distraction. And his argument was he was trying to save us from ourselves. And our argument was, "If you'd just get out of the way, we'll get the force generated, and we'll go conduct this operation." But it caused great pain for everybody. ... In some specific cases, the sequence got all screwed up, and extraordinary measures had to be taken to fix it. It made it much more difficult to deploy the force, but we got away with it.

The Army had been kind of getting out of the business of training for counterinsurgency, and now, of course, it seems to be job one.

Well, you'll recall when the administration came to office, the view was we've gotten too much into this nation-building stuff. And so we were looking seriously at how to reduce the commitment in the Balkans and those types of things, which I think were all appropriate things for us to be concerned with. And we were focusing our national training centers -- the one at [Fort] Polk [in Louisiana] and the one at [Fort] Irwin [in California] and the one in Hohenfels in Germany -- on complex situations, but mainly with combat-related tasks against a very disparate style of enemy, not just the Soviets reincarnate but lower-end-of-the-spectrum types of things. But we were not going to be in the stabilization business once we extricated ourselves from Bosnia.

And of course, you see, it really creates a conflict. On the one hand, you want to transform an Army using information technology and so forth that would cause you to be more labor-efficient, less labor-intensive. The Army's the most labor-intensive of all the services. And that would permit you to do more with a smaller force eventually. So you have that trend on the one side. On the other side, you have this trend towards stability operations in Iraq on a very large scale, which by definition are labor-intensive, take enormous numbers of boots on the ground to do these things right. So the Army's caught in the middle going in both directions.

And one of the great criticisms of the current management of the Defense Department is these are guys that are not war fighters.

Well, the whole issue is how much attention do they pay to the advice they get from the unit? I mean, the last secretary of defense we had that was a war fighter was probably George Marshall. By definition, they are civilians. Some of them might have had experiences in their younger years in the military, but their job, among other things, is to take the wise advice offered them by the military and think that over and give it some credence and then make a decision. The question is, have we lost the balance of that? I think they went too far.

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posted oct. 26, 2004

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