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pushing transformation
Some comments and stories about Rumsfeld's contentious battle with the Pentagon bureaucracy to overhaul the way the U.S. military thinks and fights, drawing from FRONTLINE's interviews with Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper (U.S. Marine Corps-Ret.); Gen. Thomas White (U.S. Army-Ret.), Secretary of the Army 2001-2003; Gen. Joseph P. Hoar (U.S. Marine Corps-Ret.), Commander, CENTCOM (1991-1994); and Thomas Ricks, Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post.

photo of vanriper

paul van riper
(Lt. Gen., U.S. Marine Corps-Ret.).

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…I've read that the military felt stretched heading into the George W. Bush administration and was hoping to consolidate and rethink things.

There was a school, of which I'm firmly a part, that believed that you really had to understand war on the ground before you understood war as a total entity, and felt that yes, the military needed to be cut back with the demise of the Soviet Union.

Where we were cutting it, where we were putting our money, was wrong. We went from 16 Army divisions down to 10. And of course Mr. Rumsfeld, when he came in, wanted to take it down to eight. That was our concern, those of us in that school, that the money wasn't being spent in the right places. And yes, those forces were stretched.

What do the guys in the military networks you're talking to think when Don Rumsfeld comes in as secretary of defense?

We were pleased to see some of the early moves that Mr. Rumsfeld made, but we became disappointed that it was study on top of study, no decisions. One study would come out, and he'd order another study. And many believe that's the reason he probably may not have survived as the secretary of defense except for 9/11 and, of course, the performance of the military in Afghanistan. We were pleased to see what happened in Afghanistan. It was clear the leadership team can adapt and fight a new enemy and do it quickly on the fly with great results. It was in the run-up to Iraq and subsequent problems that we've become disillusioned.

What does transformation mean to these military guys?

I have no truck with those who talk about terms like transformation. It clearly indicates they don't know what they're doing. All it is is a slogan rather than getting to the hard problems. ... These ideas have never truly been vetted, and yet they're being sold to our headquarters, our services, as the way we want to fight in the future. This intellectual renaissance that I've referred to repeatedly that occurred after Vietnam has not been revived. Rather than trying to think our way through the problem, we're trying to buy our way. So we had to buy our way in terms of technology; we buy our way in terms of some of these ideas without the underpinnings of real bases that you can fight on. ...

I see a very close parallel to what happened after the end of the Second World War. At the end of the Second World War, the focus was on atomic weapons, the technology. Today, the analogous idea is on information technology. We believe that's the cure-all for everything.

There's an art and science to war. The science is in support of the art. The science gives you the weapons systems; it allows you to have the communications; it allows you to have all the things that support the actual conduct of war. War, as it is fought, is an art. It's not a science. If you try to make it a science, you're bound to be disappointed.

The saving grace at this point, here in the middle of 2004, is the fact that none of these things have found their way to the operating forces to any great degree. So the operating forces are still using tried-and-true methods of operations that they feel very comfortable with. It's only a matter of time, however, before those ideas are pushed down and this very rich body of doctrine that came out of the post-Vietnam era, proved in two large operations, is swept aside and we find difficulty.

The argument between Gen. [Eric] Shinseki, Secretary [of the Army Thomas] White, and Donald Rumsfeld -- what was the debate about?

Supposedly Mr. Rumsfeld was unhappy the Army was not transforming fast enough, going the way he wanted. I find that unbelievable. If you look at what the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Shinseki, was trying to do, he had laid out a clear vision that he was trying to move to. He had started a program with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, to develop a future combat system, replace current tracked and wheeled vehicles -- a very imaginary, far-reaching program. There was a lot of argument about the solutions they were proposing, but you can't say it was not transformational. It was very transformational. ... And he's accused of not being willing to change the Army. The man was willing to change the Army. He gets a bum rap.

I don't know what the difficulty was. My belief is Mr. Rumsfeld came in believing he could pay for high-tech weapons, particularly some of the things in terms of missile defense, space-based systems, by cutting two more divisions out of the Army. So his idea of transformation, I think, was pare the Army down in terms of the force structure, use the money for high tech. Professionally unschooled.

And then Shinseki, with 15 months to go in his term, gets the word that his replacement's been announced. How does that go down inside the uniformed services?

I know of nothing, other than the failure to plan adequately for the war in Iraq, that upset the retired community nearly as much as Mr. Rumsfeld's treatment of the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Shinseki. Just irate. I've been in meetings and breakfasts and lunch where this is a subject of conversation and just a very, very bitter feeling that he would treat someone like that. And then when the general retires, a service chief retiring, and not to attend that retirement ceremony that would have any other high-ranking officials from his office, is just a slap in the face. Why would you do that?

What you find now is, when the Defense Department leadership is having difficulties because of the problems in Iraq and around the world, is those who would normally step forward for their defense and offer some explanation don't have any explanations. We think it's pure failure. In some cases, it's culpable negligence.

When the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff goes in front of Congress and testifies, "We did not develop a plan for what took place after the so-called major combat operations because we feared it might be a reason to cause the war," you slap yourself in the head and you say it was an open secret. We were planning to go to war in Iraq. How would planning for the aftermath cause the war? …

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thomas white
(Gen., U.S. Army-Ret.), Secretary of the Army, 2001-2003.

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…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. …

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joseph p. hoar
(Gen., U.S. Marine Corps-Ret.), Commander, CENTCOM (1991-1994).

read the full interview

…There is, in the first eight months or so, real confusion from the civilian side of the Defense Department. What was your take on those first few months?

Well, there was a lot of discussion about transformation. It appeared in virtually every Defense document. It was clearly something that Mr. [Donald] Rumsfeld wanted to see take place. It wasn't really clear what it encompassed, though, at least not to me. Each of the services attempted to take their pet projects, most of which related to hardware, and say, "My new fighter aircraft is transformational; my new helicopter is transformational; my artillery piece is transformational." And of course, in many cases, you wouldn't know if it was transformational or not until the secretary said it wasn't.

We all knew that there were going to be fewer troops. We were going to be lighter, faster, and we were going to depend more on technology. That part of it was clear -- so far so good. But I think one of the things that the Iraqi campaign has shown us is that you need to go very slowly when you talk about reducing the size of the armed forces. Today we find over 50 percent of the United States Army, the regular Army, 10 divisions, committed overseas. It's not sustainable.

What obstacles was Rumsfeld facing as secretary of defense?

Well, this ponderous bureaucracy. There have been people trying to make changes in the Department of Defense for as long as I can remember, and it's very hard to turn that ship around. ... I think everybody pretty much learned their lesson that Mr. Rumsfeld was in charge, and you'd better listen to what he has to say and give him what he wants.

The trouble is that there was all of a sudden an epiphany in Afghanistan, in Iraq: The world isn't the same that we thought it was a couple of years ago. We need a lot of folks to fight this war, and we're probably going to be at it for a long time. And we don't have the right kinds of people, necessarily, but we can't scrap all the old guys, the old formations, the old units either. And so when the president described the "axis of evil" a few years ago, he opened up the possibility that we had three serious adversaries to deal with. At the time, we found that we're not capable of dealing with all three. We can't deal with one very well. ...

And so we're good at fighting wars. We're good at getting in there and killing folks and changing governments. Not really good at figuring out how to win the peace. …

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thomas ricks
Pentagon correspondent, The Washington Post.

read the full interview

…How hard was Rumsfeld pushing on transformation in his view of how things should take place in Iraq?

During that phase of the war plan, Rumsfeld's experience in Afghanistan has really persuaded with a couple of things. First, the efficacy of special forces: He likes them, and that's why I think actually there was quite an emphasis on using them in Iraq. The second thing is he felt you could be more precise in your use of force even on the ground. You didn't have to have big divisions, even big brigades; that there were ways of minimizing your trigger pullers and then minimizing the logistical tail behind them. I've heard stories again and again of Rumsfeld actually crossing off individual units from deployment plans, saying, "You really don't need this; you don't need this." Rumsfeld, to my knowledge, has not really addressed that directly.

What was the role of [former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric] Shinseki and [former Army Secretary Thomas E.] White, if any, in the creation of the war plans?

By Shinseki and White, we essentially mean the institutional Army, and as the war plans developed, the institutional Army is more important simply in opposition to Rumsfeld and where he's going, both in terms of war-fighting concept of operation and even more broadly in terms of whether it was a good idea. The Army was pretty comfortable with this notion of containing Iraq, as Gen. Zinni, [who] was a Marine and had been Franks' predecessor at Central Command, also was. Containment was working, they thought.

This is partly a lot of policy-thinking experience, but also is simply kind of the conservative inertia of the Army, a very conservative institution that kind of says, "Hey, if something's working, let's stick with it." In their view, [it] was working, and it was not the job of the U.S. Army, in their view also, to go and knock over every nasty dictator of the world. They all agreed Saddam Hussein was a horrible person, but they could see lots of horrible people out there and didn't think it should be their mission to knock off every horrible person that popped up. They made this pretty clear. …

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posted oct. 26, 2004

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