Does Donald Rumsfeld's Executive Style Work in Government?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, October 23, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) is defending what was supposed to be an internal memo about the war on terror. He said he was just trying to share some thoughts for discussion with a select few [military leaders]…

It was supposed to be private but now that it is not, it is worth looking at the questions that Rumsfeld raised.

Bruce Herschensohn (search) is a political commentator and author of the new book Passport. In the past, he served under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Reagan.

Mr. Herschensohn, today's big question — did Rumsfeld's memo stir up some thinking or did it stir up doubts?

BRUCE HERSCHENSOHN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It depends who you want to talk about. Obviously, Democratic candidates are going to pounce all over it. But in truth, what it did — and I think what it did very effectively — is exhibit that this guy is a terrific, a superb manager. He is the best of management. He is asking those people who work directly for him to rethink everything. Can we do this? If we can't, we should reorganize. We can even reorganize outside of the Department of Defense (search), get other agencies into this.

The people it is going to disturb the most, I think, is the bureaucracy of DOD, of the Department of Defense, obviously, it will disturb them. He is doing what very few cabinet officers do. He is not a slave to the bureaucracy. He believes in having the best possible management.

GIBSON: Okay, let's take the opportunity to look at these questions one at a time. First one up on the screen, "Are we winning or losing the global war on terror?" He wants an answer from somebody.

HERSCHENSOHN: But what is the purpose of asking that question? To make his people, those people who work for him, directly work for him, doubtful. To make them feel, “We got to do better and we have got to do it faster.”

The psychology of doing that, I believe, is terribly important. In a sense, when he asks that question, he isn't really asking that question for someone to say “Yes, we are winning” or “No, we are losing.” He is telling them that he wants this to be number one. “We have to win,” and as he goes on in the memo, “We cannot do it like other wars.”

GIBSON: Bruce, let me get the other questions in. Here is number two,"Is the DOD changing fast enough to deal with the new 21st century security environment?" And this, obviously, goes to bureaucrats shaking up their own little world.


GIBSON: And that is an important question.

HERSCHENSOHN: And my belief is that the answer to that question is no.

GIBSON: Let's take a look at number three, number three is, "Can a big institution," — that is the Pentagon, the Department of Defense — "change fast enough?"

HERSCHENSOHN: The answer to that one is obviously no, too. And [Rumsfeld's] very upset about that because he wants change and he wants it immediately and he's stuck with the bureaucracy that won't change.

GIBSON: So the fourth question is the bingo question, "Is the U.S. government changing fast enough?" And what he seems to be asking, and got around to asking, is “Shouldn't we approach this war on terror thinking outside of the Pentagon?” Should there be another agency, something that's faster, more nimble, that isn't as encumbered as we are here at the Pentagon.

HERSCHENSOHN: Yes, that's obviously what he is aiming at, because he doesn't feel that we are moving fast enough to really undo the work of the terrorists.

GIBSON: If the president is going around saying, “We are winning the war on terror,” does this undermine the position of the government or does it bolster it in some way?

HERSCHENSOHN: To me, it bolsters it. If you are in opposition to the administration, you are going to look for every caveat that would seem to undermine the administration. But to me it bolsters it, because you always want to do this. You always want to have your people believing that we have to work faster, we have to work better.

One of the things that [Rumsfeld] said about it in his conference today was that it is too bad the United States Information Agency (search) is out of existence, and that it was killed by President Clinton in 1999. And that has a great deal to do with world opinion or the absence of feeling correctly about the U.S.

GIBSON: Bruce, thank you very much. Appreciate you coming on.

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