Pentagon Scaling Back Expectations for Changes

The big Pentagon shake-up some expected when President Bush took office -- after campaigning on a pledge to modernize the military and repair morale -- is looking less likely.

Or at least it is slower in coming.

A spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the policy reviews he undertook three months ago to fashion a new approach to defense are likely to produce less dramatic results than commonly believed.

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

Originally, there was anxiety in the defense industry and among the military services that Rumsfeld would take an ax to major weapons programs like the Air Force's F-22 stealth fighter, the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey aircraft or the Navy's DD-21 new-generation destroyer. More recently, the Army has fretted over rumors that Rumsfeld would make troop cuts. Congress worried about military bases being closed.

In fact, there have been no dramatic changes yet. Even for one of President Bush's highest national security priorities -- missile defense -- Rumsfeld has yet to come up with specific program changes.

Some private analysts who have monitored Rumsfeld's reviews think the Bush administration's approach to defense will turn out more like the Clinton administration's than anyone might have believed even a few weeks ago.

"The new Pentagon team has basically been reinventing the wheel," says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a think tank. "It is gradually backing into all the beliefs about geopolitical, technological and managerial trends that the Clinton team had arrived at after eight laborious years."

The main difference, Thompson believes, is that Bush will find more money to carry out his policies.

"With Democrats now in control of the Senate, the most likely outcome for defense is that Donald Rumsfeld will end up carrying out the Clinton transformation plan to fruition by adequately funding it. That's not the way he will describe it, but that is what it will amount to," Thompson said.

Rumsfeld on Tuesday held the first in a series of meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reach a consensus view on how to approach yet another major review of the military; this one, known as the quadrennial defense review, or QDR, is required by law and is due to Congress by Sept. 30.

The last QDR, in 1997, was based on a strategy that Bush has criticized for getting the U.S. military involved in too many peacekeeping and other non-combat missions. Bush directed Rumsfeld to come up with another strategy, but so far the defense secretary has not said publicly what it will be.

Quigley said the policy reviews Rumsfeld requested shortly after he took office in January are now largely done. Most will not result in published papers but were meant to "stimulate his thinking" on important topics, such as how to properly size the military and other subjects to be studied in the QDR.

Quigley said Rumsfeld has not yet presented President Bush with a final version of his defense strategy, nor has Rumsfeld decided what portions of the various policy reviews will be made public, or when.

"I don't think the secretary has a complete understanding in his own mind of how he wants to fold all the parts together," the spokesman said.

The air of uncertainty in which the Pentagon has operated since Rumsfeld took office has frustrated and even angered some senior military leaders, although they have kept their concerns mostly private. Many have said they worry that Rumsfeld until recently kept them at arms length and consulted less than they would have liked on important issues affecting the future of their service branch.

Each day this week Rumsfeld will meet with the service chiefs, Quigley said. The meetings will culminate on Saturday with a session to include the commanders of the warfighting commands around the world.

Quigley was asked whether Rumsfeld had, in effect, scaled back the size of his expectations for shaking up the Pentagon.

"No, he just didn't know what he was going to find when he started down this road," Quigley replied. "He started a process to help him better understanding the issues ... and how they were going to be rolled out, in what manner, in what time frame. He didn't have a clue in the early February time frame when he started this effort.

"As time has passed and the studies have matured and his thinking has matured, I think he has a better understanding, but he was never on much of a timetable."