A number of stories in the last several days -- including those on Secretary White's resignation and General Shinseki's sacking -- have created the perception that the U.S. Army occupies Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's doghouse on the Potomac. The Pentagon has added fuel to this fire by releasing a slew of general officer transfer orders (like this one) for the Army, including this message today announcing that MG Ricardo S. Sanchez would take command of V Corps from LTG William Wallace. Already, the press is painting this as a decision to remove LTG Wallace for comments he made during the war that the Iraqis were fighting differently than the Army's planners had wargamed.
Today, Slate's Fred Kaplan adds his voice to the fray, predicting great conflicts between The Army (capitalized to represent the Army's establishment of generals, retired generals and major contractors) and the SecDef's office.
Now, with his postwar political favor riding high, Rumsfeld is turning the tables, using the triumph of the "light" force in Iraq as a weapon—the rhetorical equivalent of heavy artillery—in his renewed battles against the Army brass. And in that battle, James Roche will be the wedge that breaches through the line.My thoughts... First off, I can sympathize with the creative Army captain's position much more than the three-star general. I think the Army has grown to be too lethargic, too top heavy, and much in need of some churning at the top. Pick your metaphor -- sacred cows make the best hamburger, or you have to break a few eggs to make omelettes. Reforming the military requires officers who can shed old paradigms for new ones, and who are not afraid to take risks in the pursuit of excellence. So far, the Army's generals have not shown a great degree of audacity in pursuing transformation -- save a few generals at middle levels who have actually led the transformed units like the 4th Infantry Division. If the Army's leadership is unable or unwilling to transform the Army to meet the SecDef's vision, then he's right to fire them. (See Supreme Command by Eliot Cohen for an excellent study of civilian leadership in wartime)
Rumsfeld signaled his intentions a few weeks ago, when he told the Army secretary, Thomas White, that he wanted to replace him with someone new. Then, after White marked June 9 as his date of departure, Rumsfeld had Wolfowitz call White to tell him to move out by May 9. Already, Rumsfeld had made it clear that he would accept the resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, with whom he had tangled several times, most recently when Shinseki told a congressional committee that "hundreds of thousands" of U.S. troops would have to stay in Iraq after a war, a view that Wolfowitz was called out to denounce in harsh terms. (The new chief of staff is likely to be Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of Centcom, who directed Gulf War II and remained loyal to Rumsfeld throughout.)
Civilian service secretaries are often figureheads, but they have enormous statutory authority, and Roche is likely to exercise that authority with Rumsfeld's blessing. Eliot Cohen, the author of Supreme Command and an experienced military consultant, notes, for example, that service secretaries have enormous influence over the appointments of new generals. A key ingredient of "military transformation" is the grooming of new military leaders, and Roche will take a hand in that. "If I were a creative Army captain, I'd find Roche's appointment kind of exciting," Cohen said. "If I were a three-star general, I'd be very scared."
However, I'm not sure the SecDef's vision is entirely right. Transformation is great -- it's a wonderful thing to be able to see yourself, see the enemy, and see the terrain. Total situational awareness -- and the ability to precisely hit the enemy -- enable the U.S. to dominate any foe on the battlefield. But warfighting isn't the only thing the American military does. America's military is chartered with conducting "full spectrum operations" -- everything on the continuum from peace to war. Whether they are conducting humanitarian work in Honduras, counter-drug training in Colombia, peace-keeping in Kosovo, nation-building in Afghanistan, or armored warfare in Iraq, our soldiers see more than just the kind of battle where it counts to put steel on target. Most of these missions are decidedly un-high tech; they rely on well-trained people more than high-tech gadgets. Secretary Rumsfeld and his team may have a great solution for winning America's wars in record speed. But the Army establishment may know something about transformation too, and their voices shouldn't be discarded so ruthlessly.
The great irony in all this is that Gen. Eric Shinseki has pushed harder than any officer in the Pentagon for transformation -- he's been doing it since 1999, before Rumsfeld came to town. After Kosovo, Gen. Shinseki saw the writing on the wall for the Army and started pushing them down the road of lighter, faster, more deployable forces. He pushed the concept of a rapidly-deployable medium brigade, and fought for the money to build a prototype at Fort Lewis. Yet, Gen. Shinseki also knew that you could not transform the Army without maintaining a "legacy force" at the same time to make current missions happen. He ultimately lost his job for that belief, and open clashes with Sec. Rumsfeld over the best way to transform the military. If Gen. Tommy Franks is to be his replacement, I hope he is able to carry on the torch of transformation as well as Gen. Shinseki -- and stand up to the SecDef when necessary.
Update: Tom Bowman reports in today's Baltimore Sun on many of the same things I discussed yesterday, including the sentiment within the Army that they're already doing a lot to transform themselves. A lot of this could simply be personality -- that Army Secretary Tom White and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld simply didn't/couldn't/wouldn't get along.
Update II: It's official. The Washington Post reports that President Bush has tapped James Roche to be the next Secretary of the Army, and Colin R. McMillan to be the next Secretary of the Navy.
Update III: I may have created the wrong impression with respect to LTG William Wallace's replacement as V Corps commander. First off, he was due to be replaced this summer anyway, having served two years in this position. Second, changes of command usually happen during the summer, so the actual timing is quite normal. Third, if he were being promoted to a new position, like J-5 (Plans and Policy) officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he would have to leave command first. I don't think the Pentagon is as upset with LTG Wallace as the press thinks. Indeed, I think they're quite pleased with his performance in the Gulf as V Corps commander. He's also the kind of guy the Army needs to keep around. LTG Wallace commanded the Army's digitized 4th Infantry Division, he commanded V Corps in combat, and he arguably knows as much as anyone about transformation and where the Army needs to go from here.