When Congress gets back from its August recess, you’ll hear some caterwauling about how Big Dog is conducting a political purge of the Army. But what is going on in the Army right now is apparently not directed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and is not even a purge. But it may be the beginnings of one.
As soon as Mr. Rumsfeld took office, his plan to transform America’s military ran into various levels of resistance in each of the services. The Navy was shaken by the thought that the aircraft carrier would have to evolve from its current form. The Air Force didn’t want to hear that its new fighter — the F-22 — wasn’t needed as much as it had been in the Cold War. But nowhere in Fort Fumble did he encounter utter refusal to change except in the Army.
According to an Army source, shortly after his accession Mr. Rumsfeld walked into the Tank — the vault-like conference room on the fourth floor of the Pentagon in which top-secret matters can be discussed freely — for a meeting with the Clintons’ Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki. Shinseki is the protégé of Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, and as political as his mentor. In that meeting, Shinseki tried to give Big Dog the Don Corleone treatment. Let me run things my way, said Shinseki, and I’ll make you look really good on the Hill. But forget about transformation. The Army doesn’t need it, and we don’t plan to do it. Rumsfeld, to the surprise of his interlocutors, declined the offer they thought he couldn’t refuse.
Shinseki should have been fired. That he wasn’t is a tribute to the White House’s fear that Sen. Inouye — ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee — would take his revenge, with ballistic-missile defense the most likely target. Shinseki stayed and the Army stood fast against change, insisting that its 1950s Cold War culture and configuration should remain. In essence, Shinseki chose irrelevance, taking the Army off the table as a tool of national policy and defense.
Shinseki’s choice of irrelevance was demonstrated convincingly in the Afghan campaign. When Big Dog asked what the Army would need to defeat the Taliban, Shinseki wanted at least six months to assemble and move what amounted to the entire Army. When the Afghan campaign began on October 5, 2001 — less than a month after 9/11 — the Army (except for the Rangers and other Army special ops, who performed superbly) watched from home. Privately, Shinseki called the Afghan campaign a “police action,” something the Army shouldn’t be involved in.
Shinseki’s retirement two months ago coincides nicely with the planned — but yet unannounced — retirement of Inouye at the end of his current term in 2004. Shinseki will run for that seat, and most likely will win. He’ll have Inouye’s support and will claim credit for placing a $1 billion brigade of his pet “Stryker” armored vehicles in Hawaii, where they will be an expensive political ornament.
Shinseki’s departure doesn’t end the problem. His legacy is an Army of rigidity, commanded by his faithful. In four years as chief of staff, Shinseki personally chose about 40 colonels for promotion to general each year, as well as a proportional number of generals for promotion to two-, three-, and four-star ranks. These hundreds of generals were promoted based on their fealty to Shinseki’s view of what the Army should be, and how it should fight. In Shinseki’s view, the Army was only meant to fight wars such as World War II in which massed armies met, or to engage in the feckless U.N. peacekeeping missions. Only those who agreed with that view were given stars under Shinseki. It is that view — and those who insist on it — that the Army most urgently needs to shed.
To replace Shinseki, Rumsfeld needed someone who wasn’t mired in the Cold War. After Gen. Tommy Franks (and, reportedly, at least two others) turned him down, Rumsfeld took the very unusual step of bringing a general back from retirement to do the job. Peter Schoomaker is a former Delta Force operator, later commander of Delta Force, and also of Special Operations Command. Soon after he was named, Schoomaker — through the acting chief of staff, Gen. John Keane — began the job of ridding the Army of obstacles to change.
So far, at least six of Shinseki’s cadre have been given their walking papers. Among them are some of the worst obstacles to progress, and greatest devotees of political correctness. At the top of the political correctness pyramid was Lt. Gen. Dennis Cavin, commander of the Army Accessions Command. (“Accessions” is Pentagonese for recruitment.) Cavin, sources say, was solely focused on recruiting minorities and women. Any other subject was simply not worth his attention.
“Jointness” is one aspect of transformation that has been displayed in both Afghanistan and Iraq. “Jointness” means combining elements of one or more services to train and fight together, usually for a particular mission. It cherry-picks parts of the services and knits it together with the result being much more than the mere sum of the parts. In cases such as missile defense, it translates into huge cost savings. Gen. Joseph Cosumano, Shinseki’s commander of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, threatened the success of the joint ballistic-missile-defense plan by insisting that the Army’s role had to be separate. Cosumano is another who should have been fired, but wasn’t. Now he is. And so are Lt. Gen. John Caldwell, Gen. Paul Kern, and Lt. Gen. Charles Mahan. Each of the three had charge of some part of the Army’s weapon-system acquisition mess.
Instead of following Rumsfeld’s orders, Shinseki slow-rolled transformation. He rolled it aside entirely on the wheels of his central “transformation” initiative, the “Stryker” interim armored vehicle. Stryker — a 38,000-pound machine incapable of fighting a war for too many reasons to list here — is a $12 billion tribute to the U.N. peacekeeping missions of the 1990s. Caldwell fought for the Stryker, in denial of its failure to meet mission specifications and repeated cost overruns. Kern, one of the architects of Stryker, was kept on by Shinseki for a year after the law required his retirement. Mahan was Shinseki’s deputy chief of staff for logistics and part of this same inner circle. Stryker’s future is uncertain. It should be cancelled.
Lt. Gen. Johnny Riggs was Shinseki’s director of the Army Objective Task Force, supposedly the office in charge of transforming the Army according to Rumsfeld’s plan, but actually the office in charge of obstructing it. When Rumsfeld asked for an Army timetable for transformation, Shinseki and Riggs came up with a plan that would have taken 30 years to perform. By the year 2032, that plan — based on buying all sorts of things including Stryker — would have provided the “future force.” When Rumsfeld rejected that, Riggs and Shinseki backed off by twenty years, but still effectively precluded transformation.
With those men going, the question quickly becomes, why only them? The last time a new leader had to force a cultural change on the Army was in 1939, and the parallels to this time are very direct. Like Rumsfeld bringing Schoomaker out of retirement, FDR catapulted Gen. George C. Marshall from one star to four overnight. Between June 1939 and June 1940, Marshall fired 54 generals and 445 colonels in an Army numbering only about 225,000. Today’s Army numbers about 480,000. Schoomaker’s success as chief of staff will not be measured by how many of Shinseki’s political princelings he fired. To force the cultural change the Army needs, many more heads will have to roll. But whose?
The criteria can’t be too difficult to divine. First any general like Shinseki, whose political ambitions interfere with his willingness to carry out civilian orders, must go. That’s not implementation of a competing political agenda. That’s what the Constitution requires. Second, those who adhere to Shinseki’s view that the Army has a role only in massive wars or in peacekeeping missions, and nothing in between must go. The Big Green Machine must be changed from its Cold War garrison culture to a force that thinks, adapts and moves quickly, and gets to the battlefield before the enemy escapes.
Third, those generals who — like Cosumano — oppose “jointness” cannot command effectively in the war we are now engaged. Our Army has to train and operate — which means sharing resources, not fiefdom building — with the Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard as never before. Those not on the jointness train have to be left at the station. Fourth, there are a lot of bureaucrats who are generals. As one of my friends, who is a real warrior-intellectual often reminds me, no one is beatified by having a star pinned on each shoulder. There are, I am sure, future Grants, Pershings, Pattons, and Bradleys out there. Let’s hope Gen. Schoomaker finds them, and promotes them before Senator Shinseki starts blocking the promotions of those he doesn’t favor.
— NRO Contributor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and is now an MSNBC military analyst. He is the author of the novel Legacy of Valor.