In the Defense Department, More Consultation Than Ever

So far, seven out of approximately 7,000 retired generals have publicly criticized Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I’ve never considered that a particularly impressive total, especially given the shakeups Rumsfeld has imposed at the Pentagon. The generals’ chief complaint, other than general unhappiness with the situation in Iraq, has been that Rumsfeld is arrogant and autocratic, and doesn’t pay enough attention to the generals–not to the seven who complained, anyway.

For what it’s worth, the truth is that Rumsfeld has institutionalized a system of consultation with his generals that is probably unprecedented in American history. The Bush administration has deferred to military professionals to a remarkable, and commendable, degree. The Defense Department points out some of Rumsfeld’s innovations, all of them designed to improve coordination between the civilians who run the Department of Defense and the armed services’ commanding officers:

Beginning in 2001, Rumsfeld created two new decision-making bodies to ensure that military judgment and perspectives are woven into all aspects of Department of Defense policy-making. These include:

* The Senior Level Review Group, which meets at least monthly, and more often during the development of the annual budget. It includes the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the individual chiefs of the military services, and the senior civilian officials of the Department at the Service Secretary and Under-Secretary level. It is also open to combat commanders who choose to participate.

* The Defense Senior Leadership Conference, which meets three times a year. This is a three-day planning and decision-making conference in which the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the nine combatant commanders focus on a full range of issues before the Department.

These processes have been instrumental in developing the Quadrennial Defense Reviews, annual Strategic/Defense Planning Guidance, Contingency Planning Guidance, and every budget and appropriations request from 2001 to the present.

In addition, Rumsfeld meets four mornings a week in the Roundtable, a review of activities of the department that includes, along with Rumsfeld, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of the Military Departments, and the Chiefs or Vice Chiefs of Staff of the Military Departments.

And Rumsfeld has been personally involved in personnel matters involving the services; he meets approximately twice a year with each of the service chiefs to review general/flag officer personnel assignments down to the two-star level. Which, I suppose, could account for the fact that seven generals don’t like him.

As a result of these extraordinary measures, Rumsfeld, since the beginning of 2005, has participated in no fewer than 110 meetings involving the Service Chiefs, and 163 meetings involving combatant commanders.

The truth is that under Rumsfeld’s direction, we have benefited from unprecedented communication and coordination between the uniformed services and the Defense Department’s civilian leadership. If a tiny percentage of retired generals don’t like the decisions that resulted from these processes, fine. But to suggest that DoD decision-making is somehow insulated from the input of commanding officers is ridiculous.

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