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Officials Deny Newspaper Reports About Divisions in Pentagon - 2002-10-19

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the nation's top uniformed military officer have denied a report suggesting there are serious divisions between military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon. The Washington Post had suggested the divisions were influencing debate over a possible invasion of Iraq and other major security issues.

Usually, when The Washington Post, one of the nation's leading newspapers, runs an exclusive front-page news article on almost any subject, it is quickly followed up and matched by most other news media.

But when the Post this past week ran a lengthy investigative report purporting strains in the Pentagon between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top military officers, it failed to resonate elsewhere.

For some reporters, the subject matter was too bureaucratic, involving insider politics of little general interest. For others, the item, based on their experiences, had little credibility.

In either case, there was little surprise when Mr. Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the military staff, General Richard Myers, questioned about the article, were quick to deny any sense of a tension-riddled military-civilian divide.

General Myers spoke first. "I can't remember exactly - but it's my view - and of course I don't have all the historic context here, but I doubt, if you go back in history, that you will find a civilian structure and a military structure in this building that collaborates more than we have in the last year and a half or whatever," said General Myers.

It is not the first time The Washington Post has written such an article, but this one described Mr. Rumsfeld as "frequently abusive" and "seemingly eager to slap down officers with decades of distinguished service."

Mr. Rumsfeld, with a laugh, called it nonsense. "I mean, it's nonsense! I called one of those articles a world-class thumb-sucker," said Secretary Rumsfeld. "I'd like to apologize. This one was a world-class one; that one was second rate! "

But Mr. Rumsfeld, ever quick-witted when engaged with reporters, did not stop there. He challenged one of the essential premises of the article of an alleged civilian-military divide - a position summed up by the Post this way: "what the fight boils down to is civilian control" of the defense establishment. "The article had the tinge that there's something wrong with civilian control," he said. "And it struck me as a little odd. Someone ought to go back and read the Founding Fathers and what they had in mind. It is intended that there be civilian control in this department. That's the design of the system."

Mr. Rumsfeld said there are extensive consultations between civilian and military officials at the Pentagon and military views are considered on a wide array of issues.

But Mr. Rumsfeld emphasized that civilian control of the military is no anomaly - and is in fact a point U.S. officials make regularly in their dealings with foreign defense officials. "In fact, one of the stipulations we have in terms of our relationships with other countries is a preference on their part that they have civilian control of the military as opposed to military control over the military," said Donald Rumsfeld.

There are indications much of the criticism reflected in the Washington Post article and aimed at Mr. Rumsfeld was derived from sources in the U.S. Army.

Even the Post acknowledged the Army, for institutional and historical reasons, is, in its words, "the most skeptical of the services" about Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership of the Pentagon.

That is no surprise. The Army has come under criticism from Mr. Rumsfeld and others for allegedly being resistant to change. There is also some bitterness over the Secretary's decision to kill one of its premier weapons systems - a mobile artillery piece called Crusader.

Other expensive Army systems may now also be on the chopping bloc, including the Comanche stealth helicopter and a new armored vehicle known as the Stryker. If these programs are also terminated, criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld is likely to surface again.