Rumsfeld's departure could slow modernization

The Pentagon is losing its strongest advocate of transformation and modernization, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

President Bush announced today that Rumsfeld will be stepping down and that he intends to nominate former CIA Director Robert Gates as his replacement.

“Mr. Rumsfeld was a big proponent of transformation, particularly in the area of defense technology, and he accomplished a great deal of that over the last six years,” said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org.

Rumsfeld's goal was to change the military from an industrial age organization to an information-based force. He pushed the concept of network-centric warfare and proposed reorganizing the armed forces into lighter, modernized units that seamlessly integrate technology into warfighting.

The concept of transformation predates Rumsfeld, but he forced the cultural changes that enabled progress, Pike said.

The new defense secretary will not necessarily share Rumsfeld's dedication to this goal, Pike said. Also, new congressional leadership may put pressure on the defense budget, forcing further cuts in technology and research efforts.

“Any significant reduction in the defense budget is going to be depicted as failing to support the troops, but a lot of these programs have nothing to do with supporting the troops,” Pike said.

The defense industry overall will fare well, due to well-established relationships on both sides of the aisle, Pike said. But overall, only time will tell the significance of Rumsfeld’s departure.

When President Lyndon Johnson replaced Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara with Clark Clifford, it was a repudiation of McNamara’s policy of escalation in the Vietnam War. But in the war in Iraq, no radically different course of action exists for the new defense secretary to pursue. This suggests that Rumsfeld’s exit is cosmetic, meant to create the illusion of change, Pike said.

Also, Bush is sparing Rumsfeld from appearing at a series of hearings to be put on by the new Democratic-controlled Congress. “The notion that they’re going to have oversight hearings on the conduct of the war, I would say that’s overdue,” Pike said.

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