Return to

December 22, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Rummy reunion
Both current and former loyalists of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld showed up to honor the man at his Pentagon send-off last week.

At a reception afterward in the Pentagon's portrait corridor, the mood was surprisingly upbeat for a crowd that saw its leader resign over the Iraq war, in which Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides misjudged the enemy.

Reception-goers said history will vindicate the decision to oust Saddam Hussein as a way to ignite a democratic movement in the Middle East. They think history will also look kindly on Mr. Rumsfeld's transformation policies and his aggressive global approach to confronting al Qaeda.

One remarked that it was a good time for Mr. Rumsfeld to leave. The Democrats take over Congress in January and would have subjected Mr. Rumsfeld to hours of inquisition and repeated requests for documents.

Among the Rumsfeld alumni was Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy. Mr. Feith, now teaching at Georgetown, is finishing a book on how the war on terror was planned.

Paul Wolfowitz, now head of the World Bank after serving as deputy defense secretary, also was there, chatting with federal appeals court Judge Laurence Silberman. Mr. Rumsfeld and Judge Silberman go back to the Richard Nixon administration and have stayed close friends.

Pentagon officials said new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has asked political appointees to stay on the payroll. With only two years left to try to turn Iraq into a win, Mr. Gates does not want to spend time worrying about confirming a whole new team of assistant and service secretaries.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England has agreed to stay.

We noted in this column nearly six years ago that, as the Pentagon welcomed a new Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on the parade ground, a red-tailed hawk hovered overhead for more than 30 minutes. Mr. Rumsfeld, indeed, proved to be a hawk in the war on terror.

At Friday's farewell ceremony, as honor guards positioned themselves and attendees waited for Mr. Rumsfeld to emerge from the Pentagon, a bald eagle, the symbol of American freedom, flew at a low level right past the parade grounds as if on cue.

Budget mess
Defense officials say one person they hope will not be kept on by new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is the current undersecretary of defense, comptroller Tina W. Jonas.

Officials say Mrs. Jonas' brusque leadership style has led to multiple resignations of senior budget officials who refuse to work for her. One career bureaucrat complained that he resented being called incompetent by Mrs. Jonas, something he never heard in his several decades in government working on defense budgets.

Among the depleted ranks of the Pentagon comptroller's office are about 15 senior executive service (SES) budgeteers who have left over the past several years, we are told.

Mrs. Jonas, meanwhile, has been quietly lobbying friends on Capitol Hill, hoping that members of Congress will put in a good word for her with Mr. Gates and that he will keep her on.

Mr. Gates said during his nomination hearing Dec. 6 he learned the hard way at the CIA to avoid upsetting career bureaucrats. The comment was a signal that he intends to give bureaucrats more authority than they currently have under the approximately 200 political appointees at the Pentagon. "When you treat the professionals in an organization who ... perform the mission of the organization with respect, and you listen to them and you pay attention to them, I think that everybody is better served," he said. "They were there before you got there, they'll be there after you leave, and if you don't make them a part of the solution, they will become a part of the problem."

Brit and Don
In one of his final interviews as defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld settled some old scores while talking with Fox News Channel anchor Brit Hume.

Asked about troop levels for the Iraq invasion, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "The people who are so certain that it should be more or less you know, many of them have never even served in the military. [You] can't have that kind of certainty because we don't even know what the exact number ought to be. The commanders don't. There's no rule book. There's no guidebook. There's no program that says when you get up in the morning, it's this."

He seemed to be addressing the handful of retired generals who called for his resignation when he told Mr. Hume, "Now, there are people I've never worked with go off and pop off on one thing or another from time to time, and that's understandable, people who didn't get promoted or people who were unhappy about something."

Afghan drugs
The Pentagon has told Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, it is already adopting two of his ideas for eliminating the big drug trade in Afghanistan. The country has re-emerged as the world's largest poppy grower and, thus, heroin producer. The huge amounts of cash are funding anti-U.S. drug lords and al Qaeda, our sources say.

Mr. Hyde, who heads the House International Relations Committee, wrote to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last October, saying, "We all know the drugs fuel the violence and insurgency, we think that the debate concerning these obvious links is over, and now we need a new policy that addresses both the drugs and related terror, simultaneously."

Mr. Hyde, who is retiring, suggested the military take Drug Enforcement Administration agents on "ride alongs" on raids where the likelihood of finding drugs is great. He said the military should also alert the DEA when it finds a significant drug cache. The Congress got a reply on Dec. 6 from Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy. He said Mr. Rumsfeld already had authorized troops to embed drug agents and instructed them to notify the DEA on drug hauls.

Mr. Hyde said, "I welcome the support from our Department of Defense for my initiative. ... Now we can better target the narcoterrorism which threatens Afghanistan today."

Final snowflake
We obtained a copy of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's final "snowflake," as his demanding memoranda to subordinates are called. The Dec. 15 memo was addressed to all Pentagon personnel, both military and civilian.

"Over the past six years, thousands of these memos have fallen sometimes in blizzards and flurries and sometimes in cold and lonely isolation," Mr. Rumsfeld stated, noting that despite the blanketing there were many who never received one and others who even requested them.

"This snowflake is especially for them," he wrote. "It's message is typically, to the point: Thank you."

For the bureaucrats and others who thought they could "run out the clock" and avoid answering a snowflake because of the secretary's departure, Mr. Rumsfeld warned that "you have not been forgotten!"

He then granted a general amnesty for any unanswered snowflake "in the spirit of the season" as his last official act.

Defense officials say that Mr. Rumsfeld also will keep offices outside the Pentagon to assist in the ongoing transition. So he may still blow snowflakes, although no longer on secretary of defense letterhead.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    2004 Columns
    2005 Columns
    2006 Columns
    Return to