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Rumsfeld Defends Military Review Pentagon to Decide Upon New Defense Strategy by October

By Vernon Loeb and Walter Pincus

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Wednesday defended his review of the U.S. military and said he would have a new strategy in place by October to enable the Pentagon to keep its current commitments around the globe, modernize aging equipment and invest in future technologies.

While acknowledging some strains in relations on Capitol Hill and a few early missteps, Rumsfeld said he and all of the nation’s top military commanders had reached unanimous agreement late last week on guidelines for developing next year’s defense budget.

He also confidently predicted that with the completion of a congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review by the end of September, the Pentagon would recommend an array of major changes, including sharp reductions in nuclear forces and new rules on mandatory retirements to keep key personnel in uniform longer.

“In the next two or three months, most of the things we have been working on for the past four or five months will be rolled out in a way that they will be a coherent whole,” Rumsfeld said. “And I think that will have a calming effect.”

In a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, Rumsfeld outlined the challenges that have marked his return to the Pentagon, noting how much Washington has changed since he first served as defense secretary a quarter century ago in the Ford administration.

“There’s an enormous appetite for personality and conflict,” he said.

He also said Congress has become much more deeply involved in the inner workings of the Defense Department, continually legislating new requirements and demanding over 900 reports a year on military matters -- work that employs an army of bureaucrats and auditors.

“We’re killing trees all over the world to do it,” he said. “Nothing ever ends. There’s no sunset on things. And it all happens a little bit at a time. It’s well intentioned, but of course it doesn’t make it better, because you end up so constrained that you can’t function efficiently or effectively.”

Rumsfeld took sharp exception, however, to media reports attributing his tensions with the military brass and members of Congress to a high-handed, exclusionary style, particularly early in his tenure. A spate of recent reports has characterized his effort to “transform” the military as sputtering, particularly after the administration’s $1.35 trillion tax cut reduced the available funds.

“If you believe all the things you read in the newspaper, you are going to be sadly misinformed,” Rumsfeld said over lunch in his private dining room.

Running down a list of statistics on his first eight months in office, Rumsfeld said he had met 361 times with members of Congress, 320 times with military leaders and 93 times with the press.