After months of speculation over when he would leave, embattled Secretary of the Army Thomas White resigned yesterday from the job he's held since 2001. White, a West Point grad and retired 1-star general, came into the office with great expectations. Everyone expected him to excel at leading the institution that many thought he might have led as a 4-star general, had he stayed on active duty. Unfortunately, White met with a firestorm of controversy early in his tenure as Enron crumbled, because White had left the Army to take a lucrative position with Enron energy services. After (barely) surviving that ordeal, White next took fire for guerilla political tactics by his Department of the Army legislative office that attempted to undercut the Secretary of Defense's decision to cut the Crusader artillery system. It's not clear why White stepped down now. My guess is that he was waiting for the end of the war in Iraq to step down, in order to minimize turbulence within the Pentagon.
Secretary White's uniformed chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Eric Shinseki, has also not fared well. He and Secretary Rumsfeld have been at loggerheads for some time. The two senior leaders are rumored to have deep disagreements over the strategic role of the Army, and the proper way to transform America's largest military service. Rumsfeld transformed Shinseki into a lame duck by letting his replacement's name be known -- nearly a year before Shinseki's retirement. (Since then, that officer has declined the job) Some have speculated that Secretary Rumsfeld's trip to Iraq this week is really to interview officers who might replace Shinseki -- Gen. Tommy Franks, LTG John Abizaid, or LTG William Wallace.
Update: Various news media reported the same thought -- that Secretary Rumsfeld's real purpose in visiting the Middle East this week was to make Tommy Franks an offer he couldn't refuse. Today, the Washington Post adds its voice to the fray, confirming that speculation and offering some thoughts on why the SecDef might want Franks for the job.
... Rumsfeld has had particular difficulty with the Army. Some senior officers resent what they see as the secretary's tendency toward micromanaging. He and some of his closest aides also are viewed by the Army as overly fond of air power and other high-tech weaponry, at the expense of ground troops.There's more to the story, of course. In the last two weeks, the Army's General Officer Mangement Office has put out a bunch of new assignment orders for 1- and 2-star generals in the Army, including change-of-command orders for the 3rd Infantry Division and 4th Infantry Division -- both currently in Iraq. Some of this can be written off to summertime job changes (the military likes to switch out officers in the summer for family reasons). But it could also be true that Secretary Rumsfeld is directing these personnel changes -- and that each new assignment represents his own personal imprimatur and stamp of approval.
Exacerbating tensions in recent months was criticism of the war plan for Iraq by some retired Army generals, who suggested Rumsfeld was taking unnecessary risks -- and who were viewed by some close to Rumsfeld as echoing views held by their active-duty comrades.
"I think he's interested in trying to build a new relationship with the Army," said a senior insider.