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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 26, 2001

Bush shakes up military's mission

Advertiser News Services

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Pressing his case for radical change in the armed forces, President Bush told the U.S. Naval Academy's graduating class yesterday that the American military needs to shift its core advantage from brute strength to speed and mobility.

Midshipmen celebrate at yesterday's commissioning ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy. President Bush urged the graduates to bring creativity and a more independent way of thinking to their jobs.

Associated Press

The president attached a new urgency to the mission, urging more creativity in military thinking and likening the challenge of changing the Pentagon's direction to that of "changing the course of a mighty ship."

If met, Bush's goal would accelerate a course on which the Pentagon has embarked, with some reluctance, as it continues to move away from the doctrines that guided it during the Cold War.

Bush's comments sent a signal to the military that changes are coming as its mission encounters a shifting geopolitical landscape. And there was an acknowledgment that the overhaul would take longer and be more difficult to enact than initially anticipated.

"We must build forces that draw upon the revolutionary advances in the technology of war that will allow us to keep the peace by redefining war on our terms," the president told the departing midshipmen.

But another key audience was 30 miles away in the Pentagon, where the civilian leadership and senior military officers face a difficult task: How to find common ground in updating the armed services' doctrine.

"I'm committed to building a future force that is defined less by size and more by mobility and swiftness, one that is easier to deploy and sustain, one that relies more heavily on stealth, precision weaponry and information technologies," Bush said, suggesting the active duty force could shrink. At 1.4 million, it is well below the level of 2.1 million in uniform near the end of the Cold War.

Bush also said the U.S. military of the 21st century demands not only new weapons, but also a readiness to innovate.

"We cannot transform our military using old weapons and old plans. Nor can we do it with an old bureaucratic mindset that frustrates the creativity and entrepreneurship that a 21st century military will need," he said.

In a pointed message to the newest officers of an institution often thought of as being too slow to change, he said: "Creativity and imaginative thinking are the great competitive advantages of America and America's military.

"Officers willing to think big thoughts and look at problems with a fresh eye are sometimes wrong," he said. "New ideas don't always work. If you pick up this mantle, some of your ideas may fail. But we need to give you this freedom, and we will."

Elements of the president's vision included "modified Trident submarines carrying hundreds of next-generation smart conventional cruise missiles," "agile Marine task forces ready to deploy with far greater speed, operational reach and precision than ever before," and "global command and control systems providing near total battle space awareness in real time to on-the-scene commanders."

Retired Adm. Eugene J. Carroll Jr. of the Center for Defense Information said the force described by Bush would be much more costly than the current one.

"He's talking about a surgical war, where humans are spared the horrors of combat and we use precision weapons to do what we used to have to do face-to-face or bomb-to-ground," he said.

Administration aides said last month that the speech would offer important insights into the Pentagon team's conclusions on a military overhaul plan.

More recently, however, as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's defense study has appeared to bog down, officials have played down the speech's significance.

Congressional and independent defense experts say they believe that Rumsfeld has found overhauling the military to be a more complex job than he expected, especially since the budget office has balked at providing the kind of financial increases military officials say are needed.

Rumsfeld, who in his confirmation hearing last January promised Congress a comprehensive review of the military, insisted more recently this was never his intention.

"The review is not really huge. It's been mischaracterized as top to bottom, comprehensive, and so forth," he said, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon.

Bush's remarks suggested the overhaul he had promised in the presidential campaign would take longer than expected. By singling out "an old bureaucratic mindset," he suggested that his plan has already met resistance.

"As president, I am committed to fostering a military culture where intelligent risk-taking and forward thinking are rewarded, not dreaded," Bush said. "And I'm committed to ensuring that visionary leaders who take risks are recognized and promoted."