Outgoing Pentagon chief's darkest moment: failure of Iran rescue raid

Defense Secretary Harold Brown doesn't have to think long to recall the worst moment of his Pentagon years. It was the failure of the Iran rescue mission, the "most intense disappointment" he experienced overseeing the nation's vast defense establishment, he says.

But if there were moments of gloom in Room 3E880 at the Pentagon, there apparently weren't many. The ever-bouyant Secretary Brown says he enjoyed 90 percent of his time here, adding that he hopes "to keep an interest in national security affairs" in the years to come.

Reviewing his tenure of the Defense Department at a breakfast with reporters Dec. 16, the outgoing secretary took a share of credit for the peace the nation has enjoyed over the last four years. "There are many temptations to solve problems with the application of military force," he said, "and there are occasions when it is warranted. But the threshold should be very high."

Brown went on to declare that there had been "several occasions" during the Carter administration when "strong military actions were suggested by circumstances" in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Although he declined to reveal what the occasions were, he did observe that there had been "no incipient strategic attack on the United States that we averted."

Declaring that he was "not much for marking my own exam papers," Brown said the administration had "turned around a seven-or-more-year decline in military efforts and helped shape a consensus among the American people that the US did need to be strong and did need to respond to a 20-year Soviet buildup."

The Defense Secretary added that "real progress" had been made with alliances , particularly with NATO, where member nations had agreed in principle to increase defense spending by 3 percent annually in real terms. But he said there was a need for closer cooperation both in military planning and joint exercises within the Atlantic Pact.

In a checklist of the administration's defense achievements, the secretary included the MX missile; the Trident missile and submarine; the cruise missile ("a major new advantage for the United States in the strategic balance"); precision-guided munitions; antisubmarine warfare capabilities; "Stealth" technology; technical intelligence collection systems; and the "advance of military relations with the People's Republic of China."

The defense secretary went on to characterize the unratified SALT II treaty as his "biggest disappointment" and early inaction on eroding military pay, which is plaguing the armed forces with serious manpower retention problems, as "the worst failure to see ahead," for which, he says, he accepts as much blame as anybody else.

Reviewing developments in Poland, Brown said that while there is a substantial chance of Soviet military intervention, such a development is "not inevitable." Were it to happen, though, the allies would respond politically, economically, and diplomatically "and with a long-term increase in [their] military capability," he said.

Asked to comment on the appointment of his successor, Caspar W. Weinberger, Brown noted that the former secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare has less defense experience than any other Pentagon chief since Robert S. McNamara. But added that Mr. Weinberger has had experience managing "an even bigger enterprise, and if somebody is a good manager, he can make a favorable impact even on such a big and complicated place as the Department of Defense."

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