The man chosen to bridge Army-Pentagon gap
He'll head the Army at a time of tense relations. His success depends on intellect and inner-circle connections.
In the mid-1970s, when Donald Rumsfeld first served as defense secretary, a little-known group of iconoclastic military thinkers was toiling away in the obscure Office of Net Assessment on the Pentagon's A-ring.Skip to next paragraph
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One of those early mavericks, a Navy captain named James Roche, is emerging today as one of Rumsfeld's most favored and powerful agents for "transforming" America's military.
This month, the White House tapped Dr. Roche, who has served two years as Air Force secretary, to become the new secretary of the Army. Roche's expected nomination comes at a critical juncture for the 228-year-old service: The Army's senior leadership is in considerable upheaval, and relations between the Army and Rumsfeld appear tenser than ever. The Army, moreover, is experimenting with sweeping changes to its organization, weapons systems, and personnel structure.
Few doubt Roche's qualifications, say officials and analysts on both sides of the Rumsfeld-Army rift. A former Northrop Grumman Corp. executive with a Harvard Business School doctorate, Roche has shown a knack for successful corporate turnarounds. He has a broad range of defense experience - as a career Navy officer, congressional staffer, Pentagon analyst, and most recently Air Force secretary. Add to this a keen intellect, taste for sleek cars and exclusive clubs, and self-described "boundless ego," and Roche, according to those who know him, is a force to contend with.
Still, Roche's effectiveness in the job will depend at least as much on how he handles the bad blood between Rumsfeld and top Army brass as it does on his intellect and connections to the Pentagon's inner circle, say defense officials and analysts.
"Obviously, he [Roche] will have to reach out to the senior Army leadership and make the point that he is there to help the Army with its transformation," says Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a friend of Roche. "But again, a lot of it has to do with how the Army views him."
For their part, Army officials suggest that relations with the Rumsfeld team are at rock bottom and have nowhere to go but up. Especially troubling is what they view as Rumsfeld's clashes with former Army Secretary Thomas White, who departed abruptly May 9, and the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, who retires next month.
"When the Army sees its leaders regularly disrespected by the Secretary of Defense, you have to assume he has it in for you," says an Army official. "Look at how he fired [Secretary] White. ... That was just an ambush." The Pentagon announced White's resignation on April 25, but officials say privately Rumsfeld made it clear he wanted White out. White, a former cavalry officer, had lobbied to retain the Army's Crusader artillery system, which Rumsfeld canceled.
Rumsfeld denied that he's at war with the Army. "It's just not true," he recently told reporters at the Pentagon.
In February, however, the Rumsfeld team criticized as "wildly off the mark" General Shinseki's estimate that hundreds of thousands of US troops might be required to occupy postwar Iraq. So far, no replacement has been announced for the outgoing Army chief of staff. Two leading candidates, Gen. John Keane and Gen. Tommy Franks, have declined the post, defense officials say. Meanwhile, a large number of the three-star generals from Shinseki's staff are either retiring or changing jobs this summer.
"It looks like it will be a rocky transition," says an Army official, who requested anonymity.