Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went before the Pentagon press corps last week to talk about a new command for homeland defense. But the reporters kept pestering him about Tora Bora. Finally, in frustration, Rumsfeld said:
“Organizational issues tend not to have a great deal of interest broadly out in the public.” Even so, Rumsfeld said, “They can make an enormous amount of difference internally.”
Amen. One such “organizational issue” has sandbagged the Army.
The next SACEUR - the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe - will be Marine Gen. James Jones, a Kansas City native. He’ll replace Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, who got the job in 1999.
The Army felt stung then and feels even more stung now. “Institutionally, the Army always thought of SACEUR as an Army billet,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup of the Association of the United States Army. And mostly, SACEUR has belonged to the Army. In the last half-century, 13 generals have filled the post. Eleven wore Army green. The exceptions:
Ralston and Lauris Norstad, also of the Air Force. The Army could rationalize those earlier gaps. Norstad got the job in 1956, when U.S. strategy began and ended with massive retaliation. If nuclear bombers were going to answer a Soviet invasion, the Air Force might as well be in charge.
And Ralston? He was on the fast track to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs but was derailed by an old adultery scandal. Some people think he got Europe as a consolation prize.
But Europe hasn’t been Marine Corps turf since World War I. Mostly, the Marine presence in Europe amounts to NATO staff officers and U.S. Embassy guards.
So why put a Marine in charge?
“It’s a wake-up call for the Army,” says retired Army Col. Jerry Morelock.
“And the Army needs to respond.”
Morelock runs the Winston Churchill Memorial in Fulton, Mo. As a soldier, he taught at the Army’s Command and General Staff School, an institutional station of the cross for would-be generals.
Morelock says the Army badly needs a new set of generals. Since the retirement of Gordon Sullivan as Army chief in 1995, Morelock said in a phone interview, “I’m not sure anybody in the Army’s top ranks has had the vision to see past the edge of his desk.”
Rumsfeld wants the armed forces of the future to be both light and lethal. The Army packs plenty of lethality. But its critics say the Army also packs so much weight that the lethality gives way to lethargy. In the Kosovo campaign, the Army took forever to move two dozen helicopters from Germany to the Balkans.
Thus, the suspicion that by putting a Marine general in Europe, Rumsfeld is sending the Army a message: Shape up.
Others see the appointment as a triumph of “jointness” - the increasing practice of mixing and mingling military force across service boundaries. Strategy professor (and retired Marine colonel) Mackubin Owens of the Naval War College noted in an interview that in Vietnam, Army Gen. Creighton Abrams had spurned a Marine general as his No. 2.
“Abrams said no Marine could command anything bigger than a brigade,” said Owens. Now that a Marine will command an entire continent, Owens said, “It’s a sign that the Marine Corps has succeeded in developing capable officers.”
Naval historian Paul Stillwell said in an interview, “You could see it as a blow to the Army. But the Marine Corps ethic is to get there quickly and fight first - and maybe that’s what Rumsfeld is trying to stress.”
The Army’s Stroup praised the Marine Corps’ Jones as a skilled officer. In an interview, Stroup said, “Maybe Mr. Rumsfeld and the president felt he has the skills the United States needs.” But Stroup added, “For some reason, the current administration has put this officer - in an unprecedented move - over fully qualified Army officers.”
Still, Stroup noted that the “SACLANT,” or Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, was an Army general, William Kernan. Historically, that job has gone to a Navy admiral.
Both he and I were unaware as we spoke that at last week’s press conference, a deputy to Rumsfeld had said, “Gen. Kernan - what we plan to do is relieve him” as SACLANT.