WASHINGTON -- Don Rumsfeld called Secretary of the Army Thomas White into his office last Friday afternoon for something the defense secretary had wanted to do for months. He fired White. The news leaked around 5:30 p.m., then was officially released at 7 o'clock. That timing guaranteed minimal news coverage, avoiding Friday night's TV network newscasts and limiting newspaper attention to Saturday morning's editions. Rumsfeld wasn't around Saturday, leaving that morning for Iraq.
An unstated purpose of Rumsfeld's mission was to interview combat generals for impending vacancies of Army chief of staff and vice chief of staff. With the Army secretary's post now also vacant, Rumsfeld can put his own people in charge of the nation's senior service as he proceeds with downsizing. His personal war against the U.S. Army is ending with a victory as complete as Saddam Hussein's defeat. It is now Don Rumsfeld's Army.
Rumsfeld is forcing a thinner Army, and does not want a service secretary allied with "dinosaur" generals backing "heavy" forces with plenty of armor and artillery. That makes Rumsfeld unpopular with Army generals, but they are not alone. He has antagonized other services' officers, senators and House members, Secretary Colin Powell and his State Department colleagues, Pentagon journalists and even White House aides. Only the people idolize Rumsfeld as a victorious war minister, pushing his popular appeal over 70 percent.
Tom White hardly bargained for so ferocious a septuagenarian defense secretary. White had won combat decorations and a brigadier general's star during 23 years in the Army and was independently wealthy after a second career in business. At age 58, he wanted to cap his life by helping the American foot soldier.
Instead, White found himself in the middle of Rumsfeld's struggle with the Army high command, headed by Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. Instead of backing Rumsfeld or ducking for cover, White sided with former fellow Army officers in their futile effort a year ago to save the Crusader mobile artillery system. White was in opposition against Rumsfeld's overriding efforts to lighten the Army as he sent it into Afghanistan without tube artillery.
So, when the Enron scandal broke and Democrats assailed White's blameless record as CEO of Enron Power Corp., he received little support from his Pentagon civilian superiors. A call for White's resignation from Eliot Cohen, a defense intellectual close to the Rumsfeld circle, signaled trouble.