It wasn't so very long ago that the name Donald Rumsfeld sent shivers down the spines of Washington's most battle-hardened bureaucratic warriors. In the 1970s, when Rumsfeld was chief of staff and later Secretary of Defense under President Gerald R. Ford, he was a fearless backroom operator. Henry Kissinger once admitted that Rumsfeld was the only person ever to get the best of him in a political fight. Rumsfeld's inside moves during the Ford years were so clever and complex that he developed a cult following among conservatives. He was the man who would stop at almost nothing to win, and almost always did. In 1974, he wrote a small pamphlet--Rumsfeld's Rules--about how to make things happen in Washington. He has updated it regularly ever since. Rule No. 25: "Don't blame the boss. He has enough problems."
That one still applies. In seven months as Pentagon chief, Rumsfeld has managed to spook the military, alienate defense contractors, mobilize much of Capitol Hill against him--and even make some in the White House question his toughness. It's usually a Democrat who puts the Pentagon on a wartime footing, but Rumsfeld, 69, is an armor-plated Republican and a military man to boot (he served as a Navy pilot). He has stirred up these problems by launching a much needed but oddly secretive review of the U.S. military that until last week threatened to sink ships, ground planes and retire soldiers in order to reduce U.S. forces overseas and free up money for more research in areas such as missile defense. "This is one of the most interesting situations I've seen in a long time," says Representative Norm Dicks, a pro-military Democrat from Washington State. "He says he wants the military to stop saying they can fight two wars on two fronts simultaneously. But he has opened more fronts in Washington than any Defense Secretary in memory."
Which helps explain why, all of a sudden last Friday, Rumsfeld sued for peace. After hinting for months that the new Administration might force the Army, Navy and Air Force to cut two or three divisions, 40 to 50 ships and as many as 72 fighters, the Pentagon chief said, in effect, never mind. The three services, he announced, can decide for themselves how to prepare for the future. "This is a big organization," he said. "The services make lots of decisions. It would be foolhardy to try to micromanage from the top...every aspect of everything that is going on."