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Rumsfeld Memo Asks DoD Leaders to Focus on Big Questions

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2003 – Far from being a glum assessment, a memo Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent to senior leaders poses questions Rumsfeld believes leaders should be asking about the new security environment, Larry Di Rita, Pentagon spokesman, said here today.

A story about the memo appeared in today's issue of USA Today. The story characterizes the questions Rumsfeld raised as an admission that the United States is losing the war on terror. "The secretary's not saying anything like what the memo's been characterized (as saying)," Di Rita said during a press conference.

The spokesman said the secretary is asking the "big questions" that any government agency should be asking itself.

The memo was addressed to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace and Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, and was dated Oct. 16.

"What he's doing is elevating the perspective of the leadership of this department and asking: 'I don't know the answers to these questions, but they're on my mind, and I want them on your mind, too,'" Di Rita said.

At the heart of the memo is a continuing Rumsfeld priority - transforming the department to face new, more amorphous threats. The memo asks Defense leaders to pull back from the day-to-day matters of the global war on terrorism and focus farther down the playing field.

The Pentagon spokesman said Rumsfeld wants the leaders to examine what the department should look like - how they'd configure it if they had a blank sheet of paper. DoD was created at the end of World War II to face a far different threat from that of today's world, Di Rita said. Would the department look the same "if we knew that we could start over with the challenges that we face going forward?"

Di Rita said he was surprised by the USA Today story. "This is a question that Secretary Rumsfeld has been asking in a variety of ways since he took office," he said. "The need to transform, the need to rethink all of the long-standing ways we approach problems is just not breaking news when it comes to Secretary Rumsfeld's sense of urgency."

Di Rita said the memo is not an immediate action tasking. "These are clearly big questions that deserve big thinking," he said, and the memo's recipients are the people who "will be able to engage the rest of this institution into that kind of thinking," Di Rita added.

The memo was generated to get the recipients to "think outside the box," said DoD officials. Among other things, the secretary asked if the changes the U.S. military has made to date are too small. Can the department change fast enough to counter terrorists, or should a whole new institution fight terrorism?

Di Rita said that while the memo mentions progress in Afghanistan and Iraq, "that's manifestly not what this memo's about. What this memo is about is going forward well beyond the horizon that any one of us is going to be serving. Are we prepared or postured in a way that will win what we've all said is going to be a long-term fight?"

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