How Rumsfeld Rallies the Troops

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Last Friday, as he now does every day around 6 a.m., Donald Rumsfeld went out to say "good morning," to the soldiers, rescue workers and Red Cross members dealing with the ruins on the west side of the bombed-out Pentagon. It seems quiet as a tomb now that the shrieks of sirens and emergency vehicles are gone. Men in white suits, masks and gloves have been slowly sifting through piles of rubble, reducing it to smaller and smaller piles in hopes of identifying the dead. As Rumsfeld returns to his office, dust on his shoulders, employees who wouldn't have approached the Secretary (if they were lucky enough to have caught a sighting before Sept. 11), now stop, shake his hand and say thank you.

Until the attack, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was the stealth cabinet member. In green-eyeshade mode, he'd buried himself in a top to bottom review of the military. He was at war with the bureaucracy and skeptics of his plans. He kept Congress at arms length and turned to retirees for military advice. Now he's Washington's version of Mayor Giuliani, not just racing to the scene of the attack on the military's heart but also taking care each day to either give a televised interview or show up at the Pentagon press room to give aid and comfort to a country hungry for news and reassurance. "It's important to be seen now and it simply wasn't before when he was working on the review," explains Assistant Secretary Victoria Clark of the Secretary's frequent appearances. A mixture of Clint Eastwood ("if we cock it, we throw it") and Bill Moyers (he's famous for the "Rumsfeldian pause," an existential moment, rare in a town of rat-a- tat sound bites, when he stops dead to let the wheels turn), he explained last Thursday his search for a new vocabulary to deal with the post-Sept 11 planet. He stopped dead in his tracks to write hmself a note about something he'd forgotten to tell Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov, and scolded, not by name, (we hear Sen. Orrin Hatch) for talking about material from an intelligence briefing. He admitted easily that the original name for the operation, Infinite Justice, was likely to offend Muslims and should be changed. On Tuesday, the operation to get Osama bin Laden was christened Operation Eternal Freedom.

His first call of the day from his stand-up desk wrapped in his cardigan is to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and NSC Adviser Condoleeza Rice to coordinate what they will do that day and what they will say about it (Powell and Rumsfeld are the designated talking heads). In by 6 a.m. and rarely home before 11 p.m. Rumsfeld is Ground Zero of the war, calling up reservists and signing deployment orders, all the while burying the dead and rebuilding headquarters. Rumsfeld has to make it possible for the president to go after the Taliban should they not turn over Osama bin Laden. His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, would also like to be ready to go after terrorists in Iraq. When Bush did not mention Iraq in his speech before Congress, observers thought Iraq was surely off the table. But others say that if the former Navy pilot whom Kissinger called the best in-fighter he'd ever seen agrees with Wolfowitz, and there's no reason to think he doesn't, Saddam Hussein should be worried. This, despite the fact that Secretary of State Colin Powell is against widening the war to Iraq, since the broader the coalition you need to build the narrower your target should be.

The attack on the Pentagon has proved the head of the Pentagon right in his assessment of how mean, lean and nimble the military of the 21st century will have to be (laid out officially in his Quadrennial Review due Sept 30). Or mostly right if you don't count his $8.3 billion request for the missile defense shield, useless against what we now face. Tracking down terrorists in caves calls for a highly mobile force, for "brilliant" bombs that can be guided by soldiers on the ground, for hand-held computers linked to satellites which can send coordinates to anyone in the area. The very attack on Pentagon headquarters by an unconventional enemy using unconventional means has silenced critics that were saluting him with their right hands and undermining him with their left.

This war, even as Rumsfeld mobilizes the troops, will share little with that of the Greatest Generation. It's not your Dad's war when the enemy attacks you where you live with $2 knives and an airline ticket, and then goes into hiding, not in a specific country but a cave. There will no Rosie the Riveter, no influx of stenographers from the farms, no dearth of nylons or rationing of sugar. This is the Richest Generation, after all. The most visible signs that an army moves on its stomach are in the Pentagon parking lot, where Share our Strength has delivered 500 pounds of charcoal briquettes to grill 8,000 pounds of chicken donated by Tyson's to the clean-up crew. There's enough Gatorade for several battalions.

Like Giuliani on Monday, soon Rumsfeld will have to give grim news to families who have posted signs and pictures, balloons and flowers along a makeshift Vietnam Wall outside the Pentagon. To the loved ones of 124 of the missing (189 missing altogether), their remains may never be found, no matter how long the men in the white masks look.