In the fascinating book The Nearly Impossible Job of Secretary of Defense, Charles Stevenson outlines the powers and yet also the challenges of one of the most difficult jobs in America. As he notes in his introduction, since the post of Secretary of Defense was created in 1947, "only half served more than eighteen months" (Stevenson, 2006)…
He lists the qualities and strengths that most of these men have had. He states that they "were talented and experienced, and they found themselves surrounded by consummate professionals, running a responsive bureaucracy" (Stevenson, 2006). But at the same time they had to survive "budgetary storms" which would make the work of long-term planning (so vital for a massive defense department) somewhat problematic. They would often be attacked by political opponents when they had little opportunity to hit back.
The biggest overall problem that the Secretary of Defense faces is that he has "enormous, sometimes overwhelming responsibilities" (Stevenson, 2006). These include the management of an organization that has over two million employees. These people are stationed all over the world. The Secretary also "manages a budget larger than the central government budget of any other nation . . . and higher than the total gross domestic product of all but a dozen countries in the world" (Stevenson, 2006). ...
While these various categories perhaps suffer from the inevitable weakness of oversimplification, they are useful measures. First of all there are the Revolutionaries who, as their name suggests "sought to change the Pentagon in far-reaching ways in order to fulfill their inner vision" (Stevenson, 2006). Among these are Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld.
Secondly, Stevenson identifies the Firefighters who were often originally Revolutionaries, but came to see their job in a different manner once immersed within it. They have turned away from grand designs and visions to deal with the more immediate exigencies of current problems. Stevenson places men such as Clark Gifford and the current Secretary of Defense, Bill Cohen, within this category. These men were often brought in as a result of a reaction against the more sweeping policies of the Revolutionaries that preceded them: the prime example being the choice of Bill Cohen to take over from Donald Rumsfeld.
The final category are the Team Players who see themselves as an integral part of the Administration's team and always seek to put the President first. These men have tended to be supportive rather than combative in their style:- they have not used the fact that they are in control of such a massive organization that dwarfs other parts of the government for their own self-aggrandizement of for the perpetuation of their own particular vision.
Much of the book illustrates how various Secretaries of Defense have embodied these various categories and how they have moved from one to the other, or have melded identities as situations have changed. For example, Donald ...
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