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Bush continues to back Rumsfeld despite criticisms
McClatchy Newspapers


April 17, 2006

WASHINGTON - President Bush fueled the burgeoning controversy over Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday, backing the embattled Pentagon chief during a phone call and expressing his "full support and deepest appreciation" in an unusual written endorsement.

Bush's affirmation of Rumsfeld followed days of criticism by a half-dozen retired generals who called for his resignation. They accused him of having ignored top commanders' advice in Iraq, stifled dissent and run a mistake-plagued war.

"Earlier today I spoke with Don Rumsfeld about ongoing military operations in the Global War on Terror," Bush said in the statement. "I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our Nation."




The bitter dispute over Rumsfeld's performance has increasingly become a surrogate form of the national debate on Iraq, but Bush avoided mentioning the war he launched more than three years ago.

After noting that Rumsfeld has overseen a major post-Cold War transformation of the military, Bush added, "Don and our military commanders have also been tasked to take the fight to the enemy abroad on multiple fronts."

Retired Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq until November, told CNN on Wednesday: "I believe we need a fresh start in the Pentagon. We need a leader who understands team work, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation."

On NBC's "Today" show Friday, Batiste denied that there is a coordinated effort to oust Rumsfeld among top military officers. "I think there's a lot of people now starting to ask questions, and I think that's healthy in a democracy," he said.

Retired Gen. Charles Swannack Jr., who led the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq until 2004, told The New York Times in an article published Wednesday, "I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq."

In an opinion column in the current issue of Time magazine, retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold encouraged other officers to speak out about the war so that "we won't be fooled again."

Newbold said the Iraq launch was launched "with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions - or bury the results."

Rumsfeld, 74, was a Navy pilot from 1954 to 1957. After representing Illinois in the House of Representatives during most of the 1960s, he held several White House posts under President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s.

After Nixon's resignation in 1974, Rumsfeld served as White House chief of staff under President Gerald Ford, who a year later made him the youngest defense secretary in U.S. history at the age of 43.

When Bush chose Rumsfeld to head the Pentagon again in 2001, he became the oldest defense secretary at 69. His second tenure has been filled with controversy, as much over his blunt, combative manner as his actual decisions.

Retired Army Gen. Paul Eaton was the first senior military officer to criticize Rumsfeld, telling the New York Times last month that he is "not competent to lead our armed forces."

Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command, and retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs have also called for Rumsfeld's resignation, saying he ignores the views of top officers.

Bush directly countered that claim.

"I have seen first-hand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how best to complete these missions," he said.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also defended Rumsfeld at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.

"People can question my judgment or his judgment," Pace said, Rumsfeld at his side. "But they should never question the dedication, the patriotism and the work ethic of Secretary Rumsfeld."

Rumsfeld dismissed the criticism of him, saying that "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds" of generals had served in U.S. armed forces in the last five years.

At the same time, Rumsfeld professed to inviting different viewpoints.

"And there are several (generals) who have opinions, and there's nothing wrong with people having opinions," he said. "And I think one ought to expect that when you're involved in something that's controversial as certainly this war is."

Bush added his opinion Friday.

"Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period," he said. "He has my full support and deepest appreciation."


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