Donald Rumsfeld remembered as smart, combative, and patriotic

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who died Tuesday, had a storied career in government under four U.S. presidents. Following the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld oversaw the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and toppling of the Taliban regime.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaks at the dedication of the Pentagon Memorial, on Sept. 11, 2008. Mr. Rumsfeld, who died June 29, 2021, was a skilled bureaucrat, with a storied career under four presidents.

Donald Rumsfeld, who died Tuesday, was a two-time defense secretary and one-time presidential candidate whose reputation as a skilled bureaucrat and visionary of a modern U.S. military was unraveled by the long and costly Iraq war. He was 88.

In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld’s family said he “was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico.”

President George W. Bush, under whom Mr. Rumsfeld served as Pentagon chief, hailed his “steady service as a wartime secretary of defense – a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.”

Regarded by former colleagues as equally smart and combative, patriotic, and politically cunning, Mr. Rumsfeld had a storied career in government under four presidents and nearly a quarter century in corporate America.

After retiring in 2008 he headed the Mr. Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and to work with charities that provide services and support for military families and wounded veterans.

“Rummy,” as he was often called, was ambitious, witty, energetic, engaging, and capable of great personal warmth. But he irritated many with his confrontational style. An accomplished wrestler in college, Mr. Rumsfeld relished verbal sparring and elevated it to an art form; a biting humor was a favorite weapon.

Still, he built a network of loyalists who admired his work ethic, intelligence, and impatience with all who failed to share his sense of urgency.

Mr. Rumsfeld is the only person to serve twice as Pentagon chief. The first time, in 1975-77, he was the youngest ever. The next time, in 2001-06, he was the oldest.

He made a brief run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, a spectacular flop that he once described as humbling for a man used to success at the highest levels of the government, including stints as White House chief of staff, U.S. ambassador, and member of Congress.

For all Mr. Rumsfeld’s achievements, it was the setbacks in Iraq in the twilight of his career that will likely etch the most vivid features of his legacy.

Nine months into his second tour as defense secretary, on Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackers attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, thrusting the nation into wars for which the military was ill-prepared. Mr. Rumsfeld oversaw the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and toppling of the Taliban regime. Frequently presiding at televised briefings on the war, Mr. Rumsfeld became something of a TV star, applauded for his blunt talk and uncompromising style.

By 2002 the Bush administration’s attention shifted to Iraq, which played no role in the Sept. 11 attacks. The war effort in Afghanistan took a back seat to Iraq, opening the way for the Taliban to make a comeback, and prevent the U.S. from sealing the success of its initial invasion.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003. Baghdad fell quickly, but U.S. and allied forces soon became consumed with a violent insurgency. Critics faulted Mr. Rumsfeld for dismissing the pre-invasion assessment of the Army’s top general, Eric Shinseki, that several hundred thousand allied troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld twice offered his resignation to President George W. Bush in 2004 amid disclosures that U.S. troops had abused detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison – an episode he later referred to as his darkest hour as defense secretary.

Not until November 2006, after Democrats gained control of Congress by riding a wave of antiwar sentiment, did President Bush finally decide Mr. Rumsfeld had to go. He left office in December, replaced by Robert Gates.

Mr. Rumsfeld is survived by his wife, Joyce, three children, and seven grandchildren.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.