December 9, 2006
An emotional day for Pentagon's old soldier
By Otto Kreisher
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld said goodbye to his Pentagon “family” yesterday,
expressing pride in what he saw as a list of
accomplishments, but warning that the nation needed
patience and better government coordination to win “the
long war” against extremists.
HARAZ N. GHANBARI / Associated Press
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld greeted Defense
Department staffers during a town hall-style
farewell session yesterday at the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld, who will be succeeded by Robert Gates on Dec.
18, said his strongest feelings on leaving the Pentagon
post were pride and gratitude.
“Every day, in one way or another, I've seen the
strength of men and women in uniform, and the dedication
of the many thousands who serve here, military and
civilian, who do their jobs knowing that theirs is the
essential business of protecting a nation and protecting a
people,” he said at a final town hall-style session with
hundreds of military and civilian Pentagon workers who
repeatedly broke into applause.
“I suspect this will be among my last public remarks as
secretary of defense,” he said in one of the rare public
appearances he has made since President Bush announced
Nov. 8 that he was replacing Rumsfeld with Gates to get a
“fresh perspective” on the Iraq war.
Rumsfeld has a unique place in Pentagon history. He is
the only person to have been defense secretary twice,
having held the post for a little over a year under
President Ford. He was the youngest defense secretary
then, and now, at 74, he is the oldest.
Asked what were his best day and his worst day as
secretary, Rumsfeld answered without hesitation.
“Clearly, the worst day was Abu Ghraib, seeing what
went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that
The scandal, which erupted in April 2004 when images
from an Iraqi prison became public, triggered worldwide
condemnation and prompted Rumsfeld to twice offer his
resignation to Bush. Bush rejected those offers.
“I guess my best day, I don't know, may be a week from
Monday,” he said with a grin, referring to the day Gates
HYUNGWON KANG / Reuters
"I suspect this will be among my last public remarks
as secretary of defense," Donald Rumsfeld, 74, told
Pentagon workers yesterday. He is the only person to
have held the post twice.
He also said he might write a book about his tenure at
the Pentagon, and predicted that Gates would do a good job
as his successor. When asked what advice he had for Gates,
who was confirmed by the Senate this week, Rumsfeld
replied, “Any advice I give him, I'll give him in
Mixing an unusual show of emotion with his usual
acerbic wit, Rumsfeld said the transformation of the
military from a rigid Cold War structure into a flexible
21st century force, which many believe was his primary
goal, was only about half completed. But he said the
mindset of military leaders has changed substantially,
shifting from fighting to advance their own service needs
to working to improve joint capabilities across services.
He talked about the federal government's inability to
coordinate its economic, political and military efforts in
combating extremism. And, he said, the experience of the
Cold War shows the nation needed patience.
“This is a long struggle.”
He also spoke at length about his hopes that the United
States does not let Iraq and Afghanistan collapse.
“We have every chance in the world of succeeding in
both those countries, but only if we have the patience and
only if we have the staying power,” he said.
In response to a question from the audience, Rumsfeld
said he has not read this week's report from the
bipartisan Iraqi Study Group, which is viewed as rejecting
the Bush administration's conduct of the war. But Rumsfeld
did say that none of its recommendations were new.
Frequently criticized by military officers – usually
anonymously – as having ignored professional military
advice, Rumsfeld said that he came to the Pentagon in 2001
committed to “engaging the military, not at the end of the
process, but from the beginning.”
And while alternately praised and criticized for being
perhaps the strongest defense secretary ever, the former
corporate chief executive said the Pentagon was “so big
and complex there is no way anyone can lead by command,
you must do it by persuasion.”
He cited a long list of “achievements” during his
tenure, which he attributed to the Pentagon team and the
They included coming to peoples' aid after the tsunami
in the Indian Ocean, the earthquake in Pakistan and the
hurricanes along the Gulf Coast; deploying “an initial
missile defense system”; creating the Northern Command to
“better protect the homeland”; conducting the largest-ever
base closure and global force change; and operating the
Guantanamo detention center for terrorist suspects in the
face of “grossly uninformed and irresponsible charges.”
Many critics say the detainees at the U.S. naval base
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been held in violation of
international law and suffered abuses similar to prisoners
at Abu Ghraib.
The questions from department employees during the
session were gentle ones, in contrast to the news
conferences at which Rumsfeld never bothered to hide his
disdain for reporters he considered ill-informed, cynical,
or naive. But even in yesterday's friendly setting,
Rumsfeld was in fine form.
He gave a backhanded compliment to Pentagon reporters,
with whom he has sparred vigorously, saying they were “the
most professional press corps in Washington,” but noting
that might not mean much “given the competition.”
Only one other defense secretary has held the post
longer than Rumsfeld: Robert McNamara, who served for
seven years, one month and eight days.
Rumsfeld – who served for 14 months in his first stay,
and five years and nearly 11 months in his current tour –
will leave office 11 days short of passing McNamara's
Press and New York Times News Service contributed to this