Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged Thursday progress in the Iraq war has not been going “well enough or fast enough” in his first extended remarks since announcing his resignation under political pressure.
Rumsfeld said little about his impending departure when speaking to a friendly audience of students, teachers and military personnel at Kansas State University. Instead, he offered a retrospective of sorts on his two tours as defense chief while echoing President Bush’s appraisal that the conflict has been going poorly in recent months.
“I will say this — it is very clear that the major combat operations were an enormous success,” he said of the March 2003 invasion in which Baghdad fell within weeks. “It’s clear that in Phase 2 of this, it has not been going well enough or fast enough.”
Since the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a violent insurgency and bloody warfare between Muslim sects have erupted.
Democrats demanded Rumsfeld’s resignation in the first blush of victory in Tuesday’s midterm elections, as they had done throughout the campaign. Unhappiness with the course of the Iraq war was a driving force for voters who brought down the GOP majority in the House and Senate.
No advice for successor
Rumsfeld declined to offer advice to former CIA Director Robert Gates, nominated by Bush on Tuesday to replace him, and ducked when asked to grade his performance as defense secretary, a job he has had since the start of the Bush administration. “I’d let history worry about that,” he said.
Rumsfeld was warmly welcomed by students, faculty and personnel from forts Riley and Leavenworth in the college audience at Manhattan, Kan.
Rumsfeld choked up a bit at his first public appearance since his surprise resignation announcement.
Asked how he has found the motivation to press on in this tough environment, Rumsfeld answered with his tried and true "My goodness." He took a long pause as the audience laughed softly, then answered that he felt "so fortunate to have been able to participate and serve at important times in our country's history, and to do it with people like that," gesturing to the soldiers in the room. Visibly emotional, he looked off to the side as he composed himself.
Calls for faster progress on war
Rumsfeld was also asked about the "broken" policy in Iraq, and whether Gates will be able to fix it. Rumsfeld answered that he "certainly can't speak for the new incoming secretary of defense."
Rumsfeld added that the United States "does not have experience attempting to impose control and our will over vicious, violent extremists."