Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, architect of the unpopular war in Iraq, was praised lavishly Friday for his service to the nation as he called on Americans to spend more heavily on defense.
President Bush called Rumsfeld “one of America’s most skilled, energetic and dedicated public servants.”
“We’ve been through war together,” the president said. “We have shared some of the most challenging moments in our nation’s history.”
“This man knows how to lead and he did,” the president said. “And the country is better off for it”
Departing after six years in office, Rumsfeld said he felt “a sense of urgency about the real challenges ahead” in a time of terrorism, unstable dictators and threats of nuclear proliferation.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, awakened the world to the existence of a global extremist movement whose adherents believe it is their calling to kill Americans and other free people, Rumsfeld said.
“Ours is also a world of many friends and allies, but sadly, realistically, friends and allies with declining defense investment and declining capabilities and, I would add, as a result, with increasing vulnerabilities,” Rumsfeld said. “All of which requires that the United States of America invest more.”
Recalling the collapse of the Soviet Union, Rumsfeld said, “That history did not happen by accident. And it most assuredly was not made by people sitting safely on the sidelines.”
“Today, it should be clear that not only is weakness provocative, but the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative as well,” the secretary said.
No mention of criticism
Bush made no mention of the often-harsh criticism of Rumsfeld — that he was arrogant, ignored the advice of critics and made many mistakes in his execution of the Iraq war.
“Every decision Don Rumsfeld made over the past six years, he always put the troops first, and the troops knew it,” Bush said.
Rumsfeld was a casualty of growing opposition to the war, manifested in the Democrats’ takeover of Congress. Bush announced Rumsfeld’s departure the day after Republicans were jolted in the November elections.
“I’ve never worked harder for a boss and I’ve never learned more from one, either,” said Vice President Dick Cheney, who began his career in politics as an intern for Rumsfeld in 1969.
Cheney praised Rumsfeld as a man with “near perfect recall. He has the way of asking you the one question you are not prepared for. And apparently he does not sleep.”
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the 2.4 million members of the U.S. military joined in saluting “this incredible American, for his leadership and service to our country.”
“He’s a man of enormous commitment,” Pace said. “He pushed us hard. The only person he pushed harder was himself.”
A former Navy aviator, the 74-year-old Rumsfeld is the oldest defense secretary in U.S. history and the only person to have held the position twice. He was the youngest defense secretary when he began his first stint as defense chief in 1975.
When Robert Gates is sworn in as defense secretary on Monday, Rumsfeld will leave office just 10 days short of becoming the longest-serving ever, a distinction held by Vietnam-era Robert S. McNamara, who left under the cloud of another war gone awry.