The White House defended Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday from criticism from Republican Sen. John McCain that he was one of the worst U.S. defense secretaries ever for his handling of the Iraq war.
McCain, one of President Bush’s key allies in the U.S. Congress on Iraq, is running for his party’s nomination to be president in 2008.
“I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history,” the Arizona senator and former Vietnam War veteran said on the campaign trail in South Carolina Monday.
The White House backed Rumsfeld but was careful not to criticize McCain in doing so.
“We think Donald Rumsfeld was an enormously consequential and effective secretary of defense and somebody who led to the transformation of the Department of Defense. Senator McCain holds a different point of view,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow.
Rumsfeld, the second-longest serving defense secretary, was widely blamed for the U.S. failure to bring stability to Iraq amid growing public discontent over the war.
A day after Republicans lost control of Congress in elections last November due largely to concern about the Iraq war, Bush accepted Rumsfeld’s resignation and replaced him with Robert Gates.
Bush needs McCain’s support in his efforts to secure $100 billion in new funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The thing that’s important to us right now is that Senator McCain is a strong supporter of the president’s position on the way forward in Iraq and somebody who has been an eloquent voice and a reliable leader on the issue. And we appreciate it,” said Snow.
Asked if McCain’s comments should be chalked up to election politics, Snow replied: “I left the chalk at home.”