Thursday December 9th, 2021 12:04AM

Rumsfeld, a cunning leader who oversaw a ruinous Iraq war

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calling Donald H. Rumsfeld energetic was like calling the Pacific wide. When others would rest, he would run. While others sat, he stood. But try as he might, at the pinnacle of his career as defense secretary he could not outmaneuver the ruinous politics of the Iraq war.

Regarded by former colleagues as equally smart and combative, patriotic and politically cunning, 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 Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and to work with charities that provide services and support for military families and wounded veterans.

The two-time defense secretary and one-time presidential candidate died Tuesday. He was 88.

“Rummy,” as he was often called, was ambitious, witty, engaging and capable of great personal warmth. But he irritated many with his confrontational style. A man seemingly always in a hurry, he would let loose with a daily flurry of memos to aides — some well down the bureaucratic chain — which he dictated into an audio recorder and were typed up by assistant. They became known as his “snowflakes.”

An accomplished wrestler in college, 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.

From his earliest years in Washington he was seen by friend and foe alike as a formidable political force. An associate of President Richard Nixon, Bryce Harlow, who helped persuade Rumsfeld to resign from Congress and join the Nixon Cabinet as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1969, called him “rough and ready, willing to tangle” and “the kind of guy who would walk on a blue flame to get a job done.”

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 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.


By the time he arrived at the Pentagon in January 2001 for his second stint as defense secretary, the military that Rumsfeld inherited was in a slow-motion transition from the Cold War era to a period dominated by ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa and spasms of terrorism. Among the other prominent worries: China’s military buildup and the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

But nine months into his tenure, on Sept. 11, Rumsfeld found himself literally face-to-face with the threat that would consume the remaining years of his tenure. When a hijacked American Airlines jetliner slammed into the Pentagon, Rumsfeld was in his third-floor office meeting with nine House members. He later recalled that at the instant of impact, the small wood table at which they were working trembled.

Rumsfeld was among the first to reach the smoldering crash site, and he helped carry the wounded in stretchers before returning to his duties inside the building.

The nation suddenly was at war. U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7, and with Rumsfeld at the Pentagon helm the Taliban regime was toppled within weeks. Frequently presiding at televised briefings on the war, Rumsfeld became something of a TV star, admired for his plain-spokenness.

Within months of that success, President George W. Bush’s attention shifted to Iraq, which played no role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Rumsfeld and others in the administration asserted that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was armed with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, and that the U.S. could not afford the risk of Saddam one day providing some of those arms to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003 with a go-ahead from Congress but no authorization by the U.N. Security Council. Baghdad fell quickly, but U.S. and allied forces soon became consumed with a violent insurgency. Critics faulted Rumsfeld for dismissing the public assessment of the Army’s top general, Eric Shinseki, that several hundred thousand allied troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq.

Square-jawed with an acid tongue, Rumsfeld grew combative in defense of the war effort and became the lightning rod for Democrats’ criticism. Years afterward, the degree of blame that should be shared among the White House, Rumsfeld and the U.S. military for the disasters in Iraq remained in debate.

In his 2009 biography of Rumsfeld, author Bradley Graham wrote that it was “both incorrect and unfair to heap singular blame” on Rumsfeld for Iraq.

“But much of what befell Rumsfeld resulted from his own behavior,” Graham wrote in “By His Own Rules.” “He is apt to be remembered as much for how he did things as for what he did. And here, too, he was an internal contradiction. Capable of genuine charm, kindness and grace, he all too frequently came across as brusque and domineering, often alienating others and making enemies where he needed friends.”

Bush on Wednesday hailed Rumsfeld's “steady service as a wartime secretary of defense — a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.”

Survivors of the Iraq war were more critical. Rasha Al Aqeedi, now a U.S.-based analyst from the Iraqi city of Mosul, said: “The legacy he left behind ... the Iraq war, has been such a stain on Americans’ foreign policy. It shaped how an entire generation views any intervention” by the United States.

In his 2011 memoir, “Known and Unknown,” Rumsfeld offered no hint of regret about Iraq, but acknowledged that its future remained in doubt.

“While the road not traveled always looks smoother, the cold reality of a Hussein regime in Baghdad most likely would mean a Middle East far more perilous than it is today,” he wrote. He sounded unconvinced that the failure to find WMD in Iraq poked a hole in the justification for invading.

“Our failure to confront Iraq would have sent a message to other nations that neither America nor any other nation was willing to stand in the way of their support for terrorism and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” he wrote.

Rumsfeld twice offered his resignation to 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 Bush finally decide Rumsfeld had to go. He left office in December, replaced by another Republican, Robert Gates. Defiant to the end, Rumsfeld expressed no regrets in his farewell ceremony, at which point the U.S. death toll in Iraq had surpassed 2,900. The count would eventually exceed 4,400.

“It may well be comforting to some to consider graceful exits from the agonies and, indeed, the ugliness of combat,” he told his colleagues. “But the enemy thinks differently.”


Born in Chicago as the second child of George and Jeannette Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld wrote in his memoir that he and his father shared a favorite sports team: the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. He recalled that while listening to a Bears game on the radio at home one Sunday in 1941, the announcer interrupted the broadcast to announce that Japanese airplanes had launched a surprise attack on Hawaii.

Rumsfeld was 9 years old.

“I could feel that something terrible had happened,” he wrote. “I saw it in my parents’ faces and heard it in the tense voices reporting the news of the attack.”

After Pearl Harbor, Rumsfeld’s father joined the Navy at age 38 and the family moved frequently to be near him on the West Coast.

In high school he met his future wife, Joyce Pierson. He entered Princeton on a partial scholarship and joined the campus Navy ROTC program to cover his other expenses. In June 1954, Rumsfeld graduated and was commissioned an ensign in the Navy. Six months later he married Joyce.

He launched his Washington career in 1957 by signing up as an assistant to Rep. Dave Dennison, R-Ohio. Soon he was serving as a congressman himself, first elected to represent Illinois in 1962. He served four terms.

One of his early acts as a member of the Nixon White House was to hire a young Dick Cheney, starting a lifelong friendship.

Rumsfeld was working as the U.S. ambassador to NATO in Brussels, Belgium, when he was recalled to Washington to lead President Gerald Ford’s transition team after Nixon resigned in August 1974. He became the new president’s chief of staff and then, in November 1975, his defense secretary.

After leaving the Pentagon in 1977, Rumsfeld embarked on a successful business career in the private sector, including as chief executive officer, president and then chairman of G.D. Searle & Co., a major prescription drug manufacturer.

He still dabbled in government service, including serving as a special envoy to the Middle East for President Ronald Reagan in 1983-84. It was in that capacity that he famously met in Baghdad in December 1983 with Saddam, whose nation at the time was at war with Iran.

“None of us in the Reagan administration bore any illusions about Saddam,” Rumsfeld wrote in his memoir. “Like most despots, his career was forged in conflict and hardened by bloodshed. He had used chemical toxins in the war he initiated with Iran three years earlier. But given the reality of the Middle East, then as now, America often had to deal with rulers who were deemed ‘less bad’ than the others.”

Two decades later, Rumsfeld was again dealing with Saddam — this time overseeing an invasion that toppled the tyrant and led, ironically, to Rumsfeld’s own downfall.

He is survived by his wife, Joyce, three children and grandchildren.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Football, AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Elections, General Presidential Election News, AP Sports - NFL
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Revised vote count shows Adams ahead in NYC mayoral primary
Revised vote counts in New York City’s mayoral primary show Democrat Eric Adams has maintained a thin lead
6:08PM ( 6 minutes ago )
Stories of survival keep hope alive as rescuers race clock
Stories of survival are kindling hopes that rescuers may find more people alive within the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo tower in Surfside, Florida
6:06PM ( 7 minutes ago )
Actor Allison Mack gets 3 years in NXIVM sex-slave case
“Smallville” actor Allison Mack was sentenced to three years in prison for her role in the scandal-ridden, cult-like NXIVM group
6:04PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
NCAA clears athletes for compensation as state laws kick in
The NCAA has cleared the way for athletes to profit off their name just as legislation is set to become law in several states that would allow for such compensation
5:40PM ( 34 minutes ago )
Bucks say Antetokounmpo doubtful for Game 5 with Hawks
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals after undergoing an MRI on his injured left knee
5:20PM ( 54 minutes ago )
Chip Ganassi sells entire NASCAR team to Trackhouse Racing
Chip Ganassi is pulling out of NASCAR at the end of the season and has sold his entire organization to Trackhouse Racing
5:06PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Sports
AP source: Saints' Ramczyk agrees to 5-year, $96M extension
Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk has agreed to a five-year extension and a person familiar with the contract says it's worth up to $96 million
3:05PM ( 3 hours ago )
Jill Biden teams up with NFL great to push vaccinations
Jill Biden is playing offense in the fight against COVID-19
10:30PM ( 19 hours ago )
Tight end Pitts is last of Falcons' 9 draft picks to sign
The Atlanta Falcons have signed first-round pick Kyle Pitts, the tight end from Florida
4:06PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Online Football
California hate crime up 31% in 2020, led by anti-Black bias
Hate crime in California reached its highest reported level in more than a decade last year
5:16PM ( 58 minutes ago )
EXPLAINER: Why Bill Cosby's conviction was overturned
Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction has been thrown out by Pennsylvania’s highest court, which ruled that he was unfairly prosecuted because a previous district attorney had promised he wouldn't be charged
4:54PM ( 1 hour ago )
Another mild algae bloom forecast for Lake Erie this summer
Researchers are expecting another mild algae outbreak on Lake Erie this summer
4:47PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Bill Cosby freed from prison sex conviction is overturned
Bill Cosby has been freed from prison after Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned his sexual assault conviction
2:35PM ( 3 hours ago )
Charges expected Thursday for Trump's company, top executive
Donald Trump’s company and his longtime finance chief are expected to be charged Thursday with tax-related crimes stemming from a New York investigation into the former presient’s business dealings
2:18PM ( 3 hours ago )
New results due in NYC mayor race after vote count blunder
New York City elections officials will try again to report preliminary results of the Democratic mayoral primary after a first attempt went disastrously wrong
2:02PM ( 4 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
First lady, second gentleman push COVID-19 shots in Arizona
Jill Biden is encouraging Arizona residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, aiming to counter skepticism by declaring the vaccines are safe and have been vigorously tested
5:17PM ( 56 minutes ago )
2nd Oath Keeper pleads guilty to conspiracy in Jan. 6 riot
An Alabama man who stormed the U.S. Capitol with other members of the Oath Keepers extremist group has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is cooperating with prosecutors in another major boost for the Justice Department in its sweeping Jan. 6 investigation
4:57PM ( 1 hour ago )
WH aims to help consumers with order on big business regs
The Biden administration is preparing an executive order to improve opportunities for consumers and small businesses by stepping up oversight of sectors of the economy that are dominated by a select few companies
4:57PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Joining Trump at border, GOP congressman eyes path to power
A little-known Indiana congressman is becoming an influential voice in the Republican Party
10:46AM ( 7 hours ago )
Microsoft exec: Targeting of Americans' records 'routine'
Federal law enforcement agencies secretly seek the data of Microsoft customers thousands of times a year
10:28AM ( 7 hours ago )
The Latest: Head Start gets boost from virus relief bill
More than 1,500 Head Start programs for children around the country will get a funding boost through President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill
10:03AM ( 8 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Confusion surrounds vote count in NYC mayoral primary
The Democratic primary for mayor of New York City was thrown into a state of confusion Tuesday when election officials abruptly retracted their latest report on the vote count after realizing it had been corrupted by test data never cleared from a computer system
10:37PM ( 19 hours ago )
Eric Adams' lead shrinks in NYC Democratic mayoral primary
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams appeared to lose much of his lead in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City after the first round of ranked choice tabulation
7:45PM ( 22 hours ago )
Paul keeps up complaints over handling of COVID-19 pandemic
Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is keeping up his complaints about the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic
5:32PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Elections
Exit polls: French far right beaten in regional elections
Exit polls in France are indicating that mainstream candidates have delivered a stinging setback to the country's far right in regional elections
2:21PM ( 3 days ago )
Regional election poses crucial test for French far right
France's decisive, second round of voting in regional elections is being scrutinized as a litmus test of whether the anti-immigration far right is gaining acceptability before the French presidential election next year
11:36AM ( 3 days ago )
Mike Gravel, former US senator for Alaska, dies at 91
Mike Gravel, a former U.S. senator from Alaska who read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and later ran for president twice, has died
8:29AM ( 3 days ago )
General Presidential Election News
Eat, drink and be merry: Food pairs well with Olympic spot
Athletes spend months, sometimes years, obeying strict diets that are geared toward the goal of making the Olympics
3:32PM ( 1 week ago )
Darvish fans 11, Padres get 2 big homers to beat Dodgers 6-2
Yu Darvish struck out 11 in six brilliant innings to become the fastest big leaguer to reach 1,500 for his career, Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth homered and the San Diego Padres beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 in the opener of a three-game series between the NL West rivals
3:01AM ( 1 week ago )
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib on Monday became the first active NFL player to come out as gay
11:14PM ( 1 week ago )
AP Sports - NFL
Revised vote count shows Adams ahead in NYC mayoral primary
Revised vote counts in New York City’s mayoral primary show Democrat Eric Adams has maintained a thin lead
6:08PM ( 6 minutes ago )
Stories of survival keep hope alive as rescuers race clock
Stories of survival are kindling hopes that rescuers may find more people alive within the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condo tower in Surfside, Florida
6:06PM ( 8 minutes ago )
Actor Allison Mack gets 3 years in NXIVM sex-slave case
“Smallville” actor Allison Mack was sentenced to three years in prison for her role in the scandal-ridden, cult-like NXIVM group
6:04PM ( 10 minutes ago )
House to probe Capitol riot -- over Republican opposition
The House has launched a new investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection
5:51PM ( 23 minutes ago )
Kyrgios 'not bad for a part-time player' in Wimbledon win
Nick Kyrgios is back on the tennis scene and back to winning at Wimbledon
5:51PM ( 23 minutes ago )