Rumsfeld Bids Farewell to Pentagon
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said his goodbyes to his team at the Pentagon, although he doesn’t officially step down for a few more days.
Rumsfeld choked up briefly while recalling a woman in Alaska giving him a bracelet last August as a reminder of the sacrifices by soldiers of the Army’s 172nd Stryker Brigade, whose year-long tour in Iraq was extended by four months to help try to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad. Showing it still on his wrist, Rumsfeld recalled that he told the woman he would wear the green bracelet until the 172nd came home to Alaska.
He spoke at length about his concern that the United States 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. Asked about the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendations for a change in approach to the Iraq war, Rumsfeld said none of the suggestions were new. “I can’t think of a thing that anyone’s thought of that General (Peter) Pace and General (John) Abizaid and those folks have not been working on and analyzing and studying and adjusting to over time,” he said, referring to the top two generals overseeing the Iraq war. He said the Pentagon had sent its advice to the White House on possible new approaches.
In a question-and-answer session, he was asked what were his best day and his worst day. “Clearly, the worst day was Abu Ghraib, seeing what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened,” he said without hestitation, referring to the scandal in the spring of 2004 that triggered worldwide condemnation and prompted him to twice offer his resignation to President Bush at that time. Bush rejected those offers.
“I guess my best day, I don’t know, may be a week from Monday,” he said with a big grin, referring to the fact that his successor, Robert Gates, is scheduled to take over at the Pentagon on Dec. 18.
Rumsfeld went from being a sensation during the press conferences after 9/11 to one of the more controversial figures in recent American history because of his handling of the war in Iraq.
It should be recalled, though, that he certainly didn’t need this job and has sacrificed mightily in adding six more years of public service after a long career. The man gave up a cushy, high-paying job outside the limelight to take over a job he had had a quarter century earlier.
His efforts to transform the Pentagon were controversial but, mostly, dead-on. The military is much more joint than ever in its history and he managed to bull his way through a moribund bureaucracy to kill some ridiculously expensive weapons systems that we surely did not need.
Of course, all that has been overshadowed by Iraq and, especially, the perception that he is the man responsible for allocating too few troops for postwar stabilization operations and for the policies that led to Abu Ghraib. In the first instance, I think Gregory Scoblete is right that Rumsfeld sent in the force we could sustain over the long haul. And Abu Ghraib is attributable to many things, most of which can not be laid at Rumsfeld’s feet.
With the election lost behind us and a push to salvage our Iraq policy ahead, it was time for Rumsfeld to go. But, by all accounts, he poured every bit of his considerable energy into his job for these past six years. For that, he deserves our sincere gratitude.