Rumsfeld looks back as he bids farewell to Pentagon
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a bittersweet farewell toPentagonworkersonDec.8,spoke of “miracles” his personnel performed during his tenure, including liberating Iraq and Afghanistan, deployingthefirstmissiledefense,creating a new homeland defense command and expanding the number of covert warriors.
“The institution is important well beyond those who temporarily servehere,”saidMr.Rumsfeld,who first served as secretary during the ColdWarandleavesthebuildingfor a second time on Dec. 18. “Each of you here in this room [. . . ] have played a part in one or more of these accomplishments.”
“This is our last town hall meeting with our secretary,” is how Marine Gen.PeterPace,whomMr.Rumsfeld picked as Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman and then as chairman, started the proceedings.
Mr. Rumsfeld’s stage was a Pentagon auditorium packed with military personnel and civilians who greeted their leader with enthusiastic applause. The defense secretary, pilloried by critics for what they considerabotchedwarplaninIraq, wasforcedtoresignNov.8.Defense Secretary-designate Robert M. Gates was sworn in by President Bush on Dec. 18.
OnDec.8,Mr.Rumsfeldbaskedin the adulation and repaid tributes.
“This is not a question,” said one Pentagon staffer during a questionand-answer session. “It’s simply a chance to say thank you.”
Herecalledthetimehisdaughter’s dance troupe came to the Pentagon andMr.Rumsfeldtooktimeouttotalk to the 30 young persons. Five ended upjoiningthemilitary.“Youhadaprofoundeffectontheyoungmembersof that troupe and on our country,” the admiral said.
Mr.Rumsfeldtoldtheaudience:“I leave office very proud to have served with your, inspired by your dedication, by your patriotism and by your sacrifice, and we recognize that sacrifice.”
Mr. Rumsfeld will surely go down inhistoryasoneofthecountry’smost important defense secretaries. He came into officer under orders from Mr. Bush to transform the armed forcestobetterfightnewthreats—including terrorists. Little did he know at his Jan. 20, 2001, swearing in that the battle would come in just eight monthswhenalQaedaterroristsflew airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
A workaholic, Mr. Rumsfeld createdthefirsthomelanddefensecommand, reorganized the Army into more agile combat brigade teams, empowered and increased special operations forces, canceled major weapon systems as outdated and pushed the Pentagon deeper into the black-bag world of intelligence and counterterrorism. He pressed commanderstofightlighterandfaster,relying more on intelligence and precision bombing.
After the September 11, 2001, attack, his popularity soared. America saw a tough-talking leader who said hewouldbemorethanwillingtohave histroopskillterrorists.ButthemuddledwarinIraq,nowinitsfourthyear, sankhislikabilityinCongressandthe nation. Critics said his style of fighting left too few troops in Iraq who were unprepared for an insurgency that has tossed that country into the throes of sectarian violence.
On Dec. 8, he invoked two events to illustrate his roller-coaster tenure: theinaugurationofAfghanistanPresidentHamidKarzai,afterU.S.troops ousted the Taliban; and being “stunned by the news” of detainee abusesbyAmericansoldiersatIraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
“Clearly the worst day was Abu Ghraib,” he said. The scandal incited thepoliticallefttocastigateAmerican forces as well as Mr. Rumsfeld, who was labeled a torturer.
“I remember the irresponsible commentsbysomewhotriedtosully theimageofthecourageousanddedicated men and women in uniform whokeeptheAmericanpeoplesafe,” he said, feisty to the end.
He also addressed the American people, whose support for the Iraq warhasdroppedsharplyasthecount of U.S. dead exceeds 2,900.
“Just take Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Mr. Rumsfeld, 74, who served first as defense secretary from 1975 to 1977 under President Ford. “The military can’t lose. They can’t lose a battle let alone a war over there. But they also can’t win because it is not a conventional conflict. There isn’t an army, a navy or an air force to go defeat.Ittakespoliticalandeconomicactivity.[...]Andthattakespatienceand we have to understand that as a society,asapeopleandnotbeimpatient.”
He quoted a wounded soldier at WalterReedArmyMedicalCenteras telling him, “If only the American people will give us the time, we can do this. We’re getting it done.”
Unbowed: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon “is important well beyond those who temporarily serve here.”