- Donald Rumsfeld served twice as Defense secretary, for Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.
- After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Rumsfeld let the Pentagon’s attacks on al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
- In 2003, he and Vice President Dick Cheney shifted to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, whom the US ousted.
- The abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was among the controversies that dogged him.
Donald Rumsfeld – Republican power broker, controversial defense secretary and architect of the Iraq War – died Tuesday, days before his 89th birthday, his family said Wednesday.
“It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. At 88, he was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico,” the family said in a statement released Wednesday. “History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country.”
The cause of Rumsfeld’s death was multiple myeloma, according to his spokesman, Keith Urbahn.
President George W. Bush selected Rumsfeld for his second stint as Pentagon chief in 2001. Rumsfeld vowed to shake up the military bureaucracy, seeking to make it leaner and more agile.
The Sept. 11 terror attacks changed everything.
Rumsfeld oversaw the Pentagon’s response and its initial attack on al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan. With stunning speed, U.S. commandos and airstrikes toppled the Taliban from power, and a democratically elected government was established.
By early 2002, Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney turned the Pentagon’s attention to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, nearly captured in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, slipped away into Pakistan, where he was killed in 2011.
In 2003, U.S. forces invaded Iraq to prevent Saddam from launching attacks with weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were found, and the mismanaged American occupation led to a guerrilla war and sectarian violence.
Bush fired Rumsfeld in 2006 as the United States was mired in grinding insurgencies that killed and maimed thousands of U.S. troops and thousands more combatants and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 2,000 troops remain in Iraq supporting a fragile government fighting Islamic insurgents, and the last U.S. combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, where the top commander warns of a brewing civil war.
There were a series of high-profile controversies during his tenure, including the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. The detention at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of combatants and others scooped up on battlefields in the Middle East continues to vex the United States. Most of the detainees have been released to host countries, but others await military trials.
From Princeton to Pentagon
Born in Chicago in 1932, Rumsfeld graduated from Princeton University, where he was a collegiate wrestler and commissioned as a U.S. Navy aviator and flight instructor. He served on active duty from 1954-57.
He became a staffer on Capitol Hill and worked as an investment banker. In 1960, he won his first term as a Republican congressman from Illinois. He resigned in 1969 and took a post in the Nixon administration, according to his congressional biography.
In 1975, Rumsfeld was selected to serve as the 13th defense secretary – the youngest person to hold that position in the country’s history, according to the Department of Defense’s historical website. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford.
After working in the private sector for 23 years, Rumsfeld returned to his formerly held position, assuming the role of the 21st secretary of defense in Bush’s administration in January 2001.
War in Iraq
In the spring of 2003, U.S. forces moved quickly to seize Baghdad. Iraqi troops faded away, but there were soon signs of civil unrest. Looting was rampant, and Rumsfeld dismissed news reports, predicting “wonderful things” for Iraqis.
“And does that mean you couldn’t go in there and take a television camera or get a still photographer and take a picture of something that was imperfect, untidy?” Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon. “I could do that in any city in America. Think what’s happened in our cities when we’ve had riots and problems and looting. Stuff happens!”
He upbraided reporters for inferring that Iraq teetered toward chaos.
“But in terms of what’s going on in that country, it is a fundamental misunderstanding to see those images over and over and over again of some boy walking out with a vase and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, you didn’t have a plan.’ That’s nonsense,” Rumsfeld said. “They know what they’re doing. And they’re doing a terrific job. And it’s untidy. And freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.”
The provisional government in Iraq, led by a U.S. diplomat, disbanded the Iraqi army. Many of those disaffected troops joined the insurgency. Rumsfeld’s plan to withdraw most U.S. troops was abandoned. Instead, more troops were deployed in a wearying, bloody succession of skirmishes and battles.
By 2004, the insurgents’ weapon of choice was the roadside bomb, known in the military as the improvised explosive device. It tore through poorly protected Humvees and became the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops.
Rumsfeld dismissed complaints from troops in combat that they were ill-prepared for the fight.
“As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” Rumsfeld said in 2004. “You can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee, and it can be blown up.”
Rumsfeld’s Pentagon received urgent requests from commanders in the field for armored trucks known as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs. Those requests were shelved or delayed. Rumfeld’s successor, Robert Gates, made MRAPs the Pentagon’s top priority after reading a report in USA TODAY about their effectiveness.
By 2006, the wars and Rumsfeld’s handling of them had become a political liability for Bush. He fired Rumsfeld shortly after the midterm elections and replaced him with Gates.