Rumsfeld, Donald

views updated May 17 2018

Donald Rumsfeld

Born July 9, 1932

Chicago, Illinois

U.S. secretary of defense who played a leading role in deciding military strategy for the 2003 Iraq War

"This is not a war against a people. It is not a war against a country, and it is most certainly not a war against a religion. It is a war against a regime."

Donald Rumsfeld at a Pentagon press briefing.

Donald Rumsfeld served as U.S. secretary of defense during the 2003 Iraq War. In this position, he helped convince President George W. Bush (see entry) to invade Iraq. He also worked with U.S. military leaders to plan Operation Iraqi Freedom. The strategy crafted by Rumsfeld and other military leaders succeeded in capturing Baghdad and removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (see entry) from power after a few short weeks of combat. But Rumsfeld faced some criticism for failing to anticipate the problems U.S. troops encountered in Iraq after the war ended.

Launches career in politics

Donald Harold Rumsfeld was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 9, 1932. His father, George Donald Rumsfeld, was a real estate broker, while his mother, Jeannette Huster Rumsfeld, was a homemaker. Rumsfeld was raised in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Winnetka. When Rumsfeld was nine years old, his father set aside his career to join the navy during World War II (1939–45). His father's decision to serve the country in wartime made a big impression on the young Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld was a popular boy as well as an excellent student. He possessed endless energy and believed in the value of hard work. In fact, he held down twenty different part-time jobs during his teen years. He also was a champion wrestler at New Trier High School, where he met his future wife, Joyce Pierson. They married in 1954 and eventually had three children together.

Upon graduating from high school, Rumsfeld was accepted to Princeton University on a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. He served as captain of the football and wrestling teams during his college years. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1954. Rumsfeld spent the next three years as a pilot and flight instructor in the U.S. Navy. In 1957 he transferred to the Naval Reserves and began planning for a career in politics.

Rumsfeld spent the next three years working in Washington, D.C., as an administrative assistant to a U.S. congressman. After a brief stint as an investment banker in Chicago, he made a successful bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962. The thirty-year-old congressman from Illinois joined a new generation of Republican leaders that included Bob Dole, Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush (see entry). Rumsfeld was later reelected to three additional two-year terms.

Becomes the youngest U.S. secretary of defense

In 1969 Rumsfeld resigned from Congress to accept a position in President Richard Nixon's administration. He served as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity for a year, then he was promoted to Counselor to the President and Director of the Economic Stabilization Program. In 1973 Rumsfeld was sent to Belgium as the U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In 1974 Nixon resigned from office following a political scandal known as Watergate. Vice President Gerald Ford took over the presidency, and Rumsfeld returned to Washington to join the Ford administration as chief of staff. In 1975 Rumsfeld was appointed U.S. secretary of defense, the civilian head of American military operations. At forty-three, he became the youngest person ever to serve in this position. Over the next year he emerged as a major supporter of several new weapons programs, including the B-1 bomber and the Trident nuclear submarine.

When Ford lost the 1976 presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter, Rumsfeld decided to leave government service. His decision surprised many people. After all, Rumsfeld was a highly ambitious man who had enjoyed a rapid rise to political prominence. In fact, he had often been mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate. But he decided to put his talents to work in the world of business instead. In 1977 Rumsfeld received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for his government service.

Upon leaving Washington Rumsfeld became president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the G.D. Searle pharmaceutical company. He helped it become a leader in its industry by introducing several new products, including the artificial sweetener NutraSweet. In 1990 Rumsfeld became CEO of General Instruments, a leading company in broad-band technology. He left this position three years later but continued to serve on the boards of directors of several large corporations. Rumsfeld's successful business career helped him become a very wealthy man.

Becomes the oldest U.S. secretary of defense

Rumsfeld remained active in politics during his twenty-five-year business career. He served the U.S. government in dozens of different roles over the years. For example, he served as an envoy to the Middle East under President Ronald Reagan, and he was a member of the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission under President Bill Clinton. In 2000 George W. Bush (son of George H. W. Bush, the former president and Rumsfeld's old friend) won the presidency in a disputed election. Upon taking office in January 2001, Bush selected Rumsfeld to serve as U.S. secretary of defense. This time, at age sixty-eight, Rumsfeld became the oldest person ever to serve in this position.

Rumsfeld held strong opinions about the state of the U.S. military, and he immediately started pushing for significant changes. In general, Rumsfeld believed that many aspects of military weaponry and organization were out of date. He wanted to make American forces more streamlined and technologically advanced so that they could respond quickly to crises around the world. Some of his proposed changes met with opposition from military leaders and members of Congress. In addition, Rumsfeld came under criticism for his direct, uncompromising management style. Some Washington insiders believed that Rumsfeld would not last long in his job because he was creating too many powerful enemies.

But then the United States faced a national crisis. On September 11, 2001, members of a radical Islamic terrorist group called Al Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon building near Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly three thousand people. Rumsfeld was in his office at the Pentagon at the time of the attacks. He went to the crash site and began helping to carry injured people away from the building. His aides found him there and rushed him to a safe location, where he began planning the U.S. military response to the attacks.

In the wake of September 11, Bush announced a global war on terrorism that initially focused on the people directly responsible for the attacks, Muslim cleric (religious leader) Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization. U.S. intelligence experts (spies) quickly tracked bin Laden to Afghanistan, a country on the outskirts of the Middle East that was led by a radical Islamic government called the Taliban. The U.S. government demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden and members of Al Qaeda so that they could be punished for organizing the September 11 terrorist attacks. But the Taliban viewed bin Laden as a hero to the fundamentalist Islamic cause and refused to comply. (Islamic fundamentalists are people who strictly adhere to the basic principles of the Islam religion.)

In October 2001 the U.S. military launched Operation Enduring Freedom, a series of air strikes that targeted Taliban military capabilities and Al Qaeda training facilities in Afghanistan. The United States also provided military support to the Northern Alliance, an Afghan opposition group that had long fought against the Taliban. Although the U.S. troops and their Afghan allies soon succeeded in removing the Taliban from power, bin Laden managed to escape. Still, Bush administration officials claimed that they had completed the first phase in their global war against terrorism by destroying the home base of Al Qaeda.

Shifts focus to Iraq

The quick, successful end to the war in Afghanistan helped increase Rumsfeld's power and influence. He began lobbying to make Iraq the next target in the war against terrorism. Ever since Iraq had invaded Kuwait in 1990, an action which led to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Rumsfeld had argued that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was dangerous. He viewed the September 11 tragedy as an opportunity to rid the world of hostile governments that possessed the ability and desire to harm the United States. His feelings were clearly expressed in notes he made in the hours following the terrorist attacks. "Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not," he wrote in Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait regarding the U.S. response. "Judge whether good enough hit SH [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only OBL [Osama bin Laden]."

In early 2002 Bush followed the advice of Rumsfeld and other administration officials. He officially expanded the fight against terrorism to include nations that he described as harboring terrorists or providing weapons, training, or financial support for their activities. Among the countries that he accused of supporting terrorists was Iraq. Although there was no clear link between Saddam Hussein's government and Al Qaeda, Bush claimed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and could provide such weapons to terrorists. He argued that Hussein posed an immediate threat to world security and should be removed from power in Iraq.

Within the Bush administration, Rumsfeld became one of the leading supporters of using military force to disarm Iraq and remove Hussein from power. He claimed that these actions were necessary in order to preserve U.S. and world security. "It is not possible to defend against terrorism in every place, at every time, against every conceivable technique. Self-defense against terrorism requires preemption, taking the battle to the terrorists wherever they are and to those who harbor them," he stated, as quoted in Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait. "The link between global terrorist networks and the nations on the terrorist list that have active weapons of mass destruction capabilities is real, and poses a serious threat to the world."

In September 2002 Bush challenged the United Nations to enforce its resolutions calling for Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction and submit to international weapons inspections. He also made it clear that the United States would act alone to disarm Iraq by force if necessary. Bush's threat to invade Iraq created a great deal of controversy in the international community. Some of America's longtime allies, including France and Germany, strongly opposed a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Rumsfeld dismissed the international opposition, claiming that France and Germany were "old Europe," and not representative of world opinion. He also argued that the world had already given Iraq ample opportunity to disarm voluntarily. "We've now had 17 [UN] resolutions," he said in an interview for Online NewsHour. "It's been 12 years [since the 1991 Persian Gulf War]. They've tried diplomacy. The world has tried economic sanctions. The world has tried military activity in the northern and southern no-fly zones. At some point, the time runs out."

Crafts U.S. military strategy for the 2003 Iraq War

In preparation for a possible war in Iraq, Rumsfeld instituted a number of changes in U.S. military structure and rules of deployment. His strategy for the war emphasized overwhelming air power to "shock and awe" the enemy and convince them to surrender. He also planned to make extensive use of special operations forces to work with the Iraqi opposition to Hussein's government. Finally, Rumsfeld envisioned light, fast-moving ground forces pushing quickly across Iraq to capture the capital city of Baghdad.

Some people within the military complained that Rumsfeld and his inner circle of advisors took over planning functions that were usually left to military leaders. They claimed that he insisted on controlling even minor operational details, and that he bullied military leaders into going along with his plans. Some experts worried that Rumsfeld's insistence on a small ground force would create a dangerous shortage of troops and supplies. They also claimed that Rumsfeld's plan failed to anticipate potential problems and limited the troops' ability to respond to unexpected situations.

Despite a lack of UN support, the United States launched its military invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. Rumsfeld appeared at a Pentagon press briefing to discuss the invasion, which was assigned the code name Operation Iraqi Freedom. "This is not a war against a people. It is not a war against a country, and it is most certainly not a war against a religion. It is a war against a regime," he stated. "To the Iraqi people, let me say that the day of your liberation will soon be at hand.... Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people. And once Saddam Hussein's regime is removed, we intend to see that functional and political authority is placed in the hands of Iraqis as quickly as possible. Coalition forces will stay only as long as necessary to finish the job, and not a day longer."

Although many aspects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq proceeded according to Rumsfeld's plan, some aspects did not. For example, Rumsfeld had predicted that the Iraqi people would welcome the troops that came to free them from Hussein's rule. As it turned out, however, most Iraqis viewed the Americans with suspicion or outright hostility. While the U.S. troops encountered less resistance than anticipated from Iraqi army units, they experienced a surprising amount from paramilitary fighters and irregular forces (fighters who are not part of a formal army). Many of these attacks hit American supply lines, which were left unsecured in Rumsfeld's strategy of pushing rapidly toward Baghdad.

On March 28 the American officer in charge of the ground war, U.S. Army Lieutenant General William S. Wallace, aroused controversy with an interview he gave to the Washington Post. Wallace discussed the surprising intensity of resistance that coalition forces had encountered so far. He admitted that the coalition's war plan did not address some of the situations his troops had faced. When the American media picked up Wallace's comments, newspapers and television news programs were suddenly full of experts questioning the Bush administration's war plan.

General Tommy Franks, Head of U.S. Central Command during the 2003 Iraq War

As the head of U.S. Central Command during the 2003 Iraq War, General Tommy Franks directed the military effort that led to the fall of Saddam Hussein's government. Franks had first come to public attention two years earlier, as the head of the successful U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan. Although rumors circulated that the general clashed with U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, the men worked together to plan two successful military campaigns.

Tommy Ray Franks was born in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, on June 17, 1945. He grew up in Midland, Texas, and attended the same high school as President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. Upon graduating in 1963, Franks studied business administration at the University of Texas at Austin. Two years later, he joined the U.S. Army to fight in the Vietnam War.

After completing military training, Franks received the rank of second lieutenant and was sent to Vietnam in 1967. He served as a forward observer in the Ninth Infantry Division and was wounded in combat three times. Upon his return to the United States in 1968, Franks was stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He married Cathryn Carley the following year.

Franks received further military training and also completed his bachelor's degree in 1971. In 1976 he was assigned to the Pentagon, where he served in the office of the army chief of staff for five years. In 1981 he was stationed in West Germany, where he commanded a battalion for the next three years. Upon returning to the United States in 1984, Franks attended the U.S. Army War College. He also earned his master's degree at Shippensburg University.

After Iraq invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait in August 1990, Franks was sent to the Persian Gulf during the military buildup known as Operation Desert Shield. He served as the assistant commander of the First Cavalry Division during Operation Desert Storm, in which the U.S.-led coalition pushed the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.

Franks continued his service to the army in a number of capacities following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1997. In July 2000 Franks was named commander in chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, CENTCOM was responsible for directing U.S. military operations in the Middle East. A few months later, radical Islamic terrorists launched a suicide bombing attack against the USS Cole, an American destroyer anchored at a port in Yemen. The attack killed seventeen U.S. Navy sailors.

The terrorists dealt the United States an even more devastating blow on September 11, 2001, when attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon building near Washington, D.C., took the lives of nearly three thousand people. Immediately after the attacks, President George W. Bush launched a global war against terrorism. The first target of this war was Al Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks, and its protectors in Afghanistan.

As the head of CENTCOM, Franks acted as the commander of U.S. military forces during the war in Afghanistan. The war succeeded in destroying Al Qaeda training facilities and removing the Afghan government that had sheltered the terrorists. But many Al Qaeda leaders remained at large in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. "While an awful lot has been done in Afghanistan," Franks told the Associated Press a year after the military operations there ended, "We're just going to have to stay with it for as long as it takes...."

In 2002 Bush expanded the war on terrorism to include countries that he described as threats to world security. The president claimed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and could provide such weapons to terrorist groups. He argued that military action was necessary to disarm Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. As the United States moved toward war, Franks was assigned to help plan the American invasion of Iraq.

Some Pentagon officials described the planning sessions as being filled with tension between Franks and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. They claimed that Franks resented Rumsfeld's heavy involvement in determining the military strategy. They also said that Franks resisted Rumsfeld's demands for a light, mobile invasion force that could advance rapidly toward Baghdad. But Rumsfeld insisted that Franks was responsible for drawing up the war plan. The secretary also gave Franks credit for changing the plan as needed to adjust to the actual situations the troops encountered.

The 2003 Iraq War succeeded in capturing Baghdad and removing Hussein from power after only a few weeks of fighting. Franks received a great deal of praise for the successful U.S. strategy, which kept American casualties to a minimum. In May 2003, just a few weeks after major combat operations ended, Franks announced his intention to retire from active military service. Rumsfeld offered him the position of army chief of staff, the highest position in the army, but Franks declined. The general later signed a contract with HarperCollins to write his memoirs.

Sources: "Profile: General Tommy Franks." BBC News, May 22, 2003. Available online at (accessed on April 2, 2004); "Tommy Franks." Newsmakers, Issue 1. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2004.

Postwar problems lead to more questions

But the U.S. military soon managed to overcome the Iraqi resistance. They succeeded in capturing Baghdad on April 9, after only three weeks of fighting. Rumsfeld received widespread praise for planning the impressive military victory. On May 1 Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq. The U.S. troops remained in Iraq to maintain security, rebuild the country, and help the Iraqi people form a democratic government.

As the reconstruction of Iraq got underway, however, security became a problem. Looting and unrest broke out in Baghdad and several other cities. Iraqi insurgents (people who fight against an occupying power) and foreign fighters launched a series of attacks against American troops and Iraqis who seemed to be cooperating with the occupation. The Bush administration drew heavy criticism for failing to anticipate this possibility. Rumsfeld downplayed the postwar problems by comparing them to the everyday violence that occurs in cities across the United States and around the world.

But some experts placed the blame for the postwar difficulties on Rumsfeld's war plan. They claimed that the light ground forces he favored were no longer sufficient during the military occupation of Iraq. "Rumsfeld may understand modern combat but doesn't seem attuned to the more complex, difficult, and political challenges of nation-building, peace-keeping, and occupation missions," Marcus Corbin wrote in Newsday. "The occupation of Iraq suggests that military transformation now needs to be thought of as better preparation for peacekeeping and security-building missions, for unconventional wars, and for the important political dimensions of modern conflicts. To do otherwise will mean our armed forces will be ready for the wars of the 20th century, not the 21st."

Rumsfeld has acknowledged that keeping the peace in postwar Iraq has been a difficult task. But he continued to express confidence that the occupation of Iraq will eventually result in the development of a free and democratic society in the country.

Where to Learn More

Corbin, Marcus. "Rumsfeld's Strategy: Fine for the War; Now What about the Peace?" Newsday, April 14, 2003. Available online at (accessed on April 2, 2004).

Decter, Midge. Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

"Donald Harold Rumsfeld." Encyclopedia of World Biography, vol. 23. Reprinted in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2003.

"Donald Rumsfeld." Newsmakers, Issue 1. Reprinted in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2004.

Hersh, Seymour M. "Offense and Defense: The Battle between Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon." New Yorker, April 7, 2003. Available online at (accessed on April 2, 2004).

Krames, Jeffrey A. The Rumsfeld Way. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom: U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Pentagon Briefing." U.S. Department of Defense, March 20, 2003. Available online at (accessed on April 2, 2004).

"Prepared for War." Online NewsHour, February 20, 2003. Available online at (accessed on April 2, 2004).

Tyler, Raven. "Player Profile: Donald Rumsfeld." Online NewsHour, undated. Available online at (accessed on April 2, 2004).

Rumsfeld, Donald

views updated May 23 2018

Donald Rumsfeld

United States Secretary of Defense

Born Donald H. Rumsfeld, July 9, 1932, in Chicago, IL; married Joyce; children: Valerie, Marcy, Nick. Education: Princeton University, B.A. (politics), 1954.


Office— 1400 Defense Pentagon, Room 1E757, Washington, DC 20301.


U.S. Navy aviator and instructor, 1954–57; administrative assistant, U.S. House of Representatives, 1957–59; investment broker, A.G. Becker & Co., 1960–62; U.S. congressman from 13th Illinois district, 1962–69; director of Office of Economic Opportunity, assistant to President Richard Nixon, 1969–70; counselor to President Nixon, director of economic stabilization program, 1971–73; U.S. ambassador to NATO, 1973–74; chief of staff for President Gerald Ford, 1974–75; Secretary of Defense, 1975–77; president, CEO, chairman of G. D. Searle & Co., 1977–85; envoy to the Middle East, 1983–84; senior advisor to the President's Panel on Strategic Systems, 1983–84; special presidential Envoy to the Middle East, 1983–84; senior adviser William Blair & Co., 1985–90; chairman and CEO of General Instrument Corporation, 1990–93; chaired U.S. Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization; chairman of the board of directors of Gilead Sciences, Inc., 1997–01; Secretary of Defense, 2000—.


U.S. Joint Advisory Commission on U.S./ Japan Relations, 1983–84; National Commission on Public Service, 1987–90; National Economic Commission, 1988–89; Board of Visitors of the National Defense University, 1988–92; Commission on U.S./ Japan Relations, 1989–91; U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission, 1999–2000; Stanford board member; National Park Foundation.


Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1977; Outstanding Chief Executive Officer in the Pharmaceutical Industry, Wall Street Transcript, 1980; Outstanding Chief Executive Officer in the Pharmaceutical Industry, Financial World, 1981.


Donald Rumsfeld, the 21st Secretary of Defense, was sworn in on January 20, 2001. The former Navy pilot has had a lifelong commitment to public duty as the 13th Secretary of Defense under President Ford, White House Chief of Staff under President Gerald Ford, U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and U.S. Congressman for Illinois. But Rumsfeld became a household name after the worst attack in history on United States soil. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were the beginning of a redefinition of national defense. Rumsfeld has been at the forefront of preparing the country for a new kind of enemy.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, to a real estate broker and homemaker, Rumsfeld's childhood was notable for an innate charisma that drew people to him. He showed an early interest in politics and the world around him when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Being a nine–year–old boy and seeing his father put aside his career to join the Navy left a deep impression on him that would shape his character and lead to a career in politics.

The young Rumsfeld was a hard worker, never happy to sit on his hands for even a moment. By the time he was a teenager he had held down 20 part–time jobs ranging from delivering newspapers to gardening. During high school he met a girl named Joyce who he would go on to marry. With high energy, focus, and excellent grades he was accepted to Princeton on academic and Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) scholarships.

In 1954, he started service to the U.S. Navy as a flight instructor. He ended his tenure in 1957 when he transferred to the Ready Reserve. Though he continued his Naval service in flying and administrative assignments as a reservist, he had plans for his career that would put him in a two–piece suit instead of a flight suit.

He joined the private sector for the first time as an investment banker in Chicago. Displaying his standard charm Rumsfeld quickly made friends in high places and began to hear the call of public office. At the age of 30, he ran for an Illinois seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and won. Rumsfeld arrived in Washington D.C. in 1962 and, again, found the right people to know at the right time. He joined Bob Dole, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush as a young up–and–comer and the town quickly knew they had a new generation of leaders waiting in the wings. The four men became very close and those bonds, some now broken, would shape world history for decades to come.

Rumsfeld was a popular congressman and was re–elected in 1964, 1966, and 1968. But he resigned in 1969 to join President Richard Nixon's White House. His role as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and Assistant to the President lasted until 1970. By most accounts, Rumsfeld's performance was solid and he impressed President Nixon. In recognition of his contributions, Nixon promoted him to Counselor to the President and Director of the Economic Stabilization Program where he served until mid–1973. He got the chance to try his hand on the international scene next, by serving as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO in Brussels, Belgium, until 1974.

But in August of 1974 the White House was in chaos after the resignation of President Nixon. Rumsfeld, known for his iron–jawed leadership skills and no–nonsense style, was called back to Washington, D.C., to serve as Chairman of the transition to the Presidency of Gerald Ford. His keen sense of secrecy and politics made people uneasy. But most members of the chaotic White House knew he was doing a great job of forcing order during what some would say was a Constitutional crisis. Inevitably, with his presence making such an impact on the daily functions of the White House, Rumsfeld became Chief of Staff of the White House and a member of the President's Cabinet. Before President Ford was voted out of office Rumsfeld was appointed the 13th U.S. Secretary of Defense, the youngest in the country's history at the age of 43. He served in the position from 1975 to 1977.

Many believed Rumsfeld was positioning himself for a run for president. Indeed, most indications were that the young man was trying to pack as much experience as he could in as short a time as possible. He had already worked in very important positions on the domestic and international fronts. Even though he was young, there were very few political foes who could attack him for lack of credentials. The resignation of Nixon had left the GOP in chaos and Rumsfeld started acting like a man with a political mission. He appointed his old friend, George H.W. Bush, to head the CIA. Most insiders considered this a slap in the face for Bush since he was also positioning himself as presidential material. To most politicians, it appeared that Rumsfeld was removing his competition.

But when Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in the election of 1976, Rumsfeld decided against running for president and, in essence, disappeared from Washington. His move into the private sector was astonishing to his fellow politicians, many of whom were glad to see him go. Though he had made a deep impression on Washington, he had made his share of enemies, many in his own party who never got used to his style or his uncanny political talents. These conflicts would arise again when Rumsfeld returned to politics almost 25 years later.

Rumsfeld's sideways move into the private sector was as successful as his political career. His style of speaking has always been very direct and he dashes every point with a folksy style. That same demeanor tends to keep him at arms length from people. Many who know him acknowledge that he is, fundamentally, a mistrusting person. Still, his leadership qualities secured him positions in two Fortune 500 companies in the years that followed his departure from the political scene.

Rumsfeld was not a power–player in Washington anymore but he kept one toe in the water at all times. He worked for the Reagan administration on a number of projects such as senior advisor to the President's Panel on Strategic Systems and special envoy to the Middle East. He also continued to be involved during President Bill Clinton's second term as a member of the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission and chaired the U.S. Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization. These are only examples of the dozens of duties he held in the political arena which ranged from chairman of fellowships to board member of Stanford and the National Park Foundation.

But a majority of his efforts went into private industry where he became a wealthy man very quickly. Upon leaving Washington he was offered the positions of chief executive officer, president, and chairman of G.D. Searle & Company, a pharmaceutical company. Over the years, his efforts were recognized as some of the best leadership in the pharmaceutical industry by a number of business organizations. Rumsfeld moved on to serve as CEO of General Instrument Corporation from 1990 to 1993, a leader in broadband technologies. He soon joined the board of another pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences, Incorporated, where he focused his efforts until the call came in from Vice–President–elect Dick Cheney in 2000 to join President–elect George W. Bush's staff.

Cheney knew Rumsfeld was qualified to be Secretary of Defense. After all he had done it before as the youngest secretary in history. But Rumsfeld was 68, which meant if he were to take the job he would also become the oldest secretary in history. Cheney and Rumsfeld had stayed close and both agreed on what threats faced the world. For instance, both had lobbied President Clinton hard to consider Iraq an immediate danger to United States security. After some consideration, Rumsfeld accepted the Bush administration's offer.

Upon taking the oath of office, Rumsfeld, in his traditional fashion, announced that things were going to change. He had been a Washington insider for decades and had strong opinions about how things worked. He felt he knew what needed fixing and he set out to fix it. The only problem was that many of the enemies he had left behind when he went into the private sector were still in Washington—and they still did not like him one bit.

First, he wanted to cut defense expenditures on old weapons and move the focus to new ones that could better deal with the threats we face in the modern world. This was controversial since many in the military believed this challenged their roles as overseers. But to make matters even more tense, Rumsfeld wanted to take another look at the way the military was organized. He wanted to reshuffle United States troops in a way that could allow the country to go to war quickly, anywhere in the world. His tactics were not appreciated by people who were in a system they had lived with their entire professional careers. For any Secretary of Defense to make sweeping changes it is incumbent on them to inform congress. But many in the legislative side were complaining about being left out of the loop. Most people in Washington believed Rumsfeld was going to shoot himself in the foot with his approach to reshuffling his department and redefining its responsibilities. He had the energy to change the world but he did not necessarily have the power. Most political pros thought Rumsfeld would be out of the White House within a year.

But then disaster struck, exactly the kind of disaster for which the office of the Secretary of Defense is designed. While Rumsfeld's experience was indisputable, no one could be prepared for September 11, 2001. The morning of the attack Rumsfeld was in his office at the Pentagon. He felt the building shake and went outside to find chaos. Without knowing what had happened he helped carry some people clear of danger and was then led to the War Room where he was updated on the events of the morning. Since he is responsible for directing the defense of the United States, the world looked to him for a tactical response. When it became clear that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks, Afghanistan became the prime target for America's wrath. Interestingly, only hours after the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld was working to also put Iraq in the crosshairs. A CBS News report in September of 2002 revealed notes taken during the hours after the attacks. "Go massive," the notes read. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not.… Judge whether good enough hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein) at same time. Not only UBL (Osama Bin Laden)." Once President Bush declared the attacks as acts of war, Rumsfeld was, essentially, given the go–ahead to arrange for America's defense as he saw fit.

Being the efficient type, Rumsfeld took advantage of the times to push through the changes he had worked hard to make. The result was a new plan called the Unified Command Plan, which sought to make the rules of sizing our forces more streamlined and relevant to the threats the United States now faced. The reshuffling and top–down analysis of our military led to many more controversies, not least of which was the reinstatement of the "Star Wars" program, otherwise known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The program was introduced during the Reagan administration and promised to create an impenetrable shield of missile defense around the country with a series of satellites and powerful lasers that could knock down any attack from the air. SDI's confinement to the laboratory (i.e. no real world testing) was an integral part of the ABM treaty signed by the United States and the former Soviet Union. By giving SDI new life, many feared a new arms race could ignite between the two countries. Rumsfeld brushed off this kind of thinking. "No U.S. president can responsibly say that his defense policy is calculated and designed to leave the American people undefended against threats that are known to exist," Rumsfeld was reported to say in an Associated Press piece in the New York Times. "[Missile defense] is not so much a technical question as a matter of a president's constitutional responsibility."

Rumsfeld's power and influence in the Bush White House only increased when the war in Afghanistan ended after only a few days. With a new mandate to defend the country from weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld and Cheney moved to make Iraq the next target. Saddam Hussein had developed a large cache of biological weapons before the first Gulf War. Once he lost that war he was ordered by the international community to destroy all weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations was sent in to monitor their compliance. But in 1997, the inspectors were kicked out and many, Rumsfeld included, believed he was building a new arsenal. He thought if Hussein could use those weapons against the United States, he would. Which led Rumsfeld to conclude that Hussein must be removed from power. With backing from many people in the Bush administration, the path to war was laid and Rumsfeld was one of the leaders.

Once again, his gruff attitude got him in trouble. As many in the international community, including France and Germany, scoffed at the idea of preemptive war, a frustrated Rumsfeld tagged them "Old Europe." But that was the least of his problems. In his own administration he was meeting resistance with the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Powell wanted to let the newly deployed United Nations inspectors do their work in Iraq. The media had a field day playing up the conflict and, in the end, Bush sided with Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld did not just tell his people to get to work, he got involved. Proposal No. 177 is a series of documents that conveys, in detail, the plans of deployment and how to get what infantry where and by what date with all the weapons, people, and supplies it needs. These are the kinds of documents that are usually handed off to the underlings. But Rumsfeld read every word, challenged ideas that seemed rooted in old thinking and used his authority to make the attack on Iraq a new chapter in military deployment.

When the war began on the ground on March 20, 2003, many politicians watched closely to see how Rumsfeld's influence would carry onto the battlefield. Many came out against him in the press, especially retired officers, when the advance on Baghdad slowed down. But, in the end, the Iraqi army was defeated and American troops took control of the capitol. Rumsfeld basked in the praise many gave him for the lightning–fast victory. To his supporters, the war was vindication for Rumsfeld and proved that he had been right about reorganizing the armed forces. But in the months after the defeat of the Iraqi Republican Guard, the battle became more like a guerilla war. American soldiers were asked to police the country, but various factions, both Iraqi and not, sabotaged the infrastructure and made it difficult to keep the peace. Rumsfeld's vision of armed forces that can do a little bit of everything, and do it fast and well, will go through many evaluations over the years as the United States tries to secure the peace in Iraq. However history judges him and his efforts, his name will always be tied to world history after 9/11.

To help quell the guerilla attacks, more American troops were sent to Iraq. On December 4, 2003, Rumsfeld visited Afghanistan, where he urged Afghan warlords to surrender heavy weapons, discussed plans for stopping a lingering insurgency, and pressed for economic development. The next day, he became the first senior administration official to visit the country of Georgia since a peaceful, popular revolt forced out the government of Eduard A. Shevardnadze. Rumsfeld expressed strong support for Georgia's territorial integrity in the face of rising secessionist sentiment and the presence of Russian troops on its territory. On December 13, 2004, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces, who found him hiding in a hole beneath a two-room shack on a sheep farm near the Tigris River. His capture boosted United States claims that the situation in Iraq was under control.

In front of some of Europe's fiercest critics of the United States-led war in Iraq, Rumsfeld offered an impassioned defense of the conflict. He placed the blame for the war on former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for his "deception and defiance," as well as his refusal to abandon his illegal weapons program. When it came to light that Iraqi prisoners of war had been abused by American military personnel, Rumsfeld said he would take "all measures necessary" to ensure that the abuse of detainees a Pentagon report alleged took place at a prison in Iraq "does not happen again." President Bush defended Rumsfeld against U.S. politicians and foreign leaders who demanded the secretary's resignation. On May 13, 2004, Rumsfeld visited Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, the site of Iraqi-prisoner abuse. While there, he gave a rousing speech to hundreds of troops and military police, indicating that those who committed prisoner abuse would be dealt with fairly.



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Rumsfeld, Donald

views updated May 18 2018

Rumsfeld, Donald (1932– ) US statesman, secretary of defense (1975–77, 2001– ). He was first elected to Congress in 1962, resigning (1969) to serve under President Richard Nixon. After acting as Chief of Staff (1974–75) to President Gerald Ford, Rumsfeld became, at age 43, the youngest-ever secretary of defense. He returned to the Pentagon under President George W. Bush.

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