Donald Rumsfeld, the double secretary of defense and former presidential candidate whose reputation as a skillful bureaucrat and visionary of a modern US military was shaken by the long and costly war in Iraq, died on Tuesday. He was 88 years old.
In a statement released Wednesday, Rumsfeld’s family said he “was surrounded by his family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico.”
Kai Ryssdal interviewed Rumsfeld on Marketplace in 2013, with the release of his book “Rumsfeld’s Rules”. Listen to this interview using the audio player above.
Seen by former colleagues as equally intelligent and combative, patriotic and politically cunning, Rumsfeld had a long career in government under four presidents and nearly a quarter of a century in American business.
After his retirement in 2008, he led the Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and work with charities that provide service and support to military families and injured veterans.
“Rami,” as he was often called, was ambitious, witty, energetic, engaging and capable of great personal warmth. But he irritated a lot with his confrontational style. An accomplished wrestler in college, Rumsfeld loved verbal combat and elevated it to an art form; biting humor was a favorite weapon.
Yet he built a network of loyalists who admired his work ethic, intelligence, and impatience with all who did not share his sense of urgency.
Rumsfeld is the only person to have served as Pentagon chief twice. The first time, in 1975-77, he was the youngest of all time. The next time, in 2001-06, he was the oldest.
He made a brief run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, a spectacular failure he once described as a lesson in humility for a man accustomed to success at the highest levels of government, most notably as chief of staff of the White House, United States Ambassador and Member of Congress. .
For all of Rumsfeld’s accomplishments, it is the setbacks in Iraq at the twilight of his career that will likely etch the most salient features of his legacy.
Nine months after his second tour as Secretary of Defense on September 11, 2001, hijackers attacked New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, plunging the nation into wars for which the military was poorly prepared. Rumsfeld oversaw the US invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban regime. Frequently chairing television war briefings, Rumsfeld has become something of a television star, applauded for his outspoken speech and uncompromising style.
In 2002, the Bush administration’s attention shifted to Iraq, which played no role in the September 11 attacks. The war effort in Afghanistan took precedence over Iraq, paving the way for the Taliban to return and preventing the United States from sealing the success of its initial invasion.
The US-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Baghdad fell quickly, but US and Allied forces were quickly consumed by a violent insurgency. Critics criticized Rumsfeld for rejecting the pre-invasion assessment by the Army’s top general, Eric Shinseki, that several hundred thousand Allied troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq.
Rumsfeld twice offered his resignation to President George W. Bush in 2004 after US troops mistreated inmates in Iraqi Abu Ghraib prison – an episode he later called his darkest hour in as Secretary of Defense.
It wasn’t until November 2006, after Democrats took control of Congress riding a wave of anti-war sentiment, that Bush finally decided Rumsfeld had to leave. He left office in December, replaced by Robert Gates.
Rumsfeld is survived by his wife Joyce, three children and seven grandchildren.