WASHINGTON—President Bush personally reaffirmed his support for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday, issuing an extraordinary written vote of confidence in Rumsfeld to blunt criticism from a chorus of retired military commanders.
With Bush at the Camp David presidential retreat for Easter weekend, the White House issued a statement under his name that left no doubt about the depth of his commitment to his secretary of defense.
"Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period," Bush said in a three-paragraph statement. "He has my full support and deepest appreciation."
Bush said he'd spoken with Rumsfeld earlier in the day and "reiterated my strong support for his leadership . . ."
In issuing his statement, Bush once again exhibited two traits that have marked his presidency—loyalty to his closest aides and a steadfast refusal to give in to critics.
"Bush has had ample opportunity to allow Rumsfeld to make a graceful exit and has chosen not to do it," said Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas at Austin political science professor and longtime Bush-watcher. "He perceives that there is no alternative at this point to sticking with Rumsfeld without seeming to abandon his strategy on the Iraq war."
Bush recently gave his new chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, a mandate to take whatever steps he believes are necessary to enhance White House efficiency, and many in Washington expect Bolten to order personnel changes soon, perhaps including Cabinet secretaries. But Bush's embrace of Rumsfeld appears to rule out change at the Pentagon anytime soon, which may make it more difficult to adjust national security policies in the short term.
The president's statement amplified the pro-Rumsfeld message delivered Thursday by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. Both seemed intended to quell a clamor for Rumsfeld's head by six retired generals who are getting enormous media exposure for speaking out against their former civilian boss.
The generals say Rumsfeld has to go because he employs an arrogant management style that contributed to miscalculations and insufficient planning for the war in Iraq. They also complain that Rumsfeld is abusive, wouldn't listen to dissenting views and possesses little knowledge of the principles of war.
None of the dissident generals resigned in protest; all retired with full pensions instead. To some extent, their criticism may reflect that Rumsfeld's mission to redesign America's military into a more flexible 21st century institution disturbs many uniformed officers who prefer traditional military organization and methods.
Bush countered their critiques, noting that he had charged Rumsfeld with transforming the military and leading the war on terrorism. He also implicitly rejected the criticism that Rumsfeld ignores uniformed officers: "I have seen first-hand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions," Bush wrote.
Rumsfeld spoke in his own defense Friday, saying in an Al Arabiya television interview that the retired generals have a right to their opinions.
"I respect their views, but obviously out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed, we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round around here, " Rumsfeld said.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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