Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dead at 88

Donald Rumsfeld, the two-time defense secretary best known for serving in that position at the height of the Iraq War, has died. He was 88.

The Chicago native passed away at his home in Taos, New Mexico, surrounded by family, according to a statement posted on his official Twitter account Wednesday.

“History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service,” the statement read, “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.”

Rumsfeld worked under three Republican presidents – Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush – over a career in public life that lasted more than 40 years. 

Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld in 1968.
Donald Rumsfeld with President Richard Nixon in 1969.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in 2006.

In a statement Wednesday, Bush hailed what he called Rumsfeld’s “steady service as a wartime secretary of defense — a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.”

After serving a little more than six years as an Illinois congressman, Rumsfeld joined the Nixon administration in March 1969 and held a series of executive positions, including Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, counselor to the president, and ambassador to NATO.

Following Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, Ford tapped Rumsfeld to be White House Chief of Staff. Rumsfeld spent 14 months in that position before becoming defense secretary for the first time in November 1975.

Rumsfeld left government following Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election and launched a successful corporate career, interrupted by a brief run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, a spectacular flop that he once described as humbling for a man used to success at the highest levels of government.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (left) watches as President George W. Bush talks about the devastation at the Pentagon in Washington on Sept. 12, 2001.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds an American flag up after a town hall meeting held at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Aug. 27, 2002.
President Gerald Ford confers with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 1976.

In 2001, Rumsfeld was recalled to public service by Bush, who tapped him to serve as defense secretary, making him the only person to hold that position twice.

Rumsfeld arrived at the Pentagon with a plan to “transform” the armed forces, but his tenure was defined by the US response to the 9/11 terror attacks. He oversaw the early successes of the US invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

However, Rumsfeld lost political support amid a series of setbacks in Iraq, including a bloody insurgency and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. He announced his resignation as defense secretary in November 2006 and left office the following month.

Rumsfeld’s second spell at the Pentagon may be best remembered his remarks in February 2002 when asked about the Bush administration’s contention that the Hussein government was supplying weapons of mass destruction to terror groups.

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld attend a commissioning ceremony on board the USS Gerald R. Ford CVN 78 on July 22, 2017.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaks with US Army Gen. George Casey at Baghdad International Airport on April 26, 2006, in Baghdad, Iraq.
Donald RumsfeldGetty Images

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns,” Rumsfeld began. “There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.”

The so-called “known unknowns” remark was co-opted by Rumsfeld’s critics and thrown back at him during the later months of his tenure; documentarian Errol Morris titled his 2013 retrospective on Rumsfeld’s life and career “The Unknown Known.” Rumsfeld himself titled his best-selling 2011 memoir “Known and Unknown”.

A memo from Donald Rumsfeld to Doug Feith.

Rumsfeld’s critics took issue with his blunt and confrontational style, seeing it as a natural outgrowth of Bush’s supposed “cowboy” foreign policy. 

In a memo from April 2003, Rumsfeld told Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith: “We need more coercive diplomacy with respect to Syria and Libya, and we need it fast. If they mess up Iraq, it will delay bringing our troops home. We also need to solve the Pakistan problem. And Korea doesn’t seem to be going well. Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around?”

After leaving government for the second and final time, Rumsfeld headed the Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and to work with charities that provide services and support for military families and wounded veterans.

With Post wires

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