– Donald Rumsfeld was a two-time US defence secretary who oversaw George W. Bush’s wars
– Critics called him a warmonger, accusing him of misleading the United States into conflict
Donald Rumsfeld, the cocksure and unrepentant defence secretary who led the United States into war in Iraq and Afghanistan, died on Wednesday. He was 88.
His family said that Rumsfeld – who after resigning in 2006 not only spent years defending his legacy but also dabbling in software and even releasing a solitaire app – died in Taos, New Mexico, and described “the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to the country”.
Rumsfeld was a towering figure in Washington, having served as secretary of defence first from 1975 to 1977 under president Gerald Ford and then, after decades in the private sector, from 2001 to 2006 under George W. Bush, playing a major role in Washington’s response to the September 11 attacks.
It was during his second tour at the Pentagon that Rumsfeld became a lightning rod for controversy.
Critics called him a warmonger, accusing him of misleading the US into war with claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that never panned out.
Rumsfeld was also blamed for the US military’s abuses and torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, incidents that provoked worldwide shock and condemnation.
As the US became more deeply mired in the war in Iraq, he was known for both his uncompromising policies and his inflammatory statements toward the domestic opposition and about foreign allies and foes alike.
“Stuff happens,” he told reporters in 2003 amid the post-invasion looting and lawlessness in Iraq. Bush called his defence secretary, whom he defiantly kept in his cabinet until rival Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, “an exemplary public servant and a very good man”.
“He was a faithful steward of our armed forces, and the United States of America is safer and better off for his service,” Bush said after Rumsfeld’s death, without directly mentioning the decision to invade Iraq.
Rumsfeld was born July 9, 1932, in the Midwestern state of Illinois. After his years as a pilot and flight instructor in the US Navy, Rumsfeld came to Washington in 1957, where he worked for a congressman. In 1963, at the age of 30, he was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican congressman for Illinois.
He left in 1969 to serve in various advisory roles under president Richard Nixon. After a year as ambassador to Nato in Brussels, he returned to the capital and became the youngest secretary of defence in US history under president Ford.
He left government to enter the private sector, where he remained until he was tapped by Bush to lead the Defence Department in 2001. Under Bush, he became the longest-serving secretary of defence at the time. He vehemently supported the development of missile defence in space and helped turn the lumbering armoured US forces of the Cold War into a more mobile outfit with state-of-the-art weapons.
Rumsfeld had clamoured to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, pushing soon after the fall of Afghanistan’s Taliban to move into Iraq, where he suggested there were weapons of mass destruction and perhaps links to terrorist groups.
Asked in 2002 about the lack of evidence, Rumsfeld gave perhaps his most memorable statement. “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know,” he said.
“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.” In late 2006, Bush parted ways with his defence secretary after a devastating Republican defeat in midterm congressional elections that became a referendum on the increasingly unpopular Iraq war.
“I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defence in history,” the late Republican presidential candidate John McCain said the following year.
Rumsfeld and his wife had three children, Valerie, Marcy, and Nicholas.
– DPA, Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg
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