Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary during the Iraq War, dies aged 88

Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who served during the Iraq War under George W Bush, has died aged 88.

His family said: “History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, 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.”

A statement from the family of Donald Rumsfeld:

— Donald Rumsfeld (@RumsfeldOffice) June 30, 2021

Only Robert McNamara served as defence secretary for longer than Mr Rumsfeld, who had two stints in the role; under Mr Bush from 2001 until 2006, and under former president Gerald Ford between 1975 and 1977.

In a statement, Mr Bush described Mr Rumsfeld as having “intelligence, integrity, and almost inexhaustible energy”.

He said: “On the morning of September 11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld ran to the fire at the Pentagon to assist the wounded and ensure the safety of survivors.

“For the next five years, he was in steady service as a wartime secretary of defence – a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.

“A period that brought unprecedented challenges to our country and to our military also brought out the best qualities in Secretary Rumsfeld.

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“A man of intelligence, integrity, and almost inexhaustible energy, he never paled before tough decisions, and never flinched from responsibility.”

Donald Rumsfeld
Image:Mr Bush said Mr Rumsfeld carried out his job with ‘strength, skill, and honor’

Nine months into his second tour as defence secretary, on September 11 2001, suicide hijackers attacked the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon, thrusting the nation into wars for which the military was ill-prepared.

Mr Rumsfeld oversaw the US invasion of Afghanistan and toppling of the Taliban regime.

Frequently presiding at televised briefings on the war, he became something of a TV star, applauded for his blunt talk and uncompromising style.

President Gerald Ford confers with his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 1976. Pic: AP
Image:President Gerald Ford confers with his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 1976. Pic: AP

Following 9/11, Mr Rumsfeld played a leading role in making the case for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He oversaw the invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein after warning of the dangers of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction – although no such weapons were ever discovered.

He was known for the famous quote he gave during a 2002 Pentagon news briefing when asked about the lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction.

He said: “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.

“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.”

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‘Known unknowns’ – Rumsfeld’s famous quote

Baghdad fell quickly, but US and allied forces soon became consumed with a violent insurgency.

Critics faulted Mr Rumsfeld for dismissing the pre-invasion assessment of the army’s top general, Eric Shinseki, that several hundred thousand allied troops would be needed to stabilise Iraq.

In 2004, Mr Bush twice refused to accept Mr Rumsfeld’s offer to resign after photos surfaced of US personnel abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

The photos showed American troops smiling, laughing and giving thumbs up as prisoners were forced into sexually abusive and humiliating positions.

The scandal triggered global condemnation of the US.

He also faced allegations of the mistreatment and torture of detainees and foreign terrorism suspects at a prison set up under his tenure located at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld greets U.S. military personnel during a visit to the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad in 2004
Image:Mr Rumsfeld greets troops during a visit to the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad in 2004

Mr Rumsfeld is the only person to serve twice as Pentagon chief. The first time, in 1975-77, he was the youngest ever. The next time, in 2001-06, he was the oldest.

He made a brief run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, a spectacular flop he described as humbling for a man used to success at the highest levels of government, including stints as White House chief of staff, US ambassador, and member of Congress.

For all his achievements, it is the setbacks in Iraq in the twilight of his career that are likely to be the most vivid features of his legacy.

Not until November 2006, after Democrats gained control of Congress by riding a wave of anti-war sentiment, did Mr Bush finally decide Mr Rumsfeld had to go. He left office in December, replaced by Robert Gates.

Mr Rumsfeld is survived by his wife Joyce, three children and seven grandchildren.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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