U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday he is not considering submitting his resignation, following demands that he do so from several retired U.S. military generals for alleged failures in planning and carrying out the war in Iraq. The secretary's comments came several hours after he had received a ringing public endorsement from President Bush.
Secretary Rumsfeld answered simply "No" when asked whether he is considering resigning following the flood of criticism by the former generals. Answering the first question at a news conference, he gave a 10-minute defense of his record, listing numerous accomplishments and military reforms but not discussing the war in Iraq directly. At one point, he compared the current dissatisfaction with some of his decisions to a controversial decision he made during his previous tenure as defense secretary 30 years ago.
"The people involved were good people," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "And there were differences of views. And somebody needed to make a decision. And the person who was appointed by the president, who was elected by the people, and then confirmed by the Senate as secretary of defense has to make those kinds of decisions. And when you make a decision, you make a choice, somebody's not going to like it."
The secretary suggested that part of the criticism from the retired generals is based on their disagreement with some of his reforms. But he declined to respond directly to criticism that there was insufficient planning for the post-war period in Iraq and that he has made a series of bad strategic decisions that should result in his resignation.
Secretary Rumsfeld spoke shortly after President Bush had given him a strong public endorsement in an exchange with reporters at the White House.
"Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job," said Mr. Bush. "He is not only transforming the military, he is fighting a war on terror. He is helping us fight a war on terror. I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices. And I read the front page. And I know the speculation. But I am the decider. And I decide what is best. And what is best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the Secretary of Defense."
On Friday, President Bush issued a written statement defending Secretary Rumsfeld, expressing his "full support" for what he called the secretary's "energetic and steady leadership."
Some of the recent criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld has come from retired generals who held senior positions in the Pentagon and key field commands during the Iraq war. Among them is retired Army Major General John Batiste, who commanded an infantry division in Iraq as recently as last year. Secretary Rumsfeld was reportedly so satisfied with his service that he offered the general a promotion and the number two position in the U.S. command in Iraq. Instead, General Batiste retired and recently began publicly criticizing Secretary Rumsfeld, including during a VOA interview on Monday.
"With all that we're going to be required to do in the future as a nation, it seems to me it's time to hold people accountable, figure out what we did wrong so we don't repeat our mistakes, and then move on with new leadership, leadership that we trust that doesn't have a dismal track record with strategic decisions," said General Batiste.
At Secretary Rumsfeld's news conference on Tuesday, he was joined as usual by the senior U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace. The general, who has been deeply involved in many key decisions on military reform and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars during the last five years, was critical of the retired generals who have spoken out in recent days, and defended the Pentagon's decision-making process, led by Secretary Rumsfeld.
"There are multiple opportunities for all of us, whatever opinions we have, to put them on the table," said General Pace. "And all the opinions are put on the table. But at the end of the day, after we've given our best military advice, somebody has to make a decision. And when a decision is made by the secretary of defense, unless it's illegal or immoral, we go on about doing what we've been told. It's important for the American people to understand how this dialogue takes place, that they understand that decisions are not made in a vacuum, and that all of us who you trust with the lives of your sons and daughters -- you trust us -- that we are going to speak our minds as we should to the leadership so that they can make decisions based on as much knowledge as possible."
General Pace also disputed a reporter's suggestion that the critical retired generals reflect wider dissatisfaction in the active officer corps. He said recent contacts he and other top commanders have had with officers in the field have turned up no criticism of the secretary, and a determination to continue their missions to a successful conclusion.