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Bush Expresses Strong Support for Rumsfeld Amid Criticism

President Bush is backing his defense secretary, amid mounting criticism from retired generals calling for the secretary to resign.

It has been a long week for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as six retired generals have now come forward calling for his resignation. Three of the generals commanded troops in Iraq under Rumsfeld.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya television, the defense secretary dismissed that criticism, saying he serves at the pleasure of the president.

"Obviously, if, 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," he said.

President Bush spoke with Rumsfeld Friday morning, and reiterated his strong support for his leadership during what the president calls historic and challenging times for the nation.

In a written statement of support for his embattled defense secretary, Mr. Bush says he has seen first hand how Rumsfeld relies on military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how best to complete difficult missions.

The president says Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period, and he has the commander-in-chief's full support and deepest appreciation.

Rumsfeld offered to resign two years ago, following the scandal over U.S. mistreatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. President Bush refused to accept that resignation. White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says he is not aware of any recent offer by Rumsfeld to step down.

The defense secretary still enjoys the public support of officers in uniform, and says the current top two commanders of U.S. forces in Iraq, General John Abizaid and General George Casey, are best placed to judge his leadership. Those generals, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace all say they back Rumsfeld.

Much of the retired-military criticism centers on Rumsfeld's management style, and his direction of the war in Iraq, a campaign that he initially said required far fewer troops than some uniformed officers recommended.

One month before the 2001 invasion, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki told Congress that taking and holding Iraq could require several hundred-thousand troops. That estimate was dismissed by Pentagon officials, and General Shinseki was retired.

There are now more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, boosting patrols in Baghdad to stem sectarian violence.