Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dies at the age of 88
Rumsfeld served as secretary of Defense under both Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.
Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of Defense under both Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, has died. He was 88.
Rumsfeld passed away surrounded by relatives in Taos, N.M., his family said in a statement. The cause was multiple myeloma, a family spokesperson confirmed.
“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,” the family said in the statement.
Rumsfeld graduated from Princeton University in 1954 with a degree in political science and went on to serve in the Navy for three years. The Illinois native launched a campaign for Congress in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, winning in 1962 at the age of 30. He was a leading co-sponsor of the Freedom of Information Act.
He served under several presidents. He was appointed to the Office of Economic Opportunity by President Richard Nixon in 1969. He also headed Nixon’s Economic Stabilization Program before being appointed as ambassador to NATO.
In 1974, Rumsfeld returned to Washington to serve as President Ford’s chief of staff. When Ford later appointed him secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld recruited Dick Cheney, his young former staffer and a staunch ally, to take over his role.
Rumsfeld holds the distinction of serving two non-consecutive terms as head of the Defense Department, as he was later appointed again in 2001 by President Bush.
As Bush’s Defense secretary in 2001, Rumsfeld played a central role in the planning and execution of the initial push into Afghanistan, and the shift in focus from fighting al Qaeda there, to the massive invasion of Iraq in 2003.
A consummate Washington insider, Rumsfeld was adept at playing the bureaucracy, but at the Pentagon he became infamous for issuing hundreds of “snowflakes,” short directives and memos across the department that contained everything from direct orders to musings on press conference etiquette and complaints that career officials were slowing him down.
He walked in the front door of the Pentagon with his eyes firmly fixed on what he envisioned would be a historical modernization of the department, and a sweeping upgrade of the weapons the military takes into combat. But the Sept. 11 attacks and the beginning of two wars — only now ending for U.S. troops — frustrated his ambitions.
His push to find and fund new weapons and build high-tech information systems in part led him to push for a smaller invasion force in Iraq than some military planners called for, and he attempted to curtail the U.S. force there in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, with long-term effects on the war effort.
The abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, were among some of the most consequential controversies of his tenure.