Bush rejects call by six generals to fire Rumsfeld
The retired officers have accused the defense secretary of mishandling the Iraq war.
WASHINGTON -- Pulling rank, President Bush on Friday rebuffed recommendations from a growing number of retired generals that he replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "He has my full support," said the commander in chief.
Bush said Rumsfeld's stewardship at the Pentagon was crucial for the United States.
"Earlier today, I spoke with Don Rumsfeld about ongoing military operations in the global war on terror," the president said. "I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our nation."
Bush's strong endorsement, conveyed in a statement released by the White House while Bush was at Camp David, Md., for the weekend, appeared designed to blunt a rising clamor from within the ranks of retired commanders for Rumsfeld's ouster.
Six retired generals have called for Rumsfeld to resign, accusing him of mishandling the Iraq war, ignoring advice of field commanders and having an arrogant management style.
Rumsfeld has rejected all such calls, while noting that Bush had twice turned down his offers to resign.
Meanwhile, in an interview aired Friday on Al-Arabiya television, Rumsfeld said he intended to continue serving.
"The fact that two or three or four retired people have different views, I respect their views," Rumsfeld said. "But 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."
A senior administration official said Bush considered a formal statement was warranted given the "type of voices" engaged in the most recent criticism of Rumsfeld. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to more freely elaborate on White House thinking.
Similar statements were not likely to be forthcoming for other officials whose jobs are viewed to be in potential trouble, such as Treasury Secretary John Snow, the official said.
Joshua Bolten took over from retiring Andy Card on Friday as White House chief of staff, and several administration personnel changes were widely anticipated, perhaps as early as next week.
The timing of Bush's statement on Rumsfeld seemed designed to tamp down speculation, particularly in Sunday newspapers and on weekend television news shows, that Rumsfeld might be on his way out.
Bush's statement also appeared directed at criticism from some of the retired generals that Rumsfeld ignored military recommendations from his commanders on missions in Iraq and in the broader war on terrorism.
"I have seen firsthand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how to best complete these missions," Bush said. "Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this period.
"He has my full support and deepest appreciation."
One of those calling for Rumsfeld's replacement, retired Gen. John Batiste, earlier Friday called the recent series of critical statements "absolutely coincidental" and said he did not know of any coordinated effort to discredit the defense secretary.
"I have not talked to the other generals," Batiste, interviewed from Rochester, N.Y., said on NBC's "Today" show.
Nevertheless, he said he thinks the clamor for Rumsfeld to step down is "happening for a reason."
Batiste said he retired rather than accept a promotion to lieutenant general because he could not accept Rumsfeld's management style.
Separately, Batiste told interviewers on CBS's "The Early Show," that he had served under a defense Secretary "who didn't understand leadership, who was abusive, who was arrogant, and who didn't build a strong team."
Also calling for Rumsfeld to resign were retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold.