Donald Rumsfeld Dead At 88: Former Defense Secretary At Helm Of Iraq, Afghanistan Wars

Donald Rumsfeld Dead At 88: Former Defense Secretary At Helm Of Iraq, Afghanistan Wars

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Donald Rumsfeld, who charted an impressive Washington career serving under four presidents but whose legacy largely was defined by his controversial tenure as defense secretary during the Iraq War, has died, his family announced Wednesday. He was 88. 

Rumsfeld, a confident adviser to power with a trenchant style that made him admirers as well as enemies, had a long and winding career in public life that spanned five decades. He had been a congressman and a White House chief of staff, and had a successful corporate career, too. But it was his second term as secretary of defense from 2001 to 2006 – during the most tumultuous period of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – for which he is most known.  

“It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather,” Rumsfeld’s family said in a statement. “At 88, he was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico. 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.”

While his time as President Gerald Ford’s defense secretary was dominated by lofty management challenges regarding the direction of America’s changing military, his role under President George W. Bush was quite different — and set in an instant.  

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Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, at the Pentagon March 7, 2006 in Arlington, Virginia.   (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

On 9/11, just months into the Bush presidency, Rumsfeld was in his office in the E-Ring at the Pentagon. While monitoring the attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan, the Pentagon was hit with a third hijacked plane. 

“I went outside and there were little pieces of metal spread all over the grass, and the smoke was billowing up, and the flame was very visible and leaping out of the building,” he once described.  

After the attacks, Rumsfeld was part of a senior-level effort, which also included Vice President Dick Cheney, to marshal war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But then their sights were turned to Iraq, where he and others insisted Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. During the beginning of the war, his off-the-cuff and sometimes acerbic style made the press conferences events in themselves. He rode a wave of popularity and never conceded that the war was not going as well as his press people were saying publicly. 

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But then things started to go wrong — abuse of detainees by U.S. soldiers was exposed in the Abu Ghraib prison in 2004.  

Rumsfeld started to get the blame for the war going south; critics said the number of troops for the post-invasion wasn’t enough and the post-invasion plans inadequate.  

When asked by a young soldier at a town meeting when they would get more armored vehicles, Rumsfeld famously said, “As you know, you go to war with the army you have — not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”  

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