Donald Rumsfeld, the only man in U.S. history to be Secretary of Defense twice, passed away June 29 at his home in Taos, NM. According to his former chief of staff, Keith Urbahn, the cause of death was multiple myeloma. Though the 88-year-old statesman was best known on the national stage for his time as President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, that wasn’t even his first time in the office – never mind the beginning of his political career.
Born July 9, 1932, Donald Henry Rumsfeld was the son of George Donald Rumsfeld and Jeannette Kearsley. He grew up in Winnetka, IL, not far from Chicago. Donald graduated from Princeton University with a degree in politics and joined the Navy shortly thereafter, where he served as an aviator and flight instructor.
After leaving active duty in 1957, he worked as an administrative assistant to Rep. David S. Dennison, Jr. of Ohio. In 1962, at age 30, Rumsfeld won a congressional seat all his own. Winning four consecutive elections, he served the 13th congressional district of Illinois for six years, all the while remaining on reserve duty with the Navy, which he didn’t leave until 1989. As a congressman, Rumsfeld was a lead co-sponsor of the Freedom of Information Act. He was also the one who first suggested Gerald Ford as the new leader of House Republicans in 1965 – would Ford have ever made president without him?
In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed Rumsfeld director of the Office of Economic Opportunity – a position Rumsfeld initially declined, as he had opposed the office’s creation to begin with. He spent a year in the office, however, then filled a handful of administration roles, from Counselor to the President to U.S. Ambassador to NATO.
From 1974 to 1975, Rumsfeld was White House Chief of Staff under President Ford, the first of two major roles he held under his old congressional colleague. When Rumsfeld first served as Secretary of Defense under President Ford at age 43, he became the youngest to hold the title. When he served once again at age 69 in 2001 under President Bush, he became the oldest – a unique pair of records he held until Obama-appointee Leon Panetta took the job in 2011. To date, only Rumsfeld ever held that title twice.
Rumsfeld oversaw the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq after the terror attack of September 11, 2001, and his second stint as Defense Secretary brought Rumsfeld detractors as well as supporters. He was, to those who shared his beliefs, the Pentagon’s greatest leader; to those who did not, he was, perhaps, the worst.
Dave Patterson, who often writes for Liberty Nation, served as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Comptroller under Rumsfeld, and shares a personal experience:
“Meetings with Secretary Rumsfeld were a tutorial on how to get the most from the very senior defense staff. He put Rumsfeld’s Rules into action. The one I believe served him well was ‘Your best question is often why?’
Don Rumsfeld’s interaction with the press was always instructive. He followed to the letter one of his Rumsfeld’s Rules: ‘Don’t accept an inaccurate premise in a question. Rephrase it if necessary.’
Secretary Rumsfeld was thoughtful, decent, and fair and a little scratchy with his generals, particularly if he asked them a question about something for which they were responsible and the answer was ‘not satisfying.’ When you were briefing him, he wanted complete sentences – and why not?
As I was leaving a staff meeting, Secretary Rumsfeld stopped me and handed me a memo and asked, ‘can you tell me what this means?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ I replied and explained the memo. He asked me, ‘you got that from this?’ My response: ‘Yes sir I did, but I have an advantage, since I wrote the memo, but I’ll never write a confusing memo again as long as I live.’ He looked at me with his little smile and said, ‘see that you don’t.’”
As for those who didn’t like him, Dave’s own experience is that simply meant they didn’t know him well enough – or simply failed to perform.
Read more from James Fite.
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