Others on Capitol Hill are not as pessimistic. Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.), an Air Force veteran who later served on the staff of the National Security Council in George H.W. Bush's administration, said that "over the last 10 days, I've seen the administration make the changes and commitments they need to make in order to be successful in the long term."
Wilson adds that her old comrades in the Air Force tend to like Rumsfeld's direct style, a sentiment that others in Congress second. Graham said, "I find him refreshing in a stiff-collared town. . . . He's the right guy at the right time."
Staff aides brief Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, second from right, before he arrives in Iraq earlier this month.
(Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway -- U.s. Air Force Via AP)
Likewise, said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), "I have immense regard for Don Rumsfeld and his staff."
Iraq has raised new doubts about Rumsfeld among some officers from the Army and Marines, the two services still operating there.
Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, a former head of the U.S. Central Command who also served the Bush administration as Middle East envoy, sharply criticized the Pentagon's handling of postwar Iraq in a speech before the U.S. Naval Institute and the Marine Corps Association 10 days ago. He received an enthusiastic response from hundreds of military officers present.
In the Army, there are deep worries that the Iraq occupation could do long-term damage to the service. Of the 10 active-duty Army divisions, nine will have all or parts deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan this year or next.
"The Army is strained and stressed," Gen. John Keane, the service's number two officer, said Thursday.
The major worry, according to some in the Army, is that repeated deployments to Iraq will persuade the backbone of the service -- seasoned sergeants and younger officers -- to leave in mid-career instead of serving a full 20 years. There already is talk that some of those now serving in Iraq will come home, only to be sent back in 2005.
"The last time we had people doing combat tours every other year was Vietnam," one defense expert said. "The impact on soldiers and families was great. A lot of good junior officers and mid-grade NCOs [noncommissioned officers] walked. This decimated the rising leadership and broke the force."
The state of the Army reserves is a special worry, and the reserves are adept at conveying that concern to Congress.
"Unless there's adaptation in the reserves, there's going to be a bloodletting," with thousands of reservists declining to reenlist, said Graham, who serves as an officer in the Air Force Reserve. He said he is introducing legislation -- along with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- to radically improve the health benefits for reservists, and to reduce the costs to civilian employers of reservists deployed overseas.
Rumsfeld's critics acknowledge that if conditions in Iraq improve in six months -- with a constitution signed, an election plan underway, U.S. casualties drastically reduced, and thousands of troops returning home -- Rumsfeld's legacy is probably secure. But they say that he has a track record of sticking too long with incorrect assumptions about the speed of recovery and brushing aside problems such as looting. Rumsfeld has resisted adding troops to the forces in Iraq on grounds they are not needed and that more responsibility must be turned over to the Iraqis.
So if parts of Iraq are still combat zones next spring, with the Army apparently mired in a seemingly never-ending fight, then Rumsfeld may wind up remembered as a principal architect of a foreign policy disaster, according to some military experts and lawmakers.
"He is absolutely convinced that he is right, that his view is correct, so all the rest of this stuff that is floating around is kind of noise, a lot of which he just dismisses out of hand, or he rationalizes somehow as consistent with this plan of his," White said.
Robert S. Gelbard, a former U.S. diplomat with experience in several peacekeeping operations, said he is puzzled by Rumsfeld's insistence that no additional troops are needed to improve security in Iraq. "What's hard to figure out is the continued adamant statements that there's no need for additional troops," he said. "That is utterly perplexing, given the security situation there."
The view among many in the administration, Congress and military interviewed for this article was that Iraq likely would simmer down in the coming months and that security conditions would improve, in part, they said, because of the extraordinary efforts by the 122,000 troops deployed there.
"I suspect he will be saved by the strong backs and the creativity of the Army soldiers in Iraq," one White House aide said. "And that's an incredible irony."