White House Defends Rumsfeld's Tenure

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 2006

The White House came to the aid of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday, rebuffing calls from several retired generals for his resignation and crediting him with leading the Pentagon through two wars and a transformation of the military.

"The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said at a briefing. He went on to read long quotations from the nation's top military officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, praising Rumsfeld's dedication and patriotism.

The defense of Rumsfeld is a perennial exercise for the White House whenever a fresh round of Rumsfeld-must-go demands arise on Capitol Hill or elsewhere in Washington. The difference this time is that those insisting that the secretary should step down are recently retired flag officers who appear to reflect widespread sentiment among people still in uniform.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded a division in Iraq, on Wednesday became the latest former top commander to speak out against what he and others call the secretary's authoritarian style. The others include retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops; and retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who was chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq.

President Bush made no comment on Rumsfeld yesterday, and he tried to direct Washington's focus to his economic program. In a speech to a small-business conference, he called on Congress to renew his tax cuts, pass his health-care plans and give him a line-item veto over spending.

He also renewed his attack on Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), accusing him of blocking a Senate compromise on immigration last week with "a procedural gimmick that meant he was single-handedly thwarting the will of the American people." Bush added: "It's time to set aside needless partisan politics and focus on what's right for the United States."

Reid has blamed a raft of what he calls punitive amendments offered by conservative Republicans. "President Bush has as much credibility on immigration as he does on Iraq and national security," Reid said yesterday. He called on Bush to find "the backbone to stop the extreme elements of the Republican Party from blocking improvements to America's security."

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