Former President Ford Defends Rumsfeld, Who Was Chief Aide

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 22, 2006

Former president Gerald R. Ford offered public praise yesterday for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, criticizing a group of retired generals who have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.

Ford, a Republican, wrote to defend Rumsfeld, who served as chief of staff in Ford's White House and as his defense secretary from 1975 to 1977. Over the past two weeks, retired generals have been speaking out against Rumsfeld amid claims that he has ignored his military leadership and failed to properly plan and execute the war in Iraq.

"I have been extremely troubled by the efforts of a group of retired generals to force the resignation of our Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld," Ford, 92, wrote. "President Bush is right to keep him in his post. It is the President's decision -- and his alone."

Ford wrote that retired generals should not decide the nation's war policies and leadership lest it set "a dangerous precedent that would severely undermine our country's long tradition of civilian control of the military."

"It would discourage civilian leaders at the department from having frank and candid exchanges with military officers," Ford wrote. "And, today, at a time of war, such an effort sends exactly the wrong message both to our troops deployed abroad and to our enemies who are watching for any signs of weakness or self-doubt."

The retired generals, including some who have recently served as commanders in Iraq, have caused a stir because it is rare for such a group to speak out against a sitting defense secretary. Military historians believe the lessons of Vietnam have caused some general officers to speak out during the Iraq war.

So far, active-duty officers have not complained about Rumsfeld, an act that could be considered a breach of military law. Top military leaders, including Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have come to Rumsfeld's defense and have said that he has been open to hearing from his generals about their concerns.

Rumsfeld has said he will not resign, and Bush has said he has strong confidence in his defense secretary.

Ford, in his letter, said he trusted Rumsfeld -- then the youngest defense secretary in U.S. history -- and admired his "creativity, vision and courage." He said Bush took office with an ambitious agenda to modernize America's military, and that Rumsfeld was a good choice to carry that out.

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