The Curtain Is Drawn On the Rumsfeld Era
Saturday, December 16, 2006
After a parade of military regalia and a 19-gun salute that echoed across the Potomac, Donald H. Rumsfeld stepped down yesterday as secretary of defense, delivering a warning to those who contemplate "graceful exits from the agonies and . . . ugliness of combat."
Surrounded on the Pentagon mall by the architects of the Iraq war -- from President Bush and Vice President Cheney to former deputy defense secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith -- Rumsfeld ended his six years in office with a forceful, even defiant, tone. "Our country has taken on a bracing and difficult task. But let there be no doubt: It is neither hopeless nor without purpose," he said.
Still, his voice grew deep and cracked as he concluded that, upon leaving, "I will remember the fallen." And asked by a reporter what his greatest regret was, Rumsfeld replied it was that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have not ended more swiftly. "It's taken longer than people had anticipated, it's more difficult," he said in an interview yesterday on Fox News.
But even as Rumsfeld issued the last of his infamous and prolific memos known as "snowflakes," inside the Pentagon officials were preparing for what some called a new era of opportunity -- even glasnost -- created by his departure.
"There's Old Europe, and then there's New Europe," one senior Pentagon official quipped -- paraphrasing one of Rumsfeld's more notorious remarks to describe the hope for change under the incoming defense secretary, former CIA director Robert M. Gates, who is to be sworn in on Monday.
Above all, Rumsfeld's resignation -- which came a day after Republicans lost control of Congress on Nov. 7 in elections widely viewed as a referendum on the Iraq war -- opens the door for a more candid assessment of the Pentagon's mistakes in Iraq and for alternative military strategies, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak on the record.
Rumsfeld had "pretty rocky relations with the Congress," said one senior military official, so with Gates's arrival "there is an opportunity for relations with Congress to change."
Army officials hope that Gates will be more receptive to their initiatives to increase the Army's manpower, budget and access to the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. "Rumsfeld came into office with the idea that the Army needed to be smaller. Do you think that idea has changed?" asked another senior military official.
Army officials are still bitter over Rumsfeld's public repudiation of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, who predicted in early 2003 that it would require several hundred thousand U.S. troops to effectively stabilize Iraq. Rumsfeld later declined to attend Shinseki's retirement ceremony in June 2003, when Shinseki issued a warning clearly directed at the Pentagon leader: "Beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division Army," he said.
Yesterday, at least one official cited the perceived snub to Shinseki as the reason for not attending Rumsfeld's farewell.
Still, other officers cautioned that because Gates will be surrounded by the same advisers and administration officials that Rumsfeld was, the change may well be less dramatic than anticipated.
Indeed, at yesterday's ceremony, Bush, Cheney and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were effusive in their praise of Rumsfeld and his service.