Officials reiterate Rumsfeld support

Bush remains confident in him, spokesman says

GOP leaders give backing

December 20, 2004|By T. Christian Miller and Tyler Marshall | T. Christian Miller and Tyler Marshall,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Despite continued criticism of his handling of the war in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld won strong backing yesterday from the White House and key Republicans in Congress.

Responding to demands last week by some conservatives for Rumsfeld's resignation, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said President Bush fully supports his defense secretary.

"Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job, and the president has great confidence in him," Card said on ABC's This Week.

The White House show of support came as new criticism arose over reports that Rumsfeld had relied on an automated signature machine to sign letters sent to the families of soldiers killed in combat. In Iraq alone, more than 1,300 members of the military have died since the war began in March 2003.

On Friday, in a response to the armed services newspaper Stars and Stripes, Rumsfeld acknowledged that he had used the machines as a way to speed up his responses to the families of the dead. But he said he would now personally sign all such correspondence.

While Republican leaders were sharply critical yesterday of what Rumsfeld had done, few joined the call for him to step down.

"This is another area in which the secretary has been insensitive," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee, said on CBS' Face the Nation. "I don't think it goes to his leadership, but it does show a little insensitivity on his part that certainly needs to be corrected."

Even some Democrats on the Sunday talk shows appeared reluctant to add to calls for Rumsfeld's departure. Rumsfeld has weathered several previous campaigns seeking his resignation, including one after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

"I'm tired of talking about Rumsfeld," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on NBC's Meet the Press. "The only thing that bothers me about it is this arrogance of not acknowledging obvious mistakes."

The latest round of criticism erupted almost two weeks ago, after Rumsfeld, meeting with soldiers in Kuwait, told one concerned about the lack of armor for vehicles in Iraq: "You go to war with the army you have ... not the army you might want."

That brusque response became a rallying cry for conservative critics of Rumsfeld's strategy in Iraq. They have accused Rumsfeld of not planning for the lengthy occupation, of shortchanging the number of soldiers needed to quell the Iraqi insurgency and of bungling the country's rebuilding.

Rumsfeld's comment prompted Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, to say that he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld. That was followed by criticism from Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, who said Rumsfeld did not "listen enough to his uniformed officials."

But yesterday, Republican leaders rallied behind the embattled defense secretary. They acknowledged that he had made mistakes but played down suggestions that he should be replaced.

"We should not at this point in time entertain any idea of changing those responsibilities at the Pentagon," Sen. John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said on Meet the Press.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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