Rumsfeld deflects criticism of his tenure at Pentagon


WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested yesterday that recent criticism from retired senior officers stemmed from long-standing disagreements over modernizing the U.S. military, saying that a series of organizational shake-ups has provoked antagonism within the armed forces.

Rumsfeld refused to directly address the attacks on his handling of the Iraq war from the retired generals, six of whom have called for him to resign, saying he wanted to "let a little time walk over it" so he could reflect on the accusations.

Instead, he detailed reforms he has instituted since becoming President Bush's Pentagon chief - such as canceling the Army's prized Crusader battlefield howitzer and reaching into the ranks of retired officers to select Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker to become the new Army chief of staff - that have rankled military leaders, particularly in the Army.

"Every one of those changes that I just described has met resistance," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference. "People like things the way they are, and so when you make a change like that, somebody's not going to like it."

Rumsfeld again received strong backing from the president, who followed a rare written statement of support last week with a vigorous endorsement yesterday from the Rose Garden in which he said he did not "appreciate the speculation" about Rumsfeld's future.

"I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation," Bush said, his voice rising with emotion. "But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best, and what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."

Bush agreed that Rumsfeld has faced resistance to proposals to "transform" the military and noted that Rumsfeld has tried to push through changes even as he manages the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But none of the retired generals who have called for Rumsfeld's resignation has mentioned the administration's military transformation agenda. Five of the generals have either commanded forces in Iraq or been directly involved in formulating military plans for dealing with Iraq, and all have cited Rumsfeld's management of the war as the reason for calling on him to step down.

Rumsfeld said yesterday that he did not intend to offer Bush his resignation. He has acknowledged offering his resignation twice before in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

"The president knows, as I know, that there are no indispensable men," Rumsfeld said. "He knows that I serve at his pleasure, and that's that."

Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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