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thedrifter
04-19-06, 03:36 PM
Rumsfeld, on defense, gets praise every day
By David S. Cloud The New York Times
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 2006

WASHINGTON It has become a daily ritual, the defense of the defense secretary, complete with praise from serving generals, tributes from the president and, from the man on the spot, doses of charm, combativeness and even some humility.

A session on Tuesday was the third time in five days that Donald Rumsfeld has sought to make a public case to remain as defense secretary.

"There are no indispensable men," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.

But the Bush administration sought to drive home the message that Rumsfeld was not going anywhere, no matter what critics might desire.

Again, General Peter Pace of the U.S. Marines, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was at Rumsfeld's side, a visual prop to counter the message from a half-dozen or so retired generals that Rumsfeld should step down.

President George W. Bush, having defended Rumsfeld on Friday from Camp David, had appeared before the cameras hours earlier to make the case in person.

"I'm the decider, and I decide what's best," Bush said in the Rose Garden. "And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."

Such extended repeated public displays of self-defense are not the norm in Washington, where beleaguered officeholders usually seek to maintain the pretense that criticism does not matter. Those who do respond most often use surrogates to extol their virtues.

But the extraordinary parade of generals who have stepped forward to defend Rumsfeld includes a bevy of retired officers, including General Richard Myers of the air force, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and General Tommy Franks of the army, who commanded U.S. troops in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

On Tuesday, Rumsfeld summoned another group of retired officers for a closed meeting, ostensibly to brief them on Iraq, but clearly also to enlist their support when they appear on television.

Perhaps the most notable examples of damage control since the retired generals' complaints gathered force have come from Rumsfeld, who has appeared on Al Arabiya television, the Rush Limbaugh radio program and, twice, before television cameras at the Pentagon.

The appearances have been layered with the verbal flair, acerbic wit and defiant touches that Rumsfeld has made his trademark. But on Tuesday, there was also an uncharacteristic flash of humility - a twig, if not an olive branch - from a man better known for his combativeness.

Rumsfeld, who has said he offered to resign two times after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, said he was "not inclined to be instantaneously judgmental" about what his critics were now saying, a message that has included complaints that his headstrong style causes him to disregard much of what anyone in a uniform tells him.

"Because of the importance of these matters being discussed, I'd like to reflect on them a bit," Rumsfeld said.

Within minutes, though, he said the views of the six generals who have called for his resignation were hardly representative, noting that the nation's 6,000 or 7,000 retired generals and admirals were not "unanimous on anything."

At Rumsfeld's side, Pace added that soldiers in Iraq showed no discernible dissatisfaction with Rumsfeld. Pace said that General Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, had just been there and reported that he "got exactly zero questions about the leadership in the department."

The calls for Rumsfeld's resignation have abated since last week, when Bush asserted his authority as commander in chief to declare that Rumsfeld "has my full support and deepest appreciation."

The group that has called for the resignation includes two retired major generals who commanded troops in Iraq and a retired three-star general who was director of operations on the Joint Staff. Their comments have been criticized by other retired generals, who have said the group risks politicizing the armed forces.

A danger is that Republicans running in the November election will decide that Rumsfeld's continued presence in the cabinet could drag down their prospects and will urge Bush to dump him.

A Senate Republican aide said that despite expressions of support for Rumsfeld by some Republican senators, many other Congress members expressed deep concern privately.

"The nervousness here is with a figure as controversial as Rumsfeld at the head of a war that's declining in popularity, that becomes a real political problem for members who are up for re- election this fall," said the aide, who insisted on anonymity because he had been told not to discuss senators' private conversations.

With Congress in recess, the aide said, he knew of no organized effort among Senate Republicans to make their concerns public or to take them to the White House. But the aide said he expected discussions among senators to intensify when they returned next week.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting for this article.

Ellie