- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2006

The commander in chief and the U.S. armed forces joined to bid farewell yesterday to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with a precision-timed 60 minutes of laudatory speeches, honor guard spit and polish and patriotic music.

Mr. Rumsfeld, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, the three civilians leaders who crafted the get-tough approach to al Qaeda and dictatorships in Afghanistan and Iraq, emerged from the Pentagon Mall Entrance and walked in lock step across the parade ground. A crowd of Pentagon workers and former and current officials applauded as the trio joined Gen. Peter Pace, whom Mr. Rumsfeld picked as the first Marine to serve as Joint Chiefs chairman.

“The record of Don Rumsfeld’s tenure is clear,” Mr. Bush said. “There has been more profound change at the Department of Defense over the past six years than at any time since the department’s creation in the late 1940s. And these changes were not easy.”

It was the president who ended Mr. Rumsfeld’s six-year tenure prematurely over the bogged-down war in Iraq. Mr. Bush, with Mr. Rumsfeld at his side, announced the resignation at the White House the day after Republicans lost the Nov. 7 midterm elections. Conservative pundits criticized the president for appearing to make Mr. Rumsfeld, his loyal and determined war secretary, a scapegoat for losing the House and Senate.

Mr. Bush said he wanted a “fresh perspective” on a war that has cost more than 2,900 American lives and descended into a bloodbath of sectarian killings of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, with al Qaeda fighters adding to the carnage.

The president tapped former CIA Director Robert M. Gates, who will be sworn in Monday, as the nation’s 22nd defense secretary. Later next week, Mr. Gates will head to Iraq for a firsthand appraisal. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearings he could not endorse any recommendations for action in Iraq until he goes to Baghdad and consults with field commanders.

A Rumsfeld aide commented after yesterday’s ceremony, “I’m glad he’s leaving now. The next two years won’t be any fun.” It was a reference to Democrats’ plans to investigate and hold hearings on all facets of the war on terrorism, including Iraq and the treatment of detainees.

But for this moment, Mr. Rumsfeld stood as a hero, the administration’s symbol of American will to defeat al Qaeda and the executor of the president’s order to transform the military for 21st-century threats, namely terrorism.

Mr. Cheney, a close, longtime friend whom Mr. Rumsfeld hired as an aide in the Nixon administration and brought to the Ford White House as deputy chief of staff, spoke of his storied workaholic days — and nights.

“Don was the toughest boss I had ever had,” Mr. Cheney said. “And apparently he does not sleep.”

He added, “Donald Rumsfeld is the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had.”

Mr. Bush ticked off the defense secretary’s major moves, such as creating Northern Command to defend the homeland, elevating Special Operations Command to the status of war-planner and war-maker, and repositioning air, ground and sea forces around the globe.

“All and all not bad for a fellow who calls himself an old, broken-down Navy pilot,” said the president, referring to Mr. Rumsfeld’s service after graduating from Princeton University.

Mr. Rumsfeld used his final time at a Pentagon podium not to talk so much about his tenure but about the future. He warned against complacency among U.S. allies in confronting extremists. He noted that friendly nations are decreasing arms spending as a share of gross domestic product as the U.S. is increasing defense budgets.

In an apparent reference to polls that show sagging public support for the Iraq war, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “America’s enemies should not confuse the American people’s distaste of war, which is real and which is understandable, with a reluctance to defend our way of life.”

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