- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a bittersweet farewell yesterday to Pentagon workers, spoke of “miracles” his personnel performed during his tenure, including liberating Iraq and Afghanistan, deploying the first missile defense, creating a new homeland defense command and expanding the number of covert warriors.

“The institution is important well beyond those who temporarily serve here,” said Mr. Rumsfeld, who first served as secretary during the Cold War and leaves the building for a second time on Dec. 18. “Each of you here in this room … have played a part in one or more of these accomplishments.”

“This is our last town hall meeting with our secretary,” is how Marine Gen. Peter Pace, whom Mr. Rumsfeld picked as Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman and then as chairman, started the proceedings.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s stage was a Pentagon auditorium packed with military personnel and civilians who greeted their leader with enthusiastic applause. The defense secretary, pilloried by critics for what they consider a botched war plan in Iraq, was forced to resign Nov. 8 and will say his final farewell on Friday. Defense Secretary-designate Robert M. Gates will be sworn in by President Bush on Dec. 18.

On this day, Mr. Rumsfeld basked in the adulation and repaid tributes.

“This is not a question,” said one Pentagon staffer during a question-and-answer session. “It’s simply a chance to say thank you.”

He recalled the time his daughter’s dance troupe came to the Pentagon and Mr. Rumsfeld took time out to talk to the 30 young persons. Five ended up joining the military. “You had a profound effect on the young members of that troupe and on our country,” the admiral said.

Mr. Rumsfeld told the audience: “I leave office very proud to have served with your, inspired by your dedication, by your patriotism and by your sacrifice, and we recognize that sacrifice.

Mr. Rumsfeld will surely go down in history as one of the country’s most important defense secretaries. He came into officer under orders from Mr. Bush to transform the armed forces to better fight new threats — including terrorists. Little did he know at his Jan. 20, 2001, swearing in that the battle would come in just eight months when al Qaeda terrorists flew airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

A workaholic, Mr. Rumsfeld created the first homeland defense command, reorganized the Army into more agile combat brigade teams, empowered and increased special operations forces, canceled major weapon systems as outdated and pushed the Pentagon deeper into the black-bag world of intelligence and counterterrorism. He pressed commanders to fight lighter and faster, relying more on intelligence and precision bombing.

After the September 11, 2001, attack, his popularity soared. America saw a tough-talking leader who said he would be more than willing to have his troops kill terrorists. But the muddled war in Iraq, now in its fourth year, sank his likability in Congress and the nation. Critics said his style of fighting left too few troops in Iraq who were unprepared for an insurgency that has tossed that country into the throes of sectarian violence.

Yesterday, he invoked two events to illustrate his roller-coaster tenure: the inauguration of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, after U.S. troops ousted the Taliban; and being “stunned by the news” of detainee abuses by American soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

“Clearly the worst day was Abu Ghraib,” he said. The scandal incited the political left to castigate American forces as well as Mr. Rumsfeld, who was labeled a torturer.

“I remember the irresponsible comments by some who tried to sully the image of the courageous and dedicated men and women in uniform who keep the American people safe,” he said, feisty to the end.

He also addressed the American people, whose support for the Iraq war has dropped sharply as the count of U.S. dead exceeds 2,900.

“Just take Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Mr. Rumsfeld, 74, who served first as defense secretary from 1975 to 1977 under President Ford. “The military can’t lose. They can’t lose a battle let alone a war over there. But they also can’t win because it is not a conventional conflict. There isn’t an army, a navy or an air force to go defeat. It takes political and economic activity. … And that takes patience and we have to understand that as a society, as a people and not be impatient.”

He quoted a wounded soldier at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as telling him, “If only the American people will give us the time, we can do this. We’re getting it done.”

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