Donald Rumsfeld, Architect of Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, Dies at 88

July 1, 2021James R. Webb
Donald Rumsfeld obituary

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talks to members of the Air Force’s 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Logistical Support Area Anaconda, in Balad, Iraq, Dec. 9, 2006. Rumsfeld died June 30, 2021, at the age of 88. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandra Hays, courtesy of DVIDS.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld died Wednesday in Taos, New Mexico, according to a statement released by his family. The 88-year-old, who was in charge of the Pentagon when the Global War on Terror began on Sept. 11, 2001, was surrounded by family at the time of his death. 

Rumsfeld served as the 21st secretary of defense under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. It was his second stint as defense chief, and though he joined in peacetime, Rumsfeld quickly found himself planning and overseeing the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He was recognized as a demanding but effective boss and was well known for his spirited engagements with the press, such as in the following video. 

Rumsfeld spent the early portion of his professional life in public service. After graduating from Princeton University in 1954, Rumsfeld served in the US Navy until 1957 as an aviator and flight instructor. He then quickly found a position on Capitol Hill as an administrative assistant for a congressman before being elected to Congress himself in 1962.

After leaving Congress in 1969, Rumsfeld joined the Nixon administration and was eventually appointed the US ambassador to NATO from 1973 to 1974. In 1974, President Gerald Ford made Rumsfeld his White House chief of staff, and in 1975, Ford made Rumsfeld the 13th secretary of defense. At 43, he was the youngest to ever hold the position.

From 1977 until he returned as the 21st secretary of defense in January 2001, Rumsfeld was the CEO of two different Fortune 500 companies.

In his second stint at the Pentagon under George W. Bush, he arrived with a corporate-honed sense of efficiency, which Bush — also a businessman — believed was needed at the Pentagon after a two-decade spell of post-Cold War peace among so-called great power nations. That changed on 9/11, which forced Rumsfeld to reorient the Pentagon from large wars to small ones, from nation-state enemies to terrorism and ideology, from overwhelming force to counterinsurgency.

In his memoir, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton said this of Rumsfeld’s tenure at the Pentagon: “It was the worst style of leadership I witnessed in 38 years of service or have witnessed at the highest levels of the corporate world since then.” Rumsfeld has been publicly rebuked by several other generals who worked for him in Iraq and at the Pentagon, including retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, retired Maj. Gen. John Riggs, retired Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr., retired Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, and retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton. Notably, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, director of operations for the Joint Staff in 2002, publicly called for Rumsfeld’s resignation in 2006, writing in Time magazine that the decision to invade Iraq “was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions–or bury the results.”

Rumsfeld’s family’s statement, on the other hand, spoke of him in quite a different tone: “History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country.”

Read Next: Did a Billionaire Just Rent the South Dakota National Guard? It Sure Looks Like It

James R. Webb
James R. Webb

James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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