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Donald Rumsfeld, the longtime military thinker and Washington powerbroker who served twice as secretary of defense, has died. He was 88 years old.
Rumsfeld’s family confirmed his death in a Twitter post.
“It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. At 88, he was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico,” the statement read.
“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.”
Rumsfeld holds the distinction of being both the youngest and oldest person to serve at helm of the Defense Department.
Notoriously hawkish and a child of the neoconservative movement that found considerable momentum in the George W. Bush White House, Rumsfeld is perhaps best remembered as one of the key architects of the decades-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His post-9/11 strategy has become one of the hallmarks of U.S. foreign policy, and the bloody trail left in the wake of the 2000s invasions have left some to remember him as a skilled statesmen, while others have blamed these interventions as responsible for destabilizing the region and roping American soldiers into seemingly endless war.
As the Iraq War raged, U.S. troops became embroiled in a scandal involving the harsh treatment of Iraqi prisoners in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. Rumsfeld subsequently said he offered to quit twice during that period, but that Bush “made that decision and said he did want me to stay on.”
His position on the treatment of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay also drew scrutiny — and criticism. A memo that detailed how interrogators at the prison camp forced prisoners to stand for 4 hours at a time, bore this handwritten note from Rumsfeld: “I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing [by prisoners] limited to 4 hours? D.R.”
Bush, under whom Rumsfeld served his second defense term, eulogized his longtime ally on Wednesday.
“On the morning of September 11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld ran to the fire at the Pentagon to assist the wounded and ensure the safety of survivors. For the next five years, he was in steady service as a wartime secretary of defense — a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor,” Bush said in a statement.
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“In a busy and purposeful life, Don Rumsfeld was a Naval officer, a member of Congress, a distinguished cabinet official in several administrations, a respected business leader — and, with his beloved wife, the co-founder of a charitable foundation. Later in life, he even became an app developer. All his life, he was good-humored and big-hearted, and he treasured his family above all else. Laura and I are very sorry to learn of Don’s passing, and we send our deepest sympathy to Joyce and their children. We mourn an exemplary public servant and a very good man.”
Rumsfeld resigned as defense secretary in 2006 as Americans expressed outrage over the Iraq War, which was fast becoming a foreign policy liability for the Bush administration.
Rumsfeld largely stood by his actions, though, in his 2011 memoir and in his farewell remarks to the Pentagon in 2006.
“A conclusion by our enemies that the United States lacks the will or the resolve to carry out our missions that demand sacrifice and demand patience is every bit as dangerous as an imbalance of conventional military power,” he said. “It may well be comforting to some to consider graceful exits from the agonies and, indeed, the ugliness of combat. But the enemy thinks differently.”