With Bush's Support, Rumsfeld Says He'll Stay
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
BLOCK: While President Bush was strongly endorsing Secretary Rumsfeld at the White House, Rumsfeld, himself, was circumspect at a Pentagon briefing today. He told reporters that he was not ready to publicly answer his critics.
Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Secretary of Defense): You know, I've--I've been hearing about all of this and I kind of would prefer to let a little time walk over it.
BLOCK: Joining us to talk more about what Rumsfeld had to say is NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. And Tom, this, we should mention, is the first briefing that Secretary Rumsfeld has had since six retired generals called for his resignation.
TOM BOWMAN reporting:
That's right and he really didn't address any of their specific concerns. These generals have some common themes, and one is that there were not enough U.S. troops in Iraq. Another is there was a lack of international support and their also saying that the decision to disband the Iraqi army was among the biggest blunders. But Rumsfeld didn't address any of these specific concerns. He again said, let some time pass. Then he later said, perhaps historians or analysts can discuss this at a later time.
BLOCK: Well, if he wasn't taking on those criticisms from the retired generals, what did he talk about at this briefing today?
BOWMAN: Well, it's interesting. He shifted the debate by talking about his accomplishments over the past five years. He talked about, for example, reform of NATO, closing military bases. He talked about the creation of the U.S. military's northern command in Colorado which oversees homeland security. But none of the eight or so items that he addressed had anything to do with Iraq.
Now he also said that, you know, 30 years ago when he was defense secretary, he talked a little bit about the creation of the Abrams tank and how the generals wanted some designs of the tank that he didn't agree with. He prevailed and the tank has served this nation well since then. And he also suggested that there are probably sour grapes here. He noted that he reached into the retired ranks to select a new Army Chief of Staff, Peter Schumacher and that also the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace, is the first marine to hold that job.
BLOCK: So he was looking back historically to his first term during the Ford administration, the example from that and what he learned?
BOWMAN: That's exactly right. And he also said that there were few officers that were coming out criticizing him. There are six officers now and he noted that there are thousands of retired officers out there, so he really tried to minimize the criticism without really addressing it.
BLOCK: Tom, there was another meeting at the Pentagon today with Secretary Rumsfeld. This was a meeting behind closed doors. It included retired officers and defense analysts. What was going on there?
BOWMAN: Well, every once in a while, they have these analysts and retired officers into the Pentagon. This time it was more pointed about the criticism of Rumsfeld. For example, they were being told how many times Rumsfeld has met with combat commanders, staff officers at the Pentagon, over the past several years--the number of times. And also they were going to get a briefing from Iraq from one of the U.S. Army officers involved in the training of Iraqi forces. And what they want these analysts and officers to do is to use this information as talking points if they go on TV or radio or have newspaper interviews. They want these officers and analysts to note that Rumsfeld meets often with combat commanders, senior officers in the Pentagon, and if they have any concerns or problems, they can be addressed at that time.
BLOCK: Tom, I'm curious. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is famous for a strong front, some would say arrogance; did you see any cracks in that façade today, given the six retired generals who have come forward now?
BOWMAN: Again, I thought he was much more subdued than he has been in the past, less feisty. And clearly this has roiled the Pentagon. There's a lot of concern about some of these charges would have on the current serving senior officers at the Pentagon and they're worried, will other generals come out? And there's concern that some may now put in their retirement papers because they believe that their advice is not being heeded.
BLOCK: Thanks very much. NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman.
BOWMAN: Thank you.