WASHINGTON – The White House on Thursday came to the aid of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, rebuffing calls from several generals for his resignation and crediting him with leading the Pentagon through two wars and a transformation of the military.
“The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation’s history,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
He went on to read long passages quoting the nation’s top military officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, praising Rumsfeld’s dedication and patriotism.
The generals insisting that the secretary step down are recently retired flag officers who appear to reflect widespread sentiment among many people still in uniform.
Retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded a division in Iraq, on Wednesday became the latest former top commander to speak out against what they call the secretary’s authoritarian style.
Others include retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who oversaw training of Iraqi army troops; and retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was chief of U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq.
On Thursday, President Bush tried to turn Washington’s focus to his economic program. In a speech to a small business conference, he called on Congress to renew his tax cuts, pass his health care plans and give him a line-item veto over spending.
He also renewed his attack on Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accusing him of blocking a Senate compromise on immigration last week with “a procedural gimmick that meant he was single-handedly thwarting the will of the American people.”
Bush said, “It’s time to set aside needless partisan politics and focus on what’s right for the United States.”
Reid has blamed a raft of what he sees as punitive amendments offered by conservative Republicans.
“President Bush has as much credibility on immigration as he does on Iraq and national security,” Reid commented Thursday.
He called on Bush to find “the backbone to stop the extreme elements of the Republican Party from blocking improvements to America’s security.”