Profile: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

ByABC News
December 28, 2000, 3:05 PM

— -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is possibly the most controversial figure in the Bush administration. Yet he is also only one of six members of the Bush Cabinet asked to stay on for a second term.

When he was confirmed in 2001, Rumsfeld became both the youngest and the oldest person to serve as secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld's first term in this administration was definitely a busy one -- filled with the largest terrorist attack on American soil in history, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, scandals such as the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the furor over his use of a signature stamp on condolence letters to the families of military personnel killed in Iraq.

In the beginning, his wry sense of humor made him somewhat of a hit with the national media who covered him. While known for his candor, his directness has ruffled some feathers on occasion.

As recently as December, Democrats and some Republicans alike were calling for his resignation after the Pentagon acknowledged Rumsfeld was not signing condolence letters personally but instead having a machine to do it for him. He responded by promising he would begin signing all letters himself.

A few months earlier, the defense secretary became a focus in an international scandal when photos of American soldiers abusing Iraqi inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison surfaced. Even the White House was said to be upset when advised that Rumseld had known about the photos before they were leaked to the media, but neglected to warn the president.

Rumsfeld also was criticized over complaints that American troops were sent to war without adequate body armor.

Despite the controversies, President Bush has decided to stick with Rumsfeld who has led the country through two wars in just four years.

"The secretary of defense is a complex job," Bush said in a Dec. 20 press conference. "And the secretary has managed this department during two major battles in the war on terror -- Afghanistan and Iraq. And at the same time, he's working to transform our military so it functions better, it's lighter, it's ready to strike on a moment's notice."

When Rumsfeld began, he had the ultimate résumé to become defense secretary: He'd held the job before.

Rumsfeld, now 72, was the youngest secretary of defense in history, serving under President Ford from 1975-77. The dynamic, hard-charging "Rummy" grew from being a young legislator in the 1960s to a key official in three Republican administrations and finally a corporate executive who turned around two major firms.

As recently as 1999, he led a congressional commission that heavily promoted the idea of a national missile defense system, citing threats from Iraq and North Korea.

And before he was nominated as defense secretary, Rumsfeld was said to be at the top of Bush's list to become CIA director.

Now a senior member of the Republican establishment, Rumsfeld was once a 29-year-old congressman from suburban Chicago's North Shore.

He was a dynamic leader of an earlier attempted Republican revolution, leading a group known as "Rumsfeld's Raiders" and trying to push a reform bill through Congress that would have reduced patronage and pork. Legislatively he was conservative, supporting a strong defense against the Soviet Union and opposing legislation to curb urban poverty -- but supporting civil rights bills.

His aggressive, ambitious demeanor won him a friend in Richard Nixon, but enemies in Congress. Various jobs in the Nixon administration led to his being appointed Ford's White House chief of staff. By all accounts, he ran a tight ship, distributing a manual called "Rumsfeld's Rules" to White House staff. Rule No. 1: Don't play president -- you're not.

Later, serving as secretary of defense under Ford, Rumsfeld was a hawk: He built up the military and opposed the SALT II strategic arms reduction treaty. But he improved the Pentagon's relations with Congress.

When Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter in 1976, Rumsfeld headed for the corporate world after a brief flirtation with lecturing at Princeton, his alma mater. He became an expert at turning around troubled companies, starting at pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle and later heading to electronics firm General Instrument, now part of Motorola. He's also served as a senior adviser to investment bank William Blair & Co. and as a director of various other firms.

But Rumsfeld has never been far from the presidency. He sought the vice-presidential nomination in 1980 and briefly ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 against the elder George Bush, before dropping out and backing former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole for the job. He was also Dole's campaign chairman in his failed 1996 presidential bid against Bill Clinton.

Rumsfeld was called back into service in 1999 to head the nine-member Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, a byproduct of wrangling between congressional Republicans and the Clinton administration over a missile defense system. His report supported the Republicans' contention that a missile defense was needed, and he blasted then-CIA Director George Tenet for increasing secrecy within the agency to such an extent that it was damaging the quality of intelligence provided to Congress.

He and his wife Joyce have been married 50 years. They have three children and five grandchildren.