Donald Rumsfeld: Almost Gone but Not Forgotten

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and nowhere in recent times has the battle between pen and sword raged and ravaged as it has in the briefing room at the Department of Defense.

Though today's farewell to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is intended as a tribute to his nearly six years of service under the Bush administration, his time in office was marked by a contentious relationship with the press corps, which noted, quoted and scribbled down his every last word.

Having already held the defense secretary position during the Ford administration, Rumsfeld sailed through his 2001 confirmation hearings and went on to become the architect of an unpopular war that has so far claimed the lives of more than 2,900 U.S. soldiers, cost the president his approval ratings and, likely, the GOP its congressional majority.

The desire for new Pentagon leadership was evidenced by the near-unanimous Senate confirmation of Rumsfeld's successor, Robert Gates, who will be sworn in Monday.

Notable Quotables

Over the last six years, Rumsfeld certainly covered his bases: "[Osama Bin Laden is] either alive and well or alive and not too well or not alive."

He proved his loyalty: "Needless to say, the president is correct. Whatever it was he said."

And he spoke in tongues: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

We know what he does: "Of course, I bear responsibility. My lord, I'm secretary of defense."

We know what he doesn't do: "I don't do quagmires." "I don't do diplomacy." "I don't do foreign policy." "I don't do numbers." "I don't do predictions."

And we know he considers himself something of a wordsmith when it comes to the art of deflection: "If I know the answer, I'll tell you the answer, and if I don't, I'll just respond, cleverly."

He complained about the media coverage of Iraq: "I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn't believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny -- 'The sky is falling.'"

When asked in a recent town hall meeting about his worst day in office, he cited Abu Ghraib and this coming Monday -- the day after his last official day in office -- his best.

On Being Remembered

In his first go-around as defense secretary under President Ford in 1975, Rumsfeld held the distinction of being the country's youngest defense secretary. He steps down as the oldest Pentagon chief in U.S. history. Rumsfeld is a week and a half shy of becoming the longest-serving defense secretary ever, an honor held by Vietnam strategist Robert McNamara, who also left office under mounting concern over another war that veered way off-course.

Leaving now amid a swirl of domestic and international discontent, Rumsfeld was asked how he wanted to be remembered. He laughed and acknowledged his often acrimonious relationship with the national press corps that covers him.

"Better than the local press," he said.