WASHINGTON (CN) — Two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, key architect of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, died Wednesday. He was 88 years old.
He died of myeloma, his former chief of staff and spokesman Keith Urbahn said.
Rumsfeld holds the records for both the youngest (43) and oldest (74) secretary of defense throughout his many decades of service. Before his first experience as defense secretary under President Gerald Ford in 1975, Rumsfeld had spent over a year as White House chief of staff. He also served as ambassador to NATO under Ford and President Richard Nixon. He ran for president in 1988 but withdrew before the primaries that would ultimately lead to the election of George H.W. Bush.
Rumsfeld was born in Chicago, Illinois, but died in Taos, New Mexico, where the family has long maintained a ranch and other properties.
"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," the family said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Former President George W. Bush gave Rumsfeld his second secretary of defense posting in 2001 but fired him in 2006 as the tide of opinion about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan turned.
“All his life, he was good-humored and big-hearted, and he treasured his family above all else,” Bush said in a statement Wednesday.
Fostering a reputation as a cunning bureaucrat, Rumsfeld made his unapologetic and brusque attitude a calling card. His handling of two of the longest and most costly wars in U.S. history added to that notoriety. Against testaments to Rumsfeld's strength as a military leader, critics blame him for a lack of planning that took America into the Middle East and left the region more bloody and unstable than how he found it.
His tenure included the use of torture and human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Rumsfeld never expressed regret, however, over his handling of the wars.
“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,” the former secretary said in farewell remarks at the Pentagon. “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.”
It was a theme Rumsfeld revisited in his 2011 memoir “Known and Unknown," where he wrote that “ridding the region of Saddam’s brutal regime has created a more stable and secure world."
Bush said Wednesday that Rumsfeld carried out his duties with strength, skill and honor.
“A period that brought unprecedented challenges to our country and to our military also brought out the best qualities in Secretary Rumsfeld,” the former president said in a statement. “A man of intelligence, integrity, and almost inexhaustible energy, he never paled before tough decisions, and never flinched from responsibility.
Rumsfeld and his wife had three children, Valerie, Marcy and Nicholas.
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