Donald Rumsfeld, a two-time US defense secretary who was a key architect of America’s divisive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has died at the age of 88.
Rumsfeld passed away surrounded by his family in Taos, New Mexico, his family said in a statement on Wednesday.
His career spanned decades of American political history. Rumsfeld was chief of staff to President Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s then served as his defense secretary.
He made a brief run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination but quickly failed. It was his second spell as Pentagon chief, under President George W Bush, that would see him become the focus of intense liberal criticism.
Rumsfeld was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and seen on film helping survivors out of the building. His face became familiar to millions of TV viewers during subsequent press briefings as the US invaded Afghanistan to hunt down al-Qaida.
The terrorist organization was responsible for the attacks where hijacked passenger jets were flown into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, while one crashed in a field en route to Washington, killing a total of almost 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.
Rumsfeld famously said: “There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
That war, costing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, has outlasted Rumsfeld, with Joe Biden due to withdraw US troops on 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the original attacks.
Rumsfeld, heeding neoconservative voices around Bush, also pushed the idea that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The US launched a war against Iraq in 2003. No weapons of mass destruction were found.
Rumsfeld twice offered his resignation to Bush in 2004 amid disclosures that US troops had abused detainees they were holding at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison – an episode he later referred to as his darkest hour as defense secretary.
Bush replaced Rumsfeld in 2006 as the US military found itself bogged down after three and a half years of fighting.
On Wednesday, Bush issued a statement in which he called Rumsfeld “a man of intelligence, integrity, and almost inexhaustible energy, he never paled before tough decisions, and never flinched from responsibility”.
The former defense secretary then headed the Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and to work with charities that provide services and support for military families and wounded veterans.
He also published an autobiography, Known and Unknown, that attempted to repair his legacy, accepting almost no blame for the debacle in Iraq and contending that the Middle East would be “far more perilous than it is today” if Saddam had remained in power.
Rumsfeld is survived by his wife, Joyce, three children and seven grandchildren. The family said its statement on Wednesday: “It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, grandfather and great grandfather.
“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.”
Rumsfeld is the only person to serve twice as Pentagon chief. The first time, in 1975-1977, he was the youngest ever. The next time, in 2001-2006, he was the oldest.