Washington — The White House said Thursday that President Bush had confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as more retired military officers called for Rumsfeld to step down.
"The president believes that Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
But the public expression of support didn't dampen what appeared to be a rising controversy and political headache for the Bush administration, as a fifth and sixth retired general came forward to demand that Rumsfeld resign.
In an interview broadcast on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs said Rumsfeld created an "atmosphere of arrogance" at the Pentagon in which military advice on Afghanistan and Iraq was ignored or discounted.
As a result, Rumsfeld and his deputies miscalculated badly when it came to planning for how Iraq would be secured after Saddam Hussein's ouster, Riggs said.
"We just grossly underestimated the numbers of soldiers we would need," said Riggs, who spent 39 years in uniform, rose from private to lieutenant general and won a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in Vietnam.
Riggs was forced to retire in 2004 minus one star after he gave an interview in which he said the Army had been stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq and needed thousands more troops. He said Thursday that it was time for someone to lead the Pentagon who could work with the top military brass in a more practical manner.
"They only need the military advice when it fits their agenda," he said of Rumsfeld and his civilian deputies. "I think that's a mistake, and I think that's why he should resign."
Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr. told CNN on Thursday that he also thinks Rumsfeld should make way for new leadership. Swannack, who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, told CNN that Rumsfeld "carries way too much baggage with him."
"There's nothing wrong with people having opinions," Rumsfeld said at a briefing Tuesday in response to a question about the criticism. "And I think one ought to expect that. When you're involved in something that's controversial, as certainly this war is, one ought to expect that."
A Pentagon spokesman said Thursday that he had nothing to add to what Rumsfeld had said.
Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Mike DeLong, who served as the deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command from 2000 to 2003 and had a chief role in planning the Iraq invasion, defended Rumsfeld on CNN on Thursday.
"Dealing with Rumsfeld is like dealing with a CEO," DeLong said. "When you walk in to him, you've got to be prepared; you've got to know what you're talking about. If you don't, you're summarily dismissed. But that's the way it is, and he's effective."