Washington A defiant Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made clear Tuesday he has no intention of resigning despite calls for his ouster, but then got an earful from another batch of retired generals who said he's failed to rally public support for the Iraq war.
Bolstered by an even stronger endorsement Tuesday from President Bush, Rumsfeld took his campaign to keep his job before the cameras at a Pentagon news conference, then met behind closed doors with about 15 retired commanders-turned-TV-commentators.
Rumsfeld charged that the six retired generals calling for his resignation were simply out of the loop and resistant to his style of badly needed change at the Pentagon - the kind Rumsfeld detailed in a 10-minute address that amounted to the highlights of his term.
But asked whether he would consider resigning to spare Bush and fellow Republicans any more controversy heading into the fall elections, Rumsfeld said of the president, "He knows that I serve at his pleasure, and that's that."
Rumsfeld twice before offered to resign during the Abu Ghraib scandal but indicated he wasn't even considering it now. Why not? "Oh, just call it idiosyncratic," he quipped.
If Rumsfeld seems confident, he suggested in the closed-door meeting that it's because he has the backing of Bush himself, who once again Tuesday voiced clear support for Rumsfeld.
"I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider and I decide what's best," Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden as he announced several White House staff changes. "And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."
Even before this controversy, Rumsfeld's term as secretary of defense was controversial - not least for the war in Iraq but because of his calls for "transforming" the military into a faster, leaner fighting force. And many of the accomplishments Rumsfeld cited Tuesday in his own defense, particularly cutting obsolete Cold War weapons systems, have fallen far short of his original vision, analysts say.
Rumsfeld also sought to rally support for himself at a private meeting of retired generals and others who appear frequently as military analysts on television. Several people who were in the meeting said the group only briefly touched on the calls for Rumsfeld's ouster and no one in the meeting repeated such a call to Rumsfeld directly.
Instead, several people said, the group faulted Rumsfeld for failing to do more to explain the stakes of the war in Iraq, as a way to reverse plummeting public support for the conflict, which a majority of Americans now say in polls was not worth it.
"They're not telling that story very well," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who co-authored an op-ed piece this week supporting Rumsfeld. McInerney added that Rumsfeld "said, 'Can you imagine if they won, with all the oil and all the wealth they have over there?' And we said, 'That's exactly the story you should tell every day to America, so America knows why we fight."'
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd also said that it appeared that Rumsfeld was mindful of the growing controversy around his stewardship of the Pentagon. "The secretary's clearly distracted by it, and worried about it," Shepperd said on CNN.