WASHINGTON — Donald H. Rumsfeld used his farewell address as Defense secretary Friday to warn against a weakening of American will in Iraq, saying a withdrawal of troops may provide short-term relief from U.S. casualties but would only embolden extremist enemies.
Joined by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney at a Pentagon ceremony, Rumsfeld rejected criticism of his conduct of the war, saying a failure to project military strength would only make the U.S. more vulnerable.
"A conclusion by our enemies that the United States lacks the will or the resolve to carry out missions that demand sacrifice and demand patience is every bit as dangerous as an imbalance of conventional military power," Rumsfeld said. "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."
Rumsfeld likened the broader war on terrorism to the Cold War, but warned that, unlike during that war, when the U.S. relied heavily on European allies in facing down the Soviet Union, those same allies now seem less willing to support the U.S. That might force the U.S. to shoulder even more of the burden in the future, he said.
"Sadly, realistically, [we have] friends and allies with declining defense investment and declining capabilities and, I would add, as a result, with increasing vulnerabilities," Rumsfeld said, in one if his sharpest critiques of allied governments. "All of which requires that the United States of America invest more."
Rumsfeld will not formally relinquish his post until Monday, when former CIA Director Robert M. Gates is sworn is as the U.S.'s 22nd Defense secretary. Rumsfeld leaves office as the second-longest-serving Defense chief since the position was created in the late 1940s. He missed the distinction of becoming the longest-serving by less than two weeks.
Although Rumsfeld came to office determined to reform the way the U.S. military fought wars, his legacy will invariably be linked to the Iraq war, over which he has been criticized for stifling dissent among the uniformed leadership and shielding the White House from differing views on war strategy.
In introducing Rumsfeld, Bush sought to put those criticisms to rest, saying his Defense chief had encouraged innovative thinking within the Pentagon.
"He has always ensured I had the best possible advice, the opportunity to hear and weigh conflicting points of view," Bush said. "This man knows how to lead, and he did. And the country is better off for it."