Donald Rumsfeld, former US defence secretary, dies aged 88

Republican who twice served as defence secretary is credited as architect of Iraq War

Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the man largely credited for masterminding the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, has died. He was 88. Mr Rumsfeld died surrounded by his family at his home in New Mexico.

Born in Chicago in 1932, he served twice as secretary of defence – first, under president Gerald Ford between 1975 and 1977, where he worked alongside Dick Cheney, the future vice-president with whom he had a lifelong professional and personal relationship.

But it was his second stint as defence secretary for which he will be most remembered.

Mr Rumsfeld was appointed to lead the Pentagon by then US president George W Bush in January 2001. Less than eight months later, the US suffered terror attacks on September 11th. On that day Mr Rumsfeld was in the Pentagon when al-Qaeda terrorists flew a passenger plane into the heavily fortified building on the outskirts of Washington, DC, killing 184 people.


Mr Rumsfeld helped with the evacuation of survivors, addressing the nation later that day.

As the US reeled in the face of the biggest attack on US soil since Pearl Harbour, he directed the invasion of Afghanistan, a war that is now approaching its 20-year anniversary.

Mr Rumsfeld also made the decision along with Mr Cheney to target Saddam Hussein, encouraging president Bush to invade Iraq. Despite claiming the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a stockpile of such weapons was never found.

Mr Bush fired Mr Rumsfeld in 2006 after the midterm elections of that year, replacing him with Robert Gates.

In his memoir Known and Unknown – a reference to his famous assertion that there were “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” in relation to the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction – Mr Rumsfeld defended his decisions to target Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11th.

Mr Rumsfeld had a long career in the private and public sector. Having graduated from Princeton, he served three terms in Congress representing Illinois. He worked in the Nixon administration, and was appointed US ambassador to Nato. After his stint as defence secretary with Gerald Ford, he worked in the pharmaceutical industry, but was also appointed as special envoy to the Middle East by Ronald Reagan.

Family statement

In a statement, Mr Rumsfeld’s family said: “It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, 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.”

Mr Bush praised Mr Rumsfeld as "a man of intelligence, integrity, and almost inexhaustible energy, he never paled before tough decisions, and never flinched from responsibility", adding: "The United States of America is safer and better off for his service."

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice described Mr Rumsfeld as a "remarkable and committed public servant". "He was also a good friend and a steady presence throughout the many trials of the post-9/11 world. I will miss him as a colleague and as a friend."

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent