US President George Bush has full confidence in Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, even if others dislike the Pentagon chief’s “bedside manner,” a top White House official said.
Bush counsellor Dan Bartlett yesterday did not directly respond to questions about whether the White House has considered possible replacements for Rumsfeld, as reported in Bob Woodward’s new book on the Bush administration’s Iraq war policy.
Bartlett said “every cabinet member serves at the pleasure of the president,” but that Bush believes Rumsfeld is the right man to run the Pentagon.
“We recognise that he has his critics,” Bartlett said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We recognise that he’s made some very difficult decisions. Some people don’t like his bedside manner. But what President Bush looks to in Secretary Rumsfeld is to bring him the type of information he needs to make the right decisions in this war.”
Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters yesterday en route to Nicaragua for a meeting of defence ministers, said he is not considering resigning and said the president had called him personally in recent days to express his continued support.
Rumsfeld said he was not surprised by reports in Woodward’s book that White House staff had encouraged Bush to fire him after the 2004 election.
“It’s the task of the chief of staff of the White House – and having been one, I know that – to raise all kinds of questions with the president and think through different ways of approaching things,” Rumsfeld said. “So it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if that subject had come up.”
In his book “State of Denial,” Woodward writes that former White House chief of staff Andrew Card twice sought to persuade Bush to fire Rumsfeld, the second time with the support of first lady Laura Bush.
Card has rejected any suggestion that he led a campaign to dump Rumsfeld but said he did discuss with the president Rumsfeld’s role in Bush’s second term. Card said it was his job to discuss a wide range of possible replacements.
Rumsfeld yesterday also denied any rift with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said the ongoing debate does not detract from his work with other international leaders.
He said he had spoken to Bush since the book’s contents were made public. Bush “called me personally,” said Rumsfeld, to voice support.
Rumsfeld has previously acknowledged that he twice offered Bush his resignation, but it was not accepted.
The defence secretary and Bush have faced growing criticism for their handling of the Iraq war as violence there has escalated, US casualties have mounted and public support for the conflict has declined. Fuelling the debate in recent days was the release of a classified intelligence report that concluded that the Iraq war has helped fuel a new generation of extremists and increased the overall terrorist threat.