Few men have had more consequential careers in public and private life than Donald Rumsfeld, the senior adviser to three Presidents and business executive, who died Tuesday at age 88.
A conservative Midwesterner, he served in the Navy and won a seat in Congress from Illinois in 1962. Richard Nixon spotted his talent and brought him in as an adviser. His star rose quickly and he became chief of staff and then secretary of Defense for Gerald Ford, the youngest Pentagon chief at age 43.
Outside of politics, Rummy, as he was sometimes known, was the CEO of G.D. Searle, the pharmaceutical firm, from 1977-1985 and advised Gilead Sciences in its early days as a director and chairman of the board.
Rumsfeld was most controversial during his second stint as Defense secretary in managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He pressed the military to refine its invasion plans that in both cases achieved their goals quickly and with few casualties. But he underestimated the strength and nature of the insurgency in Iraq, and he failed to change strategy. President George W. Bush didn’t help by failing to settle disputes between State and Defense. Mr. Bush replaced Rumsfeld in 2006 to implement the surge that prevented a U.S. defeat.
Rumsfeld didn’t suffer naifs, or journalists, gladly. But we always enjoyed the give and take and learned a great deal listening to him. He was a patriot willing to challenge recalcitrant bureaucracies, which we need more of today.