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White House signals it won't engage retired generals who have criticized Rumsfeld

John Byrne / Raw Story | April 19 2006

Questions about the White House response to criticism from retired generals over Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continued to plague the White House at Tuesday's press briefing.

Rumsfeld occupied most of the press' attention -- and reporters repeatedly hammered White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan on why Bush came out with a strong defense of Rumsfeld, and why the White House isn't engaging the retired generals.

In response, McClellan said, "I think that their views have been expressed."

The transcript follows.

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Q Getting back to staff changes, I thought the president spoke most forcefully about somebody who appears not to be going anywhere, which was Secretary Rumsfeld. Can you sort of explain to me the president's tone -- I think was a strong one -- about his strong feelings about Secretary Rumsfeld? Why did he feel the need today to address that so strongly and so specifically?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, he addressed it the other day, and it's an issue that's been getting much attention. And that's why the president made it very clear where he stood. He reiterated his strong and full support for Secretary Rumsfeld.

Q Do you think if Secretary Rumsfeld left the job, it would invite more criticism, because the chief architect -- or one of the chief architects of the war plan goes, the obvious school of thought is that there must have been some --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, that's quite the hypothetical question given the comments that have been made over the last few days, both by the president and Secretary Rumsfeld and generals who have worked closely with Secretary Rumsfeld and fully support his leadership.

Q Is that why the president wants to be so strong in his defense of him?

MR. MCCLELLAN: The president wanted to reiterate when he was asked a question his full support for Secretary Rumsfeld. The question was specifically asked about the Cabinet.

...

Q Scott, back on Rumsfeld again. This morning the president for the second time in four days had to express his support for the Defense secretary. And he said that -- he expressed some frustration that he had to mention it last week and that all of the speculation essentially raises questions about people's reputations, that people's reputations are at stake here.

So does the president, does the administration feel as though this sort drip, drip of criticism that's come from retired generals weakens Donald Rumsfeld's efficacy --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think there are a number of retired generals who have said otherwise from what -- the sources that you are citing. And there are a lot of people that have -- that work very closely with Secretary Rumsfeld that have spoken out, like the Joint -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Pace.

Q Scott, but the question -- when the president references specifically that people's reputations are at stake, in the context of the Defense secretary's necessity as a both a military and civilian commander, as well as a politician in the Bush administration and in this city, is he, by the sheer quantity of the criticism, subject to having his position weakened?

MR. MCCLELLAN: The president has made it very clear that he has his full support and deepest appreciation.

The president has assigned Secretary Rumsfeld some difficult tasks. The president talked about that.

And when you are a military that is going through a transformation, so that you're better prepared to meet the threats of the 21st century, and engaged in an ongoing global war on terrorism, that tends to generate a lot of discussion and a lot of debate. I talked about that last week. The president referenced some of that in his remarks on Friday, when he -- when we put out the statement expressing his full support for Secretary Rumsfeld.

So I think you have to look at it in those contexts. You can talk about the quantity. Again, there are a number of generals that work with him today and that have worked with him previously -- and they're now retired -- that fully support his leadership. And they have said so.

Q When the retired generals -- it's not common that there has been this level of outspoken criticism from retired officials in the military in the past. Does this commander in chief see that as -- in a time of war as being debilitating to his efficacy?

MR. MCCLELLAN: You know, I'll leave it to other experts to talk about that, people that have been involved in the military.

...

Q The president -- one more time, Rumsfeld, but a different look at it -- basically, the president said he had to deal with this speculation, he wanted to tamp down the speculation that was occurring and sort of defend his reputation, as you noted.

But Secretary Snow has faced similar speculation. What about his reputation? Why do you not --

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think the president said he has strong confidence in his Cabinet, in each member of his Cabinet.

Q So does that mean that he then has the same feelings for Secretary Snow as he does for Secretary Rumsfeld and --

MR. MCCLELLAN: I've expressed, on behalf of the president, his deep appreciation for the job that Secretary Snow is doing.

...

Q Scott, at what point, if at all, would the president or Secretary Rumsfeld say, look, these generals are honorable men; they've served, they've fought; let's sit down with them and talk about what their concerns are, rather than sending a whole bunch of other generals out with talking points?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think people -- as he said, people are very well aware of their views, and they have the right to express their opinions. There are others that have a different view.

Q Well, what about engaging with them?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think that their views have been expressed.

...

Q Scott, you talk about the views of these retired generals being well known. And yet it seems like the president immediately discounted those views by coming out with a statement, even though these are commanders on the ground. And every time we bring up those retired generals and the views they had about Secretary Rumsfeld, you talk about the generals who didn't have those views. Does the president just simply discount these views?

MR. MCCLELLAN: No. In fact, I think he expressed otherwise in his comments. I don't know how you're drawing that conclusion.

Q Because he immediately came out and said he supported Donald Rumsfeld, even though these generals had questions about Donald Rumsfeld and --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, but I think I would go back and look at what he said in the Rose Garden a short time ago, because I did not read anything into that that you are.

Q And you can't read into the fact that on Friday immediately he came out, after there were six generals who came forward?

MR. MCCLELLAN: He thought it was important to make a strong statement reiterating his full support for the secretary of Defense. And that's why he issued the statement.

Q But he has no --

MR. MCCLELLAN: And the president called the secretary of Defense that morning, around 10:00, to let him know.

Q And you don't think that's immediately saying, "You guys are wrong"?

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, I think you're drawing too broad of an interpretation from the comments that he made. And I think that the comments he made actually said otherwise. He said people are expressing their views; he hears those views, he listens to those views. But he made very clear --

Q (Inaudible) --

MR. MCCLELLAN: -- but he made very clear where he stood, why he thought it was important to do so, Martha, for the reasons that we stated in that statement, as well as the ones that I mentioned prior to that statement going out last week.

Q I guess, how are we to look at that and say that he's not listening to the advice he wants to hear or to the people, the voices he wants to hear that back up his position and not the commanders on the ground, who seem to have a different one?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, there you go, I mean, over-interpreting things and drawing the wrong conclusions from what he has said. That's not at all what he was saying.

All right, thank you.

Q Thank you.

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