Sat, Dec 18, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Top Republicans turning gunsights on Rumsfeld

AFP , WASHINGTON

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is the target of increasing criticism from his own Republican camp, but the White House voiced its continued support for the Pentagon chief on Thursday.

Several top Republicans have recently expressed discontent with Rumsfeld, who has come under fire since last week over his answer to a US soldier in Kuwait who asked about the lack of armor for US military vehicles in Iraq.

In widely broadcast and published remarks, Rumsfeld responded: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

Senator Trent Lott, the Senate's former majority leader, said he hoped Rumsfeld would step down sometime next year, but he fell short of calling for his immediate resignation, saying Rumsfeld does not listen enough to his officers.

But the White House defended the 72-year-old veteran official.

"The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job, and that's why he asked him to continue serving during this time of war," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Asked whether Bush was aware that prominent Republicans were increasingly questioning Rums-feld's fitness for office, McClellan replied: "We look at the news just like you do."

Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to Rumsfeld that his answer to troops in Kuwait was "troubling."

Collins noted that she brought up her concerns about the shortage of body armor and fortified Humvees for troops in Iraq during a committee hearing in March with a top Pentagon official.

"I remain concerned that, more than eight months later, the Department of Defense still has been unable to ensure that our troops have the equipment they need to perform their mission as safely as possible," she wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.

Senator Chuck Hagel, a longtime Rumsfeld critic, said US troops "deserved a far better answer from their secretary of defense than a flippant comment."

And William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, called for Rumsfeld's resignation in a Washington Post opinion piece titled "The Defense Secretary We Have."

"Surely Don Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term," wrote Kristol, a member of the neo-conservative movement that supported the war.

"Contrast the magnificent performance of our soldiers with the arrogant buck-passing of Rums-feld," he wrote.

"All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments. Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments," he wrote. "But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?"

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