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Donald Rumsfeld, Who Served Twice As Defense Secretary, Dies At 88

NOEL KING, HOST:

Donald Rumsfeld was the combative defense secretary under President George W. Bush while the U.S. waged two of its longest ever wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He died yesterday at the age of 88. NPR's Greg Myre recalls his tumultuous time at the Pentagon.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Donald Rumsfeld was a relentless proponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing upbeat assessments that often failed to hold up over time. Here he's talking about the Afghan war in 2002, just six months after the U.S. invaded in response to the al-Qaida attack on 9/11.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD RUMSFELD: How did it work out, all in all? Not bad. The Taliban are gone. The al-Qaida are on the run.

MYRE: The following year, Rumsfeld was a leading voice for the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the grounds Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to be true. As the fighting intensified a couple of years later, a soldier asked Rumsfeld why the Pentagon had not provided more armored vehicles to protect against roadside bombs that were inflicting many casualties.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUMSFELD: As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.

MYRE: At age 43, Rumsfeld was the youngest ever defense secretary when he first held the job under President Gerald Ford in the 1970s. And he was the oldest, at age 74, when he stepped down in 2006, having served six turbulent years under President Bush. Rumsfeld published a memoir in 2011. He said he had no real regrets about either war. Though, they lasted far longer, achieved much less and cost much more than Rumsfeld or others had predicted. In interviews promoting the book, he claimed his critics failed to understand that these were, quote, "generational conflicts." As he spoke to supporters, he argued the wars had protected the U.S. homeland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUMSFELD: You know the effort. And, I would submit, you know the result. There has not been a successful attack on the United States of America in close to a decade.

(APPLAUSE)

MYRE: Rumsfeld's family said he died at his home in Taos, N.M., of multiple myeloma.

Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEIL COWLEY TRIO'S "BRYCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.