Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush and Gerald Ford, Dies at 88

Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense under Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, died Wednesday, his family said. He was 88.

"History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country," his family's statement said.

A statement from the family of Donald Rumsfeld:

— Donald Rumsfeld (@RumsfeldOffice) June 30, 2021

Rumsfeld is the only person to have served twice as defense secretary during 1975-77 and again in 2001-06. As Bush's secretary of defense, he oversaw the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban.

He tried to resign twice under Bush in 2004 when it came out that U.S. soldiers abused prisoners in Iraq at the Abu Ghraib prison, a time he later called his darkest moment as defense secretary, according to the Associated Press. Bush let Rumsfeld go from the position in 2006.

His family said he "was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico," when he died.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
In this Oct. 11, 2011, file photo, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speaks to politicians and academics during a luncheon on security in rising Asia, in Taipei, Taiwan. The family of Rumsfeld says he has died. He was 88. Wally Santana/AP Photo

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Rumsfeld was also a one-time presidential candidate whose reputation as a skilled bureaucrat and visionary of a modern U.S. military was unraveled by the long and costly Iraq war.

Regarded by former colleagues as equally smart and combative, patriotic and politically cunning, Rumsfeld had a storied career in government under four presidents and nearly a quarter-century in corporate America.

After retiring in 2008, he headed the Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and to work with charities that provide services and support for military families and wounded veterans.

"Rummy," as he was often called, was ambitious, witty, energetic, engaging and capable of great personal warmth. But he irritated many with his confrontational style. An accomplished wrestler in college, Rumsfeld relished verbal sparring and elevated it to an art form; biting humor was a favorite weapon.

Still, he built a network of loyalists who admired his work ethic, intelligence and impatience with all who failed to share his sense of urgency.

The first time he served as Pentagon chief, he was the youngest ever. The next time he was the oldest.

He made a brief run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, a spectacular flop that he once described as humbling for a man used to success at the highest levels of the government, including stints as White House chief of staff, U.S. ambassador and member of Congress.

For all Rumsfeld's achievements, it was the setbacks in Iraq in the twilight of his career that will likely etch the most vivid features of his legacy.

Nine months into his second tour as defense secretary, on Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackers attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, thrusting the nation into wars for which the military was ill-prepared. Rumsfeld frequently presided at televised briefings on the war. He became something of a TV star, applauded for his blunt talk and uncompromising style.

By 2002, the Bush administration's attention shifted to Iraq, which played no role in the Sept. 11 attacks. The war effort in Afghanistan took a back seat to Iraq, opening the way for the Taliban to make a comeback and prevent the U.S. from sealing the success of its initial invasion.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003. Baghdad fell quickly, but U.S. and allied forces soon became consumed with a violent insurgency. Critics faulted Rumsfeld for dismissing the pre-invasion assessment of the Army's top general, Eric Shinseki, that several hundred thousand allied troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq.

Not until November 2006, after Democrats gained control of Congress by riding a wave of antiwar sentiment, did Bush finally decide Rumsfeld had to go. He left office in December, replaced by Robert Gates.

Rumsfeld is survived by his wife, Joyce, three children and seven grandchildren.

Update: 6/30/21 - 4:20 p.m. - This story has been updated with additional information.

Donald Rumsfeld
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who died Wednesday, attends an event hosted by the Fund for American Studies on September 28, 2017. Alex Wong/Getty Images