Bush: Rumsfeld 'exactly what is needed'
Statement of support follows chorus of criticism from generals
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Friday that embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has his "full support and deepest appreciation."
"Earlier today I spoke with Don Rumsfeld about ongoing military operations in the Global War on Terror," Bush said in a written statement released by the White House. "I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our Nation."
"Upon assuming office, I asked Don to transform the largest department in our government," the president's statement continued. (Watch Rumsfeld reiterate his refusal to quit -- 1:19)
"That kind of change is hard, but our Nation must have a military that is fully prepared to confront the dangerous threats of the 21st Century. Don and our military commanders have also been tasked to take the fight to the enemy abroad on multiple fronts."
Six retired generals, including three who commanded troops in Iraq under Rumsfeld's leadership, have publicly stated their criticism of Rumsfeld's leadership and called for his resignation.(Watch how the precendent for generals' dissent was set -- 1:58)
Gen. Richard Myers, who retired about six months ago as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Friday criticized the generals for their remarks in an exclusive interview with CNN.
"One of the things we have to understand ... is that it's bad for the military, it's bad for civil military relations and it's potentially very bad for the country, because what we're hearing and what we're seeing is not the role the military plays in our society, under our laws or, for that matter, under our Constitution," Myers said.
Although he acknowledged that retired generals have the right to free speech, Myers said he feels they should not be speaking out in opposition to the president because that is not the job of any military officer, even a retired one.
Asked whether he supports Rumsfeld, Myers declined to answer, saying supporting Rumsfeld is not his job, but the job of the president, Congress and the American people.
Apparently responding to the generals' criticism, Bush's statement said, "I have seen first-hand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how best to complete these missions." (Read Barbara Starr's analysis of the recent criticism)
Also on Friday, retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, one of the six generals who has criticized Rumsfeld, said there is no coordinated anti-Rumsfeld effort among them and that he hasn't talked to the others.
On NBC's "Today" show Batiste called the timing "absolutely coincidental" and added, "I think there's a lot of people now starting to ask questions, and I think that's healthy in a democracy."
Batiste was asked why he had waited until now to go public with his criticism of Rumsfeld.
"I have nothing to gain in doing this. There is no political agenda at all," he answered. "For 31 years I was a loyal subordinate and did not tolerate dissension in the ranks. My sole motivation, pure and simple, are the service men and women and their incredible families."
Batiste was also interviewed on CBS's "Early Show" on Friday, and he had harsh words for Rumsfeld.
He said: "We went to war with a flawed plan that didn't account for the hard work to build the peace after we took down the regime. We also served under a secretary of defense who didn't understand leadership, who was abusive, who was arrogant, who didn't build a strong team."
On Thursday retired Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, who led the elite 82nd Airborne Division during its mission in Iraq, joined the chorus of retired generals calling on Rumsfeld to leave the Pentagon.
"I really believe that we need a new secretary of defense because Secretary Rumsfeld carries way too much baggage with him," Swannack told CNN's Barbara Starr.
Swannack is the second general who served in Iraq under Rumsfeld to call for him to resign. (Watch as more retired generals join chorus against Rumsfeld -- 1:29)
Batiste, who led the 1st Infantry Division in northern Iraq in 2004-2005, called for Rumsfeld's resignation during an interview Wednesday on CNN.
He also suggested other changes among the top brass at the Pentagon.
"I think we need senior military leaders who understand the principles of war and apply them ruthlessly, and when the time comes they need to call it like it is," he told CNN.
Former U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton and retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold also have called for Rumsfeld to step down.
Swannack is critical of Rumsfeld's management style.
"Specifically, I feel he has micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces there," Swannack said in the telephone interview.
"And I believe he has culpability associated with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and, so, rather than admitting these mistakes, he continually justifies them to the press ... and that really disallows him from moving our strategy forward."
Swannack, who served more than 30 years in the Army, also criticized the way the war was being run before he retired.
In May 2004, while still on active duty, Swannack told the Washington Post that he thought the United States was losing strategically in Iraq.
Calls for a fresh start
Batiste said this week that the United States needs "a fresh start" at the Pentagon.
"When decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision-making, sound planning, then we're bound to make mistakes," Batiste told "American Morning" on Wednesday.
"When we violate the principles of war with mass and unity of command and unity of effort, we do that at our own peril."
In addition to commanding the 1st Infantry in Iraq, Batiste also was a senior adviser to former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of the U.S.-led invasion.(Watch how GOP feels about Rumsfeld -- 2:02)
"You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense," Batiste said.
Zinni, who also appeared Thursday on CNN, blamed Rumsfeld for "throwing away 10 years worth of planning."
Those plans "had taken into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq," Zinni said.
"We grow up in a culture where accountability, learning to accept responsibility, admitting mistakes and learning from them was critical to us," Zinni said. "When we don't see that happening it worries us. Poor military judgment has been used throughout this mission."
CNN's Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.
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