WASHINGTON -- President-elect George W. Bush on Thursday unexpectedly nominated former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has championed a national missile-defense system and is a veteran of two Republican administrations, to head the Pentagon again.
Rumsfeld, 68, has been a GOP stalwart for four decades, first coming to Washington as a congressman from Illinois, then joining the Nixon and Ford administrations.
He will bring to the Defense Department the gravitas that should make him a peer of the likes of Vice President-elect Dick Cheney and Secretary of State-designate Colin L. Powell, thus ensuring that the Pentagon's point of view is forcefully represented.
Bush's announcement came after days of speculation that the job would go to former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, or to one of two former aides to Vice President-elect Dick Cheney. Instead, the president-elect named a man who once served as Cheney's boss as chief of staff at the White House.
With Rumsfeld's appointment, Bush's Cabinet selections have the patina of corporate America, dominated by wealthy individuals who have not only served in government but also held senior private-sector jobs.
"This shows the Bush team really does prefer corporate-style managers," said Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank that advocates increased military spending.
In announcing Rumsfeld's appointment, Bush said:
"There's no question in my mind that his record of service to the country is extraordinary. ... This is a man who has got great judgment. He has got strong vision. And he's going to be a great secretary of Defense -- again."
A former White House chief of staff and ambassador to NATO, Rumsfeld was chosen in 1975 by President Ford to become the youngest Defense secretary in the nation's history.
Speaking of Rumsfeld's stature and background, Bush noted that Cheney, a former Defense secretary, and Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would have "little" undue influence at the Pentagon -- "because I picked a strong leader" in Rumsfeld.
Bush and Rumsfeld said they intend to make the armed forces more mobile in combating terrorism, protecting assets in space and defending against weapons of mass destruction.
When he headed the missile-threats commission in 1998, Rumsfeld was able to unite liberals and conservatives on the panel in their final unanimous recommendation that America faced a growing threat of missile attack from abroad.
Although the commission stopped short of urging the Pentagon to build a specific anti-missile system, the recommendation pushed the Clinton administration to move ahead on missile defense.
Bush said Thursday that he was particularly impressed by Rumsfeld's work on that panel.
Rumsfeld will work to "change our military" by making the armed forces more mobile and swift so that it can "meet the threats of a new century," Bush said.
Rumsfeld characterized "the new national-security environment" as "information warfare, missile defense, terrorism, defense of our space assets and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world."
Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce, have three children and five grandchildren.
By wide consensus, the former Navy fighter pilot and college wrestling captain performed well when he was President Ford's Defense secretary. And, many observers agree, he is still a grappler.
The defense job is one of the most difficult in the upper reaches of government: It is at the center of some of the most powerful and competitive bureaucracies and political establishments, requiring a firm hand that can balance the demands and practiced recalcitrance of the uniformed services, the defense industry, White House budget minders, and Congress. And historically, the Defense secretary often finds himself at odds over policy with other members of the president's national security team.
Indeed, the chiefs of staff have said that they will need a budget boost of tens of billions of dollars. And, despite the record federal budget surplus, it will be a tough fight to get it.
Rumsfeld demonstrated in his last stint in the job, from late 1975 until early 1977, that he was a keen-eyed manager. He tried to squeeze out waste at every turn and was willing to cancel important weapons programs. That experience may come in handy.
He was not afraid to tangle with the brass.
Consider the time Air Force Gen. George Brown, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stepped out of line with sharp words that were insulting to Jews and, despite the resulting uproar, later insulted the British military. Rumsfeld called him to the Pentagon's press room and, while the nation's top uniformed military officer stood at attention, dressed him down. But he did not fire him.
The result: A valued member of the national security team, whose military contributions were not questioned, kept his mouth shut for the rest of his tenure -- and remained on board.
Rumsfeld, known as "DR" and, less frequently, as "Rummy," has been in and out of politics for more than four decades.
A graduate of Princeton University, he headed the Office of Economic Opportunity in the late 1960s. Among those on his staff were Dick Cheney, Christine Todd Whitman, Frank Carlucci, Bill Bradley (working a summer job) and, in the legal services shop, Mickey Kantor.
Cheney, the vice president-elect, has been a Rumsfeld protege, taking over as Ford's White House chief of staff when Ford sent Rumsfeld, his first chief of staff, to the Pentagon. Whitman, the governor of New Jersey, was named last week as Bush's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Carlucci served as Defense secretary in the Reagan administration. Bradley became a New Jersey senator, and Kantor a Commerce secretary.
Rumsfeld was elected to Congress at the age of 30 and served three terms before taking over the economic office during the Nixon administration.
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