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Outgoing Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Receives Farewell at the Pentagon

December 15, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: For a brief time in front of the Pentagon today, all the controversy over Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Iraq war gave way to pageantry and praise.

It was the final, official farewell for Rumsfeld, who assumed the job at the beginning of the Bush administration and more recently had become the public face of an unpopular war. He was publicly let go by President Bush the day after the Republicans lost Congress.

Rumsfeld leaves his post 10 days short of becoming the longest-serving secretary of defense ever, just shy of the record set by the equally controversial Robert McNamara.

Vice President Cheney, a longtime colleague and friend, recalled serving under Rumsfeld in the Nixon administration.

RICHARD CHENEY, Vice President of the United States: Don was the toughest boss I had ever had, the most demanding and the most commanding. If you’ve been on his staff, you know that Don has an incredibly sharp eye for detail.

He has near-perfect recall of everything he’s told you and everything you’ve told him. He has a way of asking you the one question you’re not prepared for, and apparently he does not sleep.

MARGARET WARNER: President Bush applauded Rumsfeld’s role in planning and executing the Iraq war and occupation.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Coalition forces drove Saddam Hussein from power in 21 days. And in the years that followed, Don Rumsfeld helped see the Iraqi people through the resumption of sovereignty, two elections, a referendum to approve the most progressive constitution in the Middle East, and the seating of a newly elected government.

On his watch, the United States military helped the Iraqi people establish a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a watershed event in the story of freedom.

MARGARET WARNER: He also had words of praise for Rumsfeld’s campaign to transform the military.

GEORGE W. BUSH: He undertook the most sweeping transformation of America’s global defense posture since the start of the Cold War, repositioning our forces so they can surge quickly to deal with unexpected threats, and setting the stage for our global military presence for the next 50 years.

The record of Don Rumsfeld’s tenure is clear: There have been more profound change — there has been more profound change at the Department of Defense over the past six years than at any time since the department’s creation in the late 1940s.

Rumsfeld's parting advice

MARGARET WARNER: When it came his turn to speak, Rumsfeld was characteristically blunt about America's role in the world and its burdens.

DONALD RUMSFELD, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense: Ours is also a world of many friends and allies, but sadly, realistically, friends and allies with declining defense investment and declining capabilities, and I would add, as a result, with increasing vulnerabilities, all of which requires that the United States of America invest more.

Today, it should be clear that, not only is weakness provocative, but the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative, as well. It may well be comforting to some to consider graceful exits from the agonies and, indeed, the ugliness of combat, but the enemy thinks differently.

Under the president's leadership, this country made a decision to confront the extremists' ideology of hatred that spawned a worldwide movement and to take the fight to the enemy. The alternative was inaction and defense, a pattern that history has shown only emboldens the enemy.

Our country has taken on a bracing and difficult task. But let there be no doubt: It is neither hopeless nor without purpose. We're in what will be a long struggle. It's new; it's complex; and, even after five years, it's still somewhat unfamiliar.

That we have been successful -- I would add fortunate -- to have suffered not one single attack here at home since September 11, 2001, has contributed to a misperception in some quarters that the threat is gone. It is not.

MARGARET WARNER: Rumsfeld's tenure officially ends when his successor, Robert Gates, takes over on Monday.