In a statement, the president rejected calls for Mr Rumsfeld to step down. Mr Bush praised Mr Rumsfeld for his "energetic and steady leadership" during his years at the Pentagon. Six retired generals have spoken out against Mr Rumsfeld's handling of the war in Iraq and apparent disdain for experienced military commanders. The defence secretary has also personally dismissed suggestions that he should resign. "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defence of the United States it would be like a merry-go-round," he told Arabic TV channel al-Arabiya.
|Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period |
US President George W Bush
In his statement, Mr Bush dismissed claims that the defence secretary has not worked well with senior commanders.
CRITICAL RETIRED GENERALS
Maj Gen Charles H Swannack Jr, Army
Maj Gen John Riggs, Army
Maj Gen John Batiste, Army
Gen Anthony Zinni, Marines
Lt Gen Gregory Newbold, Marines
Maj Gen Paul Eaton, Army
The president stressed that under Mr Rumsfeld's guidance the US military has undergone a period of rapid transformation and faced a series of major overseas conflicts. "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." The BBC's Jane Little in Washington says it is highly unusual for Mr Bush to issue a statement from his Camp David retreat, where he is on holiday - but pressure is mounting on Mr Rumsfeld and the administration.
The Democrats have seized on it, comparing the president's support with the praise he gave to Michael Brown, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), over his handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Despite Mr Bush's approval, Mr Brown was forced out of office after harsh criticism of the government's response to the disaster.
Mr Bush's unequivocal backing for Mr Rumsfeld came amid growing discontent among recently-retired senior officers. The two most senior generals to voice their unease were Maj Gen John Riggs and Maj Gen Charles H Swannack Jr, both of the Army. In a radio interview Gen Riggs, a former division commander, said Mr Rumsfeld fostered an atmosphere of "arrogance" among the Pentagon's top civilian leadership.
"They only need the military advice when it satisfies their agenda. I think that's a mistake, and that's why I think he should resign," he told National Public Radio (NPR). Retired Marine Gen Anthony Zinni told CNN Mr Rumsfeld should be held responsible for a series of mistakes, beginning with "throwing away 10 years worth of planning, plans that had taken into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq".
But others have come out in support of the embattled defence secretary. Retired Marine Lt Gen Mike DeLong, who was deputy commander of Central Command as the US military prepared to invade Iraq in March 2003, said Mr Rumsfeld was good at his job.