Beleagured Rumsfeld tries to save face with Dems

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reached out to Democrats late Friday, opening up the door for them to retract their stinging indictment of him as Pentagon chief.

In a letter to Congress’s top Democrats, Rumsfeld said recent remarks he made during a speech in Salt Lake City were misrepresented by the media, including by the Associated Press. Rumsfeld said he was “concerned” by the reaction of Democrats, many of whom called for his resignation and said he was treading on dangerous territory.

“I know you agree that with America under attack and U.S. troops in the field, our national debate on this should be constructive,” Rumsfeld wrote Friday.

During his speech before thousands of veterans Tuesday, Rumsfeld said the world faces “a new type of fascism” and warned against repeating the pre-World War II mistake of appeasement. He alluded to critics of the Bush administration’s war policies in terms associated with the failure to stop Nazism in the 1930s, “a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among the Western democracies.”

Without explicitly citing Bush critics at home or abroad, he said “it is apparent that many have still not learned history’s lessons.” Aides to Rumsfeld said later he was not accusing the administration’s critics of trying to appease the terrorists but was cautioning against a repeat of errors made in earlier eras.

“Thought and careful preparation went into what I said,” Rumsfeld wrote in the letter. “It is absolutely essential for us to look at lessons of history in this critical moment in the war on terror.” I was honored by the reception my statements received from our veterans.

Pentagon press secretary Eric Ruff said Rumsfeld’s letter “reaffirms his Salt Lake City speech and it suggests lawmakers who have criticized his remarks move beyond politics and read it for what it is.” Ruff said the “speech raises important questions about how America and free societies are going to confront the 21st Century terrorists who are serious, lethal and relentless.”

Democrats said Friday they stood by their remarks.

“We did read the speech and he makes comparisons to World War II” that are unjustified, said Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “He needs to explain that. We stand behind what we said.”

Pelosi, D-Calif., had said: “If Mr. Rumsfeld is so concerned with comparisons to World War II, he should explain why our troops have now been fighting in Iraq longer than it took our forces to defeat the Nazis in Europe.”

“It’s always been clear what Secretary Rumsfeld said,” said Rebecca Kirszner, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “What’s not clear is that he has a strategy in Iraq and to keep America safe. This letter doesn’t change that.”

Sen. Jack Reed (news, bio, voting record), D-R.I., also “stands by his earlier comments,” said spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle. “No one has misread history more than Secretary Rumsfeld, especially when it comes to Iraq.”

Senate Democrats were expected to meet Wednesday to discuss several issues, including whether they will try to force a vote of no confidence on Rumsfeld. Sen. Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., has vowed to push legislation next week calling for Rumsfeld to resign.

“Nothing can change the fact that Secretary Rumsfeld insulted the patriotism of the American people, and he needs to be held accountable for it,” Boxer said Friday.

Text of Rumsfeld’s speech:

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