WASHINGTON, Apr 18 (Reuters) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, boosted by another strong endorsement from President George W Bush, said today no one is indispensable but he is not considering quitting in the face of criticism from a handful of retired generals.
Rumsfeld, always a lightning rod for criticism of the three-year Iraq war, has faced an unusual spate of calls for his resignation from retired senior officers in recent weeks.
Six retired generals, including two who recently commanded Army divisions in Iraq and one who headed efforts to train Iraqi security forces, have demanded Rumsfeld's ouster, saying he disregarded military advice and ruled by intimidation.
''The President knows, as I know, that there are no indispensable men,'' Rumsfeld said. ''Graveyards of the world are filled with 'indispensable people.''' Rumsfeld, who has said he twice offered Bush his resignation in 2004 amid the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, said he did not intend to do so this time.
Asked whether he would consider resigning to ease the burden on the President and Republicans during a congressional election year, Rumsfeld said, ''No. He (Bush) knows that I serve at his pleasure and that's that.'' Answering questions at a Rose Garden ceremony, Bush firmly backed the 73-year-old Pentagon chief, as he did in a written statement last Friday.
''Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job,'' Bush said. ''He's not only transforming the military, he's fighting a war on terror -- he's helping us fight a war on terror. I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld.
''I hear the voices. And I read the front page. And I know the speculation. But I'm the decider. And I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense,'' said Bush, whose public approval ratings are at a low for his presidency in part because of waning American support for the Iraq war.
Marine Corps Gen Peter Pace, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he does not believe there is dissatisfaction in the military ranks over Rumsfeld's leadership. Pace, speaking at Rumsfeld's side, also said senior military officers have ample opportunity to have their views heard by the Pentagon's civilian leadership.
''There are multiple opportunities for all of us, whatever opinions we have, to put them on the table. And all the opinions are put on the table,'' Pace told reporters.
''But at the end of the day, after we've given our best military advice, somebody has to make a decision. And when a decision's made by the secretary of defense, unless it's illegal or immoral, we go on about doing what we've been told to do,'' he said.
''Don't even suggest that -- illegal or immoral,'' Rumsfeld told Pace jokingly.
REUTERS PG PM0016