Face time with the president is political gold in Washington, so Donald Rumsfeld moved quickly after taking charge at the Pentagon to secure weekly private meetings with President George W. Bush. Now, nearly six years and many meetings later, the defense secretary arrived in the Oval Office prepared to raise a delicate, and personal, matter.
His opportunity came as the talk that day, in September 2006, turned to Iraq. The conflict there was going badly. Violence had metastasized into a civil war. Plans to begin a major drawdown of U.S. troops had stalled. Iraqi forces still appeared unready to assume charge of security, and the Iraqi government, riven by sectarian strife, was doing little to unite the nation. In Washington, much of the responsibility for the mess in Iraq had fallen on Rumsfeld. He had failed to plan adequately for the occupation, was slow to develop a counterinsurgency campaign and had alienated too many people with his combative, domineering personality.