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Rumsfeld returns as defense secretary

Bush unexpectedly turns to the 68-year-old, who first held the job under Gerald Ford.

President-elect Bush chose Donald Rumsfeld, a veteran Washington insider and champion of missile defenses, to be his secretary of defense, the same job Rumsfeld held in the Ford administration a quarter-century ago.

Picking Rumsfeld, 68, a blunt-spoken former Navy fighter pilot and Illinois congressman, brings to the Pentagon's top job a man with the military experience and stature on Capitol Hill to press Bush's priorities to modernize the armed forces and build a missile shield against emerging threats.

"This is a man who has got great judgment," Bush told reporters. "He has got strong vision. And he's going to be a great secretary of defense _ again."

Conservatives, already elated by Bush's selection of Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general, expressed jubilation Thursday over the selection of Rumsfeld, a foreign policy hawk and social conservative who served as national chairman of Bob Dole's failed presidential campaign in 1996. Senators from both parties predicted a swift confirmation.

Bush made the surprise announcement here with Vice President-elect Dick Cheney standing silently by his side. Rumsfeld, who has long-term political ties to Cheney, was reported to be a front-runner as the next director of central intelligence, but his name came up for defense secretary after Bush expressed second thoughts about two leading candidates for that job. Those candidates were former Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, who left Bush unconvinced after a meeting Monday that he was the right man for the job, and Paul D. Wolfowitz, a former top Pentagon official who some in the Bush camp feared could be overwhelmed. Cheney was then directed to broaden the search.

Cheney has played a major role in Cabinet selections, but never more so than with Rumsfeld. It was Rumsfeld who brought Cheney into the Ford White House as a deputy chief of staff, and who has been the vice president-elect's prototype of a political executive ever since. The two men share remarkably similar resumes _ congressman, White House chief of staff, secretary of defense and corporate chief executive _ as well as a results-driven, no-nonsense management style.

The only trick was persuading Rumsfeld to serve again, a challenge that Cheney took on over the past several days, transition aides said. "I tell you, this has all happened very rapidly," Rumsfeld, who has been working as a private consultant, told reporters.

Rumsfeld, who served as secretary of defense for 18 months from 1975 to 1977, after the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam, is a skilled bureaucratic infighter who will serve as a complement and counterweight on Bush's national security team to Gen. Colin Powell, the secretary of state-designate, and Condoleezza Rice, the future national security adviser.

But he is perhaps best known recently for heading a bipartisan panel in 1998 that concluded that nations like North Korea and Iran could threaten the United States with long-range missiles sooner than American intelligence analysts had predicted. That led Rumsfeld to become a leading advocate for missile defenses against such threats.

The document became one of the most influential in recent American military planning. Rumsfeld was among a group of Republican foreign policy luminaries, including Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former secretaries of state, who flanked Bush at a news conference in May when the Texas governor renewed his pledge to develop robust missile defenses.

When Rumsfeld began his first tour of duty as secretary of defense in November 1975, the Vietnam War had just been lost and the U.S. military was at perhaps its lowest ebb since World War II. At 43, Rumsfeld was the youngest defense secretary in history, but he had just 14 months to make his mark on military policy before the end of the Ford administration.

Now, a quarter-century after Vietnam and nearly a decade after the end of the Cold War, Rumsfeld would direct a very different U.S. military, one that includes many soldiers who were not even born when he first ran the Pentagon.

Not only have the threats to the United States changed markedly since he was first appointed by President Ford, but the military's place in society has also been transformed, posing new political challenges that were not even on the Pentagon's radar screen Rumsfeld's first time around.

Yet his supporters say Rumsfeld will not be stuck in the Cold War past. His leading role on important current issues, from national missile defense to the management of the government's space operations, has won over a younger generation of Republican experts on military and national security matters, and has gained him the strong support of congressional leaders as well.

Above all, aides and supporters point to his repeated efforts to develop a consensus on controversial issues as a key to his management style, an attribute that will almost certainly be a necessity as the new Bush administration seeks to increase defense spending and win congressional approval for a national missile defense program.

Aides said they expected Bush to make additional personnel announcements today before returning to Texas to celebrate the New Year at his ranch. Bush said he hoped to have his Cabinet appointments finished by the end of the first week of January, adding with a laugh that he did not want to be held to that deadline.

But the president-elect acknowledged that he was having trouble fulfilling his goal of recruiting a Democrat or two to serve in his Cabinet. "I've talked to some Democrats about whether or not there may be an interest of leaving their current positions," Bush said. "And most people want to stay in place."

Donald H. Rumsfeld

Age-birthdate: 68; July 9, 1932.

Education: B.A. in politics, Princeton University, 1954.

Experience: Various executive positions with a number of corporations, 1985-present; president and chief executive officer of G.D. Searle and Co., 1977-85; various Ford administration positions 1974-77, including head of Ford's 1974 transition team, assistant to the president, director of the White House Office of Operations, and chief of staff; defense secretary under Ford, 1975-77; U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 1973-74; various Nixon administration positions 1969-74, including assistant to the president, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, counselor to the president and director of the Cost of Living Council; U.S. representative from Illinois, 1962-69; A.G. Becker & Co., 1960-62; assistant to two congressmen, 1957-59; aviator and flight instructor, Navy, 1954-57.

Family: Wife, Joyce; three children; five grandchildren.