Donald Rumsfeld was an anchor and a rudder.  

In the service of four Republican Presidents – Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George W. Bush – Donald Rumsfeld was seen as a controversial figure to certain Americans because of his unapologetic, unyielding, and committed dedication to what each of these administrations defined as the America’s strategic agenda. However, even his most vociferous critics – and he had a few, as admitted – never failed to recognize his commitment to the national interest of the United States of America. He was an anchor.  

The citizens of Georgia are indebted to Secretary Rumsfeld because he recognized in our tiny country the potential for a great partnership and strategic function, imbuing Georgia with instrumental significance in the pursuit of American foreign and security policy objectives. Donald Rumsfeld was a devoted friend and supporter of Georgia, its independence and sovereignty because he was committed to American national interests: building as many as possible secure democracy clusters around the world that are geographically far away from the United States; building democratic and capable states standing firmly on their both feet and taking their own sovereign decisions and making thus a strong assurance for the United States’ own security and stability.

He was a ruder and visionary. And specifically from these very perspectives and exactly under his watch the unique “Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP)” was initiated in 2002. This program significantly increased the capabilities of the Georgian armed forces by training and equipping four battalions with light weapons, vehicles and communications. GTEP assisted Georgia in border security, anti-terrorism, crisis response, and military reform thus significantly enhancing Georgia’s security, and as I hope the US security as well. For many years the Georgian military stood firmly and resolutely next to the US and NATO soldiers in the hot spots as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite his sophistication as a statesman and a diplomatic thinker, Donald Rumsfeld was an acquired taste. He was a plain-and-straight-talking Chicago man – not the most obvious place to recruit a sailor – who made his way to Princeton through the Navy. He made his way and God help those who stood in the way.

In one of private conversations, Donald Rumsfeld recalled cheerfully that as a young man he was an armature boxer and that he could still punch hard if necessary. Indeed, his political gibe about “Old Europeans” at the Munich Security Conference (I was in the audience) in 2005 – which literally was a crushing uppercut – roused so-called “wayward Eurosceptics” and compelled them to evoke that there was a vast area eastward from Berlin, Paris, London, Brussels and Munich, in the Eastern Europe and far beyond it. Secretary Rumsfeld reminded muscularly of that strategic fact on the ground the very cream of the entire Euro-Atlantic community that gathered in the Bayerischer Hof hotel. But that message was a shot specifically towards some moribund or egocentric Western European politicians: to comprehend that explicitly for their own security and stability they need to pay appropriate attention and defend properly those newly independent and sovereign countries in “New Europe” and exactly in the so-called “post-Soviet” space from an ambitious, imperialistic and revisionist Russia.

Secretary Rumsfeld was a practical man with a moral core and compass. I remember attending a private dinner arranged by Secretary Rumsfeld to honour Georgia’s previous Prime-Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, purposefully presenting him to his “inner circle” – Washington’s makers and shakers that would be needed to build an essential new relationships, perceptions and narratives for Georgia. Secretary Rumsfeld had nothing but respect for those working for their national interest and did not lack the humour and the empathy required to build an interpersonal rapport. He was sharply smart but also focused on the bottom line. In that evening when he revered the Georgian Prime Minister, Secretary Rumsfeld, naturally, did that because he liked and respected him. However, Donald Rumsfeld wanted also to convert that sympathy to cement not only a deeper personal relationship. Secretary Rumsfeld hunted in the presence of his powerful friends and partners likewise to identify and pinpoint together with bleeding-heart Georgians a strategic agenda and the perspectives for Georgia, to generate new curves of mental maps in the minds of the Washington political circles.

I still remember as in my last meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld at his Foundation in Washington DC, talking about our rough neighbourhood, I humbly conveyed my thoughts: Georgia would like to live with Russia as a good neighbour but never in Russia and for normalcy with its Northern neighbour Georgia would never concede its independence, sovereignty and especially its territorial integrity. As I remember, Secretary Rumsfeld enjoyed my message: “Stay strong and never surrender! Be ready to punch back and defend yourself! It’s not easy as one should know when and how to knock. So, be stronger internally and mentally! Take care of your country and strengthen the institutionalized democracy, economy and the rule of law!  And remember, you should do all that yourself as Americans can only help and assist. So help us to help you!” That powerful Rumsfeld’s maxim still resonates in my ears.

Indeed, Donald Rumsfeld had an enormous amount of wisdom and a wicked sense of humour. But standing on his way was no laughing matter as his boxing habits did not disappear. That’s what his friends appreciated and his foes respected.   

Donald Rumsfeld did not waste time. For years, he not only preached the importance of American interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus. He took promising leaders from the region and showed them the ropes in Washington, which remains an essential mission of CAMCA. Secretary Rumsfeld let them make the case for their relevance, teaching them how. He opened their horizons and helped them to immerse themselves in the American worldview, creating a unique network of values and solidarity. Secretary Rumsfeld left a unique piece of CAMCA legacy, the legacy for the future generations to build-on, enlarge and develop. In serving his country, he served ours like none of us could.

For that and much more I am deeply grateful!

Rest in peace Secretary Donald Rumsfeld! 

Tedo Japaridze is a former ambassador to the US and ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.