WASHINGTON — Despite President George W. Bush’s strenuous defense, former high-ranking military commanders continue to demand that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld be fired for his role in the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq.

So far, seven retired Army and Marine Corps generals have joined in the call that Rumsfeld be ousted. None has recanted in the face of White House and Pentagon attempts to intimidate them.

The Pentagon sent out a one-page memo claiming that the seven are a small percentage of the 8,000 active duty and retired generals. But retired Col. Dan Smith of the U.S. Army, a military affairs expert for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, told the World, “It is not the numbers that matter. What is significant is that four generals who were directly involved either in planning the war or were on the ground in Iraq” are now “validating” the widespread charges that Rumsfeld bears major responsibility for the disaster in Iraq.

Rumsfeld is a proxy for Bush who is the real target of rising criticism among not only retired but also active duty military officers, Smith said. “The secretary of defense advises the president. But in the end, he doesn’t make the decision. The president makes the decision. Getting rid of Rumsfeld won’t solve the basic problem. You’ve got to change the policy. That means the Oval Office. First we need a clear statement that we are going to withdraw all U.S. military forces and military bases from Iraq. … We’re part of the problem. We’re contributing to the instability and unrest.”

He warned that Bush is already expressing his predisposition to attack Iran, spreading the flames of war even further.

Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni told CNN that Rumsfeld should be held accountable for “throwing away 10 years worth of planning, plans that had to be taking into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq.” Maj. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who commanded troops in Iraq as recently as 2004, told The New York Times, “I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight the war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq.”

The other retired officers include Gen. Wesley Clark, Gen. John Riggs, Maj. Gen. John Batiste and Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, all U.S. Army. Many of the officers recall Rumsfeld’s role in ousting Gen. Eric Shinseki, then Army chief of staff, in 2003 for telling Congress that occupying Iraq would require “several hundred thousand troops,” not the far smaller force Rumsfeld would send. Thus, most of the military officers oppose Rumsfeld’s conduct of the war, not the war itself, and are finger-pointing because the occupation has turned into a disaster.

An exception may be Marine Corps Gen. Greg Newbold, who resigned in 2002 to protest Bush’s drive to war. “Gen. Newbold comes as close as any to a rejection of the need for a war with Iraq,” Smith continued. “He expresses a view that those without the experience of warfare cavalierly send people into combat and are not around to face the consequences or bury the dead.”

The retired officers maintain close ties with active duty officers who are believed to share their anger at Rumsfeld’s arrogant blunders. Active duty Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who commanded coalition forces in Iraq from January 2005 to January 2006, told a Washington Institute audience in an April 13 speech that in the fall of 2004 he worked on a military assessment that the insurgency in Iraq enjoyed the support of “millions” of Sunnis “who reject the authority of the Interim Government.”

As long as the Iraq government was not considered legitimate, Vines added, “the problem of the insurgency would not go away.” But that assessment was rejected by Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, who considered the insurgency “dead-enders” from Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime with no popular support.

Smith told the World that tension is building between the Republicans in Congress and the president. “If we’re still bogged down in Iraq around Labor Day, there may be a concerted effort to ease Mr. Rumsfeld out,” Smith said. Bush is a lame duck, he said, but there is “deep concern” among incumbent Republican lawmakers that voters may dump them from office in the Nov. 7 election because of anger over Iraq.

Smith rejected arguments that military officers speaking out are a threat to civilian control of the military, a fear Bush is exploiting to silence dissent in the military. “There is absolutely no consideration that somebody is going to pull a coup,” he said.

Two years ago there were demands for Rumsfeld’s ouster for his role in authorizing torture by U.S. military personnel of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba and other secret sites around the world.

Rumsfeld twice offered to resign for those crimes, but Bush flatly rejected Rumsfeld’s offer. At a Pentagon news briefing, a reporter asked Rumsfeld why he didn’t repeat his offer to resign now.

“Call it idiosyncratic,” he snapped.