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Mr. Rumsfeld left government for the first time in 15 years and became President and CEO of GD Searle & Company, the troubled pharmaceutical company. He turned the business around by cutting costs, selling subsidiaries, and developing the artificial sweetener NutraSweet, which grossed billions when approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In 1985 the company was sold to Monsanto, a move that made Mr. Rumsfeld rich.
In 1983 and 1984, Mr. Rumsfeld was on six-month leave from Searle and served as President Reagan’s Special Envoy for the Middle East. It became a conduit for the expansion of American intelligence and military aid into Iraq, which was then at war with neighboring Iran. American support for the Iraqi dictatorship and Mr Rumsfeld’s meetings with President Hussein were not particularly controversial at a time of growing concern about the spread of the Islamic revolution in Iran.
After flirting with political races from time to time, Mr. Rumsfeld investigated but did not pursue candidacies for the 1986 US Senate and for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 and 1996. In 1996 he was the national election chairman of Senator Bob Dole, the Republican presidential candidate who lost to incumbent Bill Clinton.
From 1990 to 1993, Mr. Rumsfeld was Chairman and Chief Executive of General Instrument Corporation, an electronics manufacturer specializing in cable, satellite and ground broadcast applications that pioneered the first all-digital high definition television technology. Mr. Rumsfeld put the company on the stock exchange and made another fortune.
From 1997 to 2001 he was chairman of Gilead Sciences, the developer of Tamiflu, which is used in the treatment of avian flu. After becoming Secretary of Defense in 2001, he withdrew from all decisions affecting Gilead, but his holdings in the company grew significantly when avian flu sparked widespread concern about a possible pandemic.
Over the years questions have been raised about Mr. Rumsfeld’s work as a director of many companies, including some defense companies. But he denied any wrongdoing and nothing was ever shown.
His complex character – he was a creative and dedicated reformer to admirers, a vain and selfish tyrant to critics – has been the subject of endless debate and analysis in public forums, newspaper and magazine articles, television documentaries, and books.