Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld died Tuesday at age 88:
Mr. Rumsfeld had the distinction of being the only defense chief to serve two nonconsecutive terms: 1975 to 1977 under President Ford, and 2001 to 2006 under President Bush. He was also the youngest, at 43, and the oldest, at 74, to hold the post — first in an era of Soviet-American nuclear perils, then in an age of subtler menace by terrorists and rogue states.
A staunch ally of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been his protégé and friend for years, Mr. Rumsfeld was a combative infighter who seemed to relish conflicts as he challenged cabinet rivals, members of Congress and military orthodoxies. And he was widely regarded in his second tour as the most powerful defense secretary since Robert S. McNamara during the Vietnam War.
Like his counterpart of long ago, Mr. Rumsfeld in Iraq waged a costly and divisive war that ultimately destroyed his political life and outlived his tenure by many years. But unlike McNamara, who offered mea culpas in a 2003 documentary, “The Fog of War,” Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged no serious failings and warned in a farewell valedictory at the Pentagon that quitting Iraq would be a terrible mistake, even though the war, the country learned, had been based on a false premise — that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, had been harboring weapons of mass destruction.
Let's not mince words. Of the 28 men actually confirmed in the job, plus the 7 acting defense chiefs, Rumsfeld was without question the worst. George Packer:
Rumsfeld started being wrong within hours of the [9/11] attacks and never stopped. He argued that the attacks proved the need for the missile-defense shield that he’d long advocated. He thought that the American war in Afghanistan meant the end of the Taliban. He thought that the new Afghan government didn’t need the U.S. to stick around for security and support. He thought that the United States should stiff the United Nations, brush off allies, and go it alone. He insisted that al-Qaeda couldn’t operate without a strongman like Saddam. He thought that all the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong, except the dire reports that he’d ordered up himself. He reserved his greatest confidence for intelligence obtained through torture. He thought that the State Department and the CIA were full of timorous, ignorant bureaucrats. He thought that America could win wars with computerized weaponry and awesome displays of force.
By the time Rumsfeld was fired, in November 2006, the U.S., instead of securing peace in one country, was losing wars in two, largely because of actions and decisions taken by Rumsfeld himself.
War Criminal Found Dead at 88
Unlike the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and so many others killed in the wars he launched and in the torture cells he oversaw, Donald Rumsfeld died peacefully.
[W]ithin just a few months of the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and its replacement by an imposed government of Afghan exiles vetted and chosen by the US-led coalition, Washington’s strategic military energy turned from Kabul to Baghdad. Rumsfeld was in his element.
First came the lies. Rumsfeld’s false claims justifying war in Iraq continued and escalated. The inaugural lie, of course, was the entire premise that Iraq’s government was somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks. Assertion was easy, and with a mainstream media largely unwilling to challenge even known lies, there were few questions asked. Then came weapons of mass destruction, uranium yellowcake from Niger, Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes that could “only” be used for nuclear weapons production. The deception at the UN Security Council, where the supposed good guy among the Bush war criminals, Secretary of State Colin Powell, got up and lied to the council, lied to the American people, and lied to the world about what the United States “knew” about Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs.
After the lies came the scandals. Torture, from the beginning. First at CIA “black sites” in countries around the world that would promise—for a price—to keep silent about the hooded, shackled men brought into their territory to secret CIA-run torture centers. Then Guantánamo—turning the illegally occupied US naval base in Cuba into a harsh, isolated, and brutal prison. Then the prisons created by Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, which kept popping up across Iraq—Abu Ghraib (remember the photographs of Rumsfeld’s young men and women soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners in 2004?) and Camp Bucca (where Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, later the founder of ISIS, was imprisoned that same year by Rumsfeld’s Pentagon). Rumsfeld’s bureaucrats described torture in banal, regulated lists of “enhanced interrogation methods”—sleep deprivation, extremes of cold and heat, hours in painful stress positions, waterboarding.
Killing of civilians was a feature of Rumsfeld’s war in Iraq. Air strikes ostensibly aimed at “enemy” forces (whoever the “enemy” was that month or that year) somehow kept managing to hit funeral processions and wedding parties and markets. And children. Ground troops shot at anything, or anyone, that moved—including children. Special Forces kicked in doors, killing everyone inside—including children—and planted weapons to make it look like a gun fight. Almost no one was ever charged, let alone convicted, of a crime. On the rare occasion that some soldiers or Pentagon-paid military contractors did face charges for killing civilians, they almost never spent time in prison. The four Blackwater contractors finally convicted, one of first-degree murder and others of manslaughter, and sentenced to 30 years or life in prison, were soon pardoned by Donald Trump and released from prison. They had killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians for no reason in Nisour Square in downtown Baghdad in 2007. Including children.
Even in October 2006, just before President Bush finally fired him, Jonathan Chait had some choice words:
[I]t seems as good a time as any to reexamine the wave of Rumsfeld hagiography that was in vogue for about two years following September 11, 2001. These documents offer a prime window into the pathologies of conservative thought in the Bush era. To be a loyal conservative during the last half-dozen years, you had to convince yourself to accept a series of propositions that ran the gamut from somewhat implausible to completely absurd. As those propositions collapse, one by one, conservatives are reacting much the same way as communists did following the fall of the Berlin Wall. There are the frantic efforts to rescue conservative orthodoxy by defining the party’s leaders as apostates who deviated from the true faith. And there are the dazed true believers coming to grips with certain realities—Katherine Harris is a not a paragon of wisdom and fair-mindedness, after all; the administration’s fiscal policies may not be completely sound; President Bush is not quite the visionary war leader we made him out to be; and so on. Only by revisiting the conservative propaganda in light of history’s verdict can we see how delusional the movement had become. And on perhaps no topic were conservatives quite as delusional as on the leadership genius of Donald Rumsfeld.
To plunge back into the conservative idealization of Rumsfeld, given what we know today, is a bizarre experience. You enter an upside-down world in which the defense secretary is a thoughtful, fair-minded, eminently reasonable man who has been vindicated by history—and his critics utterly repudiated.
Around the world:
- The Guardian: "Donald Rumsfeld, who has died aged 88, arguably did more damage to the US’s military reputation than any previous secretary of defence."
- The Toronto Star: "For all Rumsfeld’s achievements, it was the setbacks in Iraq in the twilight of his career that will likely etch the most vivid features of his legacy."
- El País: "Argumentando que las armas de destrucción masiva iraquíes representaban un peligro para el mundo -a pesar que nunca se encontraron tales armas-, Rumsfeld intentó responder a la pregunta de un reportero sobre esa cuestión con una de las frases más incomprensibles -y famosa- jamás pronunciada por una personalidad política." ("Arguing that the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction represented a danger to the world, despite never finding these arms, Rumsfeld answered a reporter's question about it with the most incomprehensible and famous pronunciation of any political personality. 'There are known knowns...'")
- Le Monde: "De la prison de Guantanamo (Cuba) à celle d’Abou Ghraib (Irak), son nom reste attaché à quelques-unes des pages les plus sombres de la « guerre globale contre le terrorisme », le concept qu’il a revendiqué après les attentats du 11 septembre 2001." ("From the prison in Guantanamo to a cell in Abu Ghraib, his name remains attached for many years to the most somber pages in the Global War on Terrorism, the concept he conceived after the attacks of 9/11.")
- Al-Jazeera: "While [former US President George W] Bush remembers Rumsfeld well, it is likely history will not look kindly on their legacy, judging from initial reactions to Rumsfeld’s death."
Rumsfeld grew up only a couple of kilometers from me, and in similar circumstances. Somehow, I managed not to become a war criminal responsible for hundreds of thousands of needless deaths.
And wow, he lived almost long enough to watch the Taliban take over Afghanistan. Again.