Farewell to Donald Rumsfeld


At 2:40 p.m. on September 11, 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave orders to one of his subordinates. Among Rumsfeld’s thoughts:

Better info quickly.
Pretty good
judge so well enough
press SH @ at the same time
not just UBL


Short-term target needs –
– go massively – sweep everything
– Things related and not

That is, less than six hours after the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center, Rumsfeld was eager to “hit SH [Saddam Hussein] @ at the same time. “And he wasn’t particularly worried about whether Iraq or any other target was responsible for the attacks. He wanted to carry out” massive “attacks on” linked and not “targets [emphasis in original]. That is, he saw the deaths of thousands of Americans as a wonderful opportunity to do whatever the George W. Bush administration wanted.

At that point, Rumsfeld was doing what he did best throughout his life: transforming the unspeakable suffering of others for the desired ends of himself and his political allies.

Rumsfeld was born in Chicago in 1932 and grew up in the affluent suburb north of the city. After graduating from Princeton, he served in the Navy for several years and at the age of 30 he was elected to Congress from Illinois.

Nixon can be heard on his tapes in the Oval Office admiringly saying that Rumsfeld is “a ruthless little bastard.” You can be sure of that. Henry Kissinger later called Rumsfeld “formidable” and “a special phenomenon in Washington: the skilled full-time politician-bureaucrat in whom ambition, ability and substance blend harmoniously.”

Rumsfeld survived Watergate to serve in Gerald Ford’s administration as Ford’s chief of staff, with Dick Cheney as his deputy. Then, at 43, he was appointed Secretary of Defense – for the first time. One of Rumsfeld’s most notable actions was his participation in the creation and promotion of “Team B,” a special CIA project to challenge the agency’s estimates of Soviet strength.

Filled with hard-right ideologues, Team B predictably arrived at extremely alarmist and largely fanciful conclusions: the Soviet economy was developing at a breakneck pace, as were its weapon systems, and it was ready to strike the West at any time. Rumsfeld himself later said: “One of the most important events in my adult life was the massive transfer of power from the United States to the Soviet Union. The intellectual integrity of Team B and its ethics can be judged by the fact that the Soviet Union collapsed and disappeared in 1991.

After Ford’s 1976 defeat to Jimmy Carter, Rumsfeld spent most of the next two and a half decades at the highest level of American business, running various large corporations. He retained control over US foreign policy, however, including making several trips to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein on behalf of the Ronald Reagan administration, even as Iraq used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. According to a declassified US cable on one of the meetings, “Hussein showed obvious pleasure” and the session “would prove more advantageous for the US position in the region.” Hussein also warned that the invasion of Lebanon by Syria and Israel was dangerous, as it meant that “others would be encouraged to attack and occupy weaker states.” Chaos and instability would result. (Notably, Rumsfeld’s friendly visits took place after the crimes for which Hussein would later be convicted and executed.)

Rumsfeld returned to the Department of Defense with the election of young Bush. With many of the B Team staff returning to power, one should have expected the Iraq war record to consist of similar delusional lies – and he did. Rumsfeld himself lied in a particularly jarring fashion in an interview in late 2002:

The only way [Iraqi WMD] will never be found, in my opinion, that is indeed if you find people who participated in it and who are ready to come and tell you about it and tell you where they are. The last time the inspectors came in, that’s how it happened. Two sons-in-law of Saddam Hussein defected, went to Jordan, and word got out and they said where these inspectors could go to look, they went to look, and they found weapons of mass destruction.

In fact, two sons-in-law of Saddam Hussein actually defected to Jordan in 1995. Shortly thereafter, Iraq handed over a hidden cache of documents on its 1980s WMD programs – but no actual weapons. And that of the Iraqis, Hussein Kamel, who directed the programs for his father-in-law, notably declared to the UN, the CIA and even CNN that Iraq no longer had ADM. This, of course, turned out to be quite true. So the lesson of Rumsfeld’s story was the exact opposite of what he claimed: Iraq might succeed in hiding pieces of paper from inspectors, but that was it.

Later, in Rumsfeld’s “Known and Unknown” memoir, he argued that the United States was indeed right on the issue of WMD. John Nixon, a CIA analyst who interviewed Hussein after his capture, said he was motivated by the “gibberish” in books like Rumsfeld’s to write his own to set the record straight.

Rumsfeld’s record on other issues during the Bush years was much the same. He approved a note delimiting what methods of torture of prisoners would be allowed, while asking why the military would only force them to stand for four hours at a time, given that “I stand 8 to 10 hours a day”.

In 2006, Rumsfeld privately praised Ayad Allawi, who had served as Iraq’s interim prime minister a few years earlier. Allawi, said Rumsfeld, “had steel on his back. … In terms of dealing with him, he was great. He could make a decision and kick a fanny to implement it, and you felt good about it. Seymour Hersh wrote that Allawi was a hitman for Hussein in the 1970s, killing Iraqi defectors in Europe. The New Yorker also reported that there were “persistent rumors” that Allawi had personally executed seven prisoners just before taking office in Iraq.

Rumsfeld’s downfall ultimately came when Republicans lost control of the Senate and House in the 2006 midterm election. Bush needed to appear as though he was making changes, and Rumsfeld was sacrificed.

Retired, Rumsfeld spent time at his pre-war vacation home on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Fittingly, it was nicknamed “Mount Misery” and had once belonged to a specialist in “breaking” disobedient slaves. Frederick Douglass was sent there at the age of 16 to be punished, and later wrote that “I was utterly destroyed, changed and stunned; driven almost to madness.

And now Rumsfeld is gone. His family said in a statement that “history can remember him for his extraordinary achievements during six decades of public service … the integrity he brought to a consecrated life in the country.” It is probably really for the history of the establishment. For example, almost none of these details about Rumsfeld appear in the obituary just published by The New York Times. But everyone should remember who Rumsfeld really was and the kind of person you need to be to reach the pinnacle of American power.

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