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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Case for Firing Rumsfeld (Or "Heckuva Job, Rummy!")

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


For those of you keeping track at home, this post is not part of my ongoing Iraq series (which I am about half-way through). Of course, it does involve Iraq, too, but the recent spate of news cycles involving America's favorite war criminal begs comment.

"He's a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that."
--Richard Nixon on former aide Donald Rumsfeld.

The wars are going badly. Retired generals are coming out of the woodwork (I lost count at seven) to call for DefSec Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, joined by senators in both parties and by the majority of the American people. Marine Corp. Gen. Anthony Zinni fumed that, "Ten years worth of planning were thrown away; troop levels dismissed out of hand. … These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policy made back here." Everywhere he goes, Rumsfeld is hounded by protesters. It all came to a head last week when Rumsfeld was confronted at a Q&A by a former CIA anaylist named Ray McGovern, who asked Rumsfeld point-blank: "Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?" Here is what followed:

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven’t lied. I did not lie then.... I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.
RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were, and we were --
RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were, “near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and northeast, south and west of there.” Those were your words....

McGovern was, of course, right. On March 30, 2003, in an appearance on ABC, Rumsfeld was questoned about the fact that no WMD had yet been found. He responded: "The area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the sheer mendacity of this administration, and particularly of Rumsfeld: When confronted with a statement he famously made, a statement on the Defense Department's own website , he denied ever making the statement. "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit;" it seems to be Rumsfeld's motto. Sadly, for 5 years, Rumsfeld (and the administration as a whole) has been able to pull the wool over the eyes of our vigilant lapdogs in the press. The rise and.... um.... well, if this were a fairy tale, there would be a fall, but since it's not.... the rise and rise of Donald Rumsfeld is emblematic of the entire administration. Out of the whole rotten bunch, Rumsfeld's failures are simply the most galling.

Rummy's War on the Military

I kinda hate to admit it now, but originally, I kinda liked Rumsfeld. When Bush appointed him to head the Pentagon, he seemed to me to be the right man for the job. Desipite the absence of a major power threat in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the military budget in the 1990s continued to increase, surpassing its former peak under Reagan. For FY 2001, the last budget under Clinton, the Pentagon asked for $305 billion--Congress ultimately approved a defense budget with $5 billion more than the Pentagon asked for. As of this year, the U.S. defense budget is expected to equal that of the rest of the world combined. Seems a bit of an overkill, huh?

It was a pleasant surprise to find out that Rummy agreed with me. (I'll call him that from now on as it's easier to type than "Rumsfeld.") He came in pledging to reform the military, to slim it down and create a smarter, sleeker, more agile military. Rummy ran into a lot of resistance both within the military and on Capitol Hill when he tried to close unneeded military bases and cancel worthless programs focused on threats from a bygone era (such as the $11 billion program for the Crusader artillery system, designed to target advanced Soviet tanks.)

Where Rummy and I parted company, even before 9/11, was in defining the nature of the threats to America in this new century. Rummy, along with the other founding members of the Project for a New American Century, saw the greatest threat to America as being posed by so-called "rouge states"--nations like North Korea, Iran, and Iraq--that were suspected of pursuing WMD they could then put in a warhead on top of an ICBM and launch at America. Thus, as the threat America faced was missile-based weapons fired by "rouge states," a "missile defense shield" was crucial.

Before 9/11, many critics of the "missile defense system" pointed out that no missile defense system could stop our enemies from deploying their weapons from inside our country's borders, which would have the advantage of being cheaper for them, as well as more suited to the non-state sponsored terrorist groups that truly posed the greatest threat to America.

In a speech he delivered on September 10, 2001, Rummy identified the "adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America.... It's the Pentagon bureaucracy."

Believing that the professional military officers and staff were pathologically risk-averse, Rummy declared that he was completely in charge, and that only he was capable of taking the action required to reform our military. From this messianic belief came the corrollary that he would have to micromanage every detail of Pentagon operations, including overriding the best-laid plans of senior generals.

Rummy was enamored of American might. He believed that we could win decisively against our enemies with only a small force of soldiers and an intimidating "shock and awe" bombing campaign, which he debuted in the Afghan war. A handful of special forces troops working with Taliban-sympathizing warlords were strangely unable to capture or kill Osama bin Laden or any of al-Qaida's leadership at Tora Bora or at Shah-i-Kot. So few troops were sent in that even after almost 5 years the warlords that ruined Afghanistan are still in control and the elected government's writ is tenous, even in the capital. Iraq is merely Afghanistan on a larger and bloodier scale, with tribal and religious leaders taking the place of the warlords.

Since the 1990s, Rumsfeld had urged a preemptive strike against Iraq. He began his campaign to pressure the president into launching such a strike within hours of the 9/11 attacks. According to Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, Rummy complained that Afghanistan had too few targets, and that Iraq would put America's military prowess to better use. Overriding the advise of his generals and military experts, Rummy decided Iraq could be invaded with less than 100,000 troops and that troop levels could be drawn down to 30,000 by the summer of 2003.

After General Eric Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, told Congress in February 2003 that the number of troops that would be needed for the occupation of Iraq, after the invasion, would be "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," Rummy fired back, calling that "far off the mark."

Speaking for his boss, Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that Shinseki was wrong: Wolfie downplayed fears of ethnic or sectarian strife, said the Iraqis would welcome U.S. occupation and predicted that "even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction." The kicker was his claim that he found it "hard to believe" it would take more troops to occupy Iraq than to defeat Saddam's army. Wolfie also shot down estimates that the war and reconstruction could cost $95 billion as ridiculously high and even pointed out that, given Iraq's oil wealth, "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong." I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.

Rummy's decision to ignore the professional opinions of the military's best and brightest tacticians and Middle East specialists and invade with far too few troops to properly occupy Iraq is the great strategic blunder that set virtually all the later misfortunes of the Iraq war rolling (that and his decision to disband the Iraqi Army [armed bitter unemployed men of fighting age: what's the worst that could happen?] and criminalize the civil servants who could get Iraq back on its feet quickest simply because they were Baath party members [to get good jobs under Saddam, you had to be].)

Immediately upon "liberating" Baghdad, American troops were unable to stop the widespread looting, much of it organized by Saddam loyalists. Many historical artifacts were lost forever; thousands of tons of weapons-grade ammo was left unguarded, thus giving the insurgents a practically inexhaustible supply of ammo they employ to this day. But somehow, the Oil Ministry was secured; though, lot of good that did us when the insurgents started using their new-found ammo to blow up oil pipelines, keeping Iraq's oil production still below pre-war levels more than three years after the invasion. All of this was predictable, all of this was avoidable. Had we had Shinseki's "several hundred thousand" troops in Iraq during the critical months of April to early August 2003, the insurgency could have been contained and probably stomped out.

Ultimately, the buck stops with Bush, but Bush wasn't the one hunched over maps orchestrating the entire war and second-guessing the experts, lecturing a cowed General Tommy Franks on tactics. Rumsfeld was -- and, for snatching stalemate from the mouth of victory by gambling that he knew better than the experts and proving the experts right in the first place, he deserves to be sacked.

Yet that does not truly do justice to Rummy's incompetence. When trying to get allies onboard to help reconstruct, the last thing you want to do is insult them ("Old Europe"). When a soldier confronts you about being sent into combat with sub-standard equipment and faulty armor, it doesn't help to blithly reply, "You go to war with army you have, not the army you want." Also, when Iraq's national treasures are looted while American troops guard the oil ministry, it's a bad PR move to respond that, "Freedom's untidy," and "Stuff happens."

And of course, who can forget Rummy's most memorable accomplishment, Abu Ghraib, which single-handedly made it impossible for the U.S. to win the war of hearts and minds in the Muslim world for a generation? Muckraker extrodinaire Seymour Hersh, who broke the abuse/torture story, also tied the abuses directly to policy decisions made by Rumsfeld, particularly his order to interrogators to "get tough" on detainees. The insistence by Bush and Rumsfeld that all detainees in their "War on Terror" were not "prisoners of war" but "enemy combatants," and therefore, the Geneva Conventions did not apply to them, led directly to Abu Ghraib. When you put MPs, rather than trained interrogators, in charge of detainees and tell them to "get tough" on these detainees, while reminding them that these detainees do not have to be treated to Geneva Convention standards -- when in short, you remove the limits that previously governed interrogation and do not impose crystal-clear new limits -- it should not be surprising when soldiers "cross the line."

Today, Rumsfeld's power is greater than ever. With the resignation of CIA chief Porter Goss and his deputy, Kyle Foggo, in the ever-widening "Duke Cunningham/bribery/influence-peddling/Watergate II/Hookergate Mother of All Scandals," Rumsfeld is closer than ever to achieving his dream: complete control over America's intelligence agencies. Contrary to popular belief, the CIA comprises only 15% of America's intel budget; more than 80% goes to agencies reporting to the DefSec. Having long clashed with the past two CIA directors to gain control of the CIA, Rumsfeld looks set to get his wish, as Bush's new CIA chief nominee is General Michael Hayden, former NSA director and Rumsfeld protege. But even Republicans seem opposed to the idea of a military man gaining control of the civilian spy agency, and Hayden's implementation of the illegal wiretapping program and his possible ties to the aforementioned Hookergate scandal make his confirmation far from a sure thing.

The most troubling aspect of this latest development is that Bush feels no qualms with rewarding Rummy's colossal failures by granting him even more power. If Bush realized that Rumsfeld's actions have left America less secure, if he recognized that pursuing the same failed policies again and again expecting a different outcome is truly insanity, if he realized that the only way to get out of a hole is to stop digging, he would fire Rumsfeld now. Actually, he would have fired him a long time ago. The fact that he hasn't raises the disturbing possibility that Bush might not even recognize that a change in course is necessary; that Bush truly believes that, as Cheney put it last May, "The insurgency is its last throes"; that as Bush put it three years ago this month, "The battle for Iraq is over." It is a frightening possibility.

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