Friday, March 18, 2011

The Worst

Salon
- March 17, 2011 | 1:00 am

Known and Unknownby Donald Rumsfeld
MAX BOOT on DONALD RUMSFELD'S DISASTROUS CAREER


THERE ARE ESSENTIALLY THREE REASONS to write a memoir: for money, for
literary value, and for vindication. Neither of the first two applies to
Donald Rumsfeld. Having made a bundle as CEO of G.D. Searle (the maker of
NutraSweet), he has no apparent need for more; in any case the proceeds from
his memoir are to be donated to charities helping American service
personnel. Nor is there any artistry apparent in the writing: like most
politicians? books, this one is clunky and inelegant. If Rumsfeld has any
pride of authorship, he hides it well. His acknowledgements suggest that no
fewer than three people contributed to the writing while eleven more checked
facts, transcribed dictation, and acquired documents and illustrations. The
result reads, not surprisingly, more like a memo written by a team of clever
if unprincipled publicists??The Case for Donald Rumsfeld??than a genuinely
reflective memoir that tries to delve into the author?s inner life and come
to grips with the decisions he made and their consequences.

No doubt Rumsfeld was motivated to write with Churchill?s (apocryphal)
dictum in mind: ?History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.?
Churchill was such a powerful polemicist and successful statesman that he
largely achieved his ambition; it would not be until decades later that
historians would unravel the self-serving spin of his magisterial,
six-volume *The Second World War.* Donald Rumsfeld, needless to say, is no
Winston Churchill. If the initial reviews are any indication, his memoir
will do nothing to rescue the reputation of a man who is destined to be
remembered as one of the two worst secretaries of defense ever?exceeded,
arguably, only by Robert S. McNamara, whose missteps cost far more American
lives. Although it scarcely seems possible, *Known and Unknown *may even
lower Rumsfeld?s standing.

The book is certainly revealing, but mainly in ways that are unintentional
and unflattering. It does help to answer the riddle of how someone who
seemed so supremely qualified for high office?a man who had served
previously as a congressman (in the 1960s), White House aide and NATO
ambassador (for Richard Nixon), White House chief of staff and secretary of
defense (for Gerald Ford), and corporate chieftain ?how a man with such a
sterling resum? could be such a miserable failure in managing the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which we were losing by the time he left
office.

To find the answers to this mystery, you have to read between the lines. You
have to look beyond his flimsy and unconvincing rationalizations to see
revealed a self-made Princetonian of surpassing arrogance, a collegiate
wrestler who turned into a master of bureaucratic gamesmanship but failed to
manage or lead effectively, a senior official who undermined his superiors
and aggravated his underlings, who deferred to the incompetent and
second-guessed the competent, and who in the final analysis refused to take
responsibility for momentous decisions. *Known and Unknown* is destined to
be remembered as a masterpiece of buck-passing and score-settling written by
a man who seems to shrink in stature with every page.

The problems begin with the title. It dates from a press conference in 2002.
As Rumsfeld explains in an ?Author?s Note,? a reporter had asked him about
the lack of a direct link between Saddam Hussein?s regime and terrorists
seeking weapons of mass destruction. Rumsfeld replied with one of his famous
mini-lectures, drawing a distinction between ?things we know we know,?
?known unknowns,? and ?unknown unknowns???the ones we don?t know we don?t
know.? Rumsfeld explains rather condescendingly that he was trying to
explain to this reporter ?a larger point about the limits of human
knowledge.?

He returns to this theme at the very end of the book with another
mini-lecture, this time for the reader, about ?the limits of intelligence?of
both human intellect and the products of our government?s intelligence
agencies,? which he describes as a ?reality that should make us all
humble? and ?intellectually flexible.? Leave aside the fact that
?humble? and ?intellectually flexible? are the last words anyone would apply
to Rumsfeld. Why are we being treated to this lesson in epistemology? The
point hooves into view when Rumsfeld explains that there is only one ?known
certainty? in this world: ?that those who made the decisions with imperfect
knowledge will be judged in hindsight by those with considerably more
information at their disposal and time for reflection.?

In other words, all this mock-philosophical reflection is really a
not-so-subtle plea on behalf of Donald Rumsfeld. *I did the best I could
based on the information I had; don?t judge me too harshly.* Rumsfeld would
be more sympathetic if he were to come out and just throw himself on the
public?s mercy. But contrition and humility are utterly alien to the
cocksure former Navy fighter pilot who is forever poking his finger in
someone?s chest, literally or metaphorically. By invoking the limitations of
human knowledge, he is merely providing an alibi for his own failures,
without quite coming out and saying so.

To err is human, but some people err more than others. Rumsfeld has two
glaring blemishes on his record?Afghanistan and Iraq?that cannot be
explained away by citing the limitations of human reason, especially not
when he ignored the advice of many who warned him that he was not sending
enough troops or making a big enough commitment to nation-building in either
country. One of the most astute critics was Senator John McCain, who was
warning as early as the summer of 2003 that we needed a bigger force to stop
a growing insurgency in Iraq. His reward is to be sneered at by Rumsfeld,
who describes him as ?a man with a hair-trigger temper and a propensity to
fashion and shift his positions to appeal to the media.? McCain, like the
rest of us, is not gifted with omniscience, but on Iraq he was right and
Rumsfeld was wrong. So, too, Rumsfeld?s successor: Bob Gates, is hardly
superhuman, but he has been widely acclaimed for having a far more
successful tenure?in other words, for making better decisions when
confronted with the same sort of problems that confronted Rumsfeld.

Blame not humanity, Rummy; look within for your failings. But of course he
will not. Virtually the only mistakes he concedes are public relations
blunders. He is sorry that, when he was asked on April 11, 2003, about
looting in Iraq, he replied, ?Freedom?s untidy. Free people are free to make
mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things?. Think what?s happened in our
cities when we?ve had riots, and problems, and looting. Stuff happens!? He
is sorry not because the comment was actually ?callous and indifferent? but
because it was ?characterized? that way by ?the media.? He then segues into
an attack on the press for ?grossly false and harmful? reports about the
looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, which he claims, with
considerable chutzpah, were responsible for ?the negative pall that quickly
engulfed the coalition?s efforts??as if *The New York Times* and CBS News,
rather than Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks, were responsible for not
imposing order in postwar Iraq. His real failing, he implies (and not for
the last time), was in not realizing how unfair and how unprofessional the
media would be.

Instead of offering genuine contrition, Rumsfeld tries to whitewash his own
mistakes with an artful reworking of the historical record. His first two
chapters describe his work in 1983 as a special Middle Eastern envoy for
Ronald Reagan. Following the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, he
spent a few months -- between November 12, 1983, and March 29, 1984 --
traveling around the region to meet with various leaders including Saddam
Hussein?an occasion that produced a widely circulated photo of the two men.
Why does Rumsfeld begin this account of his long life, which included
service at the highest levels of government, with a minor episode from
1983-1984 involving five trips which accomplished nothing? And why does he
bother to include a two-page map with a bewildering array of lines drawn
across the Middle East to represent his travels?

He doesn?t say, but my guess is that this prologue is intended to paint
Rumsfeld as someone who had been engaged in, and knowledgeable about, the
Middle East and terrorism since long before September 11. If so, this
portrayal does not tally with the ?known knowns??namely, that Rumsfeld?s
only substantive involvement in defense policy in the 1990s involved leading
commissions looking at ballistic missile threats and U.S. space policy. He
came into the Pentagon in 2001 determined to build missile defenses and
other high-tech weapons systems while further cutting back army manpower,
already much reduced after the end of the Cold War, which he looked upon as
an impediment to lean and agile operations. This was his "revolution in
military affairs." His primary focus was on the threat from nation states
such as Iran, North Korea, and China?not on terrorist groups such as Al
Qaeda. With no particular expertise or interest in the Middle East or
counterinsurgency operations, he did not place any priority on preparing the
armed forces in those areas. Soldiers would pay a heavy price for this lack
of preparation in Afghanistan and Iraq, even as Rumsfeld insouciantly
proclaimed that ?you go to war with the Army you have?not the Army you might
want or wish to have at a later time.? In short, his agenda upon assuming
office had little relation to the threats that would consume most of his
tenure?but, despite his meditations about the limits of human knowledge, he
would like us to believe that he was actually well prepared for the
post-9/11 world because of a part-time diplomatic mission that he performed
seventeen years before.

I have already noted two major attempts to mislead the reader?and we have
gone no further than the first thirty-four pages of this 811-page tome. The
early parts of *Known and Unknown* continue to reveal an enormous lack of
self-awareness on Rumsfeld?s part. When he describes his ascent from a lowly
congressional aide in the 1950s to defense secretary in the 1970s, he writes
lines that will make jaws drop. For instance he describes a meeting he
attended, along with other congressmen, in the 1960s, at which President
Johnson defended his conduct of the Vietnam War by ?suggesting that the
military knew best and others ought not to question the military brass.?
Rumsfeld recounts that he was skeptical of this attempt to deflect
criticism?but a few decades later he would be making virtually identical
arguments to deflect criticism of his own policies. He also remembers being
unconvinced by Johnson?s ?elaborate and rambling effort to cast blame for
the unhappy situation wherever [he] could??which is precisely what Rumsfeld
does in this book. He even reflects that Johnson ?probably would have been
better off if he had never taken the vice presidency. He might have become
known as the most effective Senate leader in history.? Surely I am not the
only reader who thought, reading this passage, that Rumsfeld would have been
better off never becoming secretary of defense for a second time, leaving
himself to be remembered for his initial tenure in the 1970s.

Apparently it never occurred to Rumsfeld that anyone might attribute to him
the same failings he imputed to Johnson. This is worth keeping in mind later
on, when Rumsfeld writes that he ?welcomed and made a point of encouraging
different views, dissent and challenges.? This is a man who has little
awareness of how he comes across to others. He may have *thought* that he
welcomed ?different views,? but the prevailing view in the Pentagon was that
he expected lock-stop conformity and punished those who disagreed with him.
Whatever Rumsfeld?s intentions, he cannot escape blame for creating a
climate of fear within his own department, and for needlessly alienating
senior military officers, especially in the Army.

The results of Rumsfeld?s failure to heed alternative views (such as those
voiced by Senator McCain and legions of other critics) are by now well
known. He stayed on a disastrous course in Iraq, which was not reversed
until he was removed from office in 2007, along with two senior generals
whom he had appointed. Less understood, even now, is that Rumsfeld inflicted
a similar disaster on Afghanistan. By refusing to increase troop levels
after 2001, he allowed the Taliban to get back on their feet and to mount a
major offensive, beginning in 2006, that is only now starting to be checked
by another troop surge that he undoubtedly would have opposed were he still
in office.

On a few occasions Rumsfeld sort of concedes, through gritted teeth, that he
might have done better to send more troops to Iraq. ?In *retrospect*,? he
writes (ignoring the fact that many were making this argument at the time),
?it?s *possible* there *may* have been times when more troops *could* have
been helpful.? (The italics are mine, the weaseliness is his.) But no such
concession is forthcoming in the case of Afghanistan, which he still claims
was a roaring success for his favored ?small footprint? approach because
violence was low from 2002 to 2006. He ignores the fact that this was the
period when the Taliban recuperated from the defeat they had suffered in the
fall of 2001. When they went back on the offensive, they found little to
stand in their way because Rumsfeld had decided to keep small the size of
both U.S. forces (20,000 troops in 2006, a fifth of the current level) and
of the Afghan National Army (36,000 soldiers in 2006, a fourth of the
current level).

Moreover, Rumsfeld refused to use American troops for nation-building. He
believed that, rather than relying on U.S. forces to expand the authority of
the central government, Hamid Karzai ?needed to learn to govern the Chicago
way?: that is, ?he should learn to use patronage and political incentives
and disincentives to get the local Afghan warlords, governors, and cabinet
officials in line.? Karzai learned that lesson all too well. He now presides
over one of the most corrupt governments in the world. His decision to
empower crooked powerbrokers and warlords, made with Rumsfeld?s
encouragement, has become one of the Taliban?s strongest selling points to a
disaffected populace.

Rather than looking in the mirror to figure out what went wrong, Rumsfeld
prefers to point the finger of blame in other directions?in many, many other
directions. Condoleezza Rice is one of his favorite scapegoats. One suspects
the two got off on the wrong foot when Rice, as national security adviser,
?suggested that she be allowed to personally interview candidates for the
combatant commands and the chiefs before the President saw them, and that
she approve [Rumsfeld?s] official travel.? A fierce defender of his
bureaucratic turf, Rumsfeld naturally did not, as he writes, ?accede to
either suggestion.?

However rooted in personal rivalries, some of his criticisms of Rice?s
management style ring true: ?The most notable feature of Rice?s management
of the interagency policy process was her commitment, whenever possible, to
?bridging? differences between the agencies, rather than bringing those
differences to the President for decisions.? This made it difficult to
formulate clear-cut policies. But the truth of these observations does not
absolve Rumsfeld of contributing to the policy chaos by engaging in
relentless internal warfare with the State Department, and by refusing to
allow the NSC adviser?first Rice, then Stephen Hadley?to effectively
supervise his activities.

*Known and Unknown* conveys a small flavor of what an unpleasant and
exasperating colleague he must have been. He is particularly graceless when
he writes of Rice: ?As encouraged as I was that Rice seemed to enjoy Bush?s
trust and confidence, I knew the burdens of the job of national security
adviser were taxing for even the most seasoned foreign policy specialist and
could be particularly so for someone with modest experience in the federal
government and management.? As if Rumsfeld, with his more extensive
experience, did any better. Such a condescending attitude must have grated
on Rice?and on many others.

Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, are also major targets of
Rumsfeld?s ire. Powell?s State Department, he writes, ?seemed to remain
skeptical about President Bush and less than eager to implement his
policies.? This may be true, but the same criticism applied to Rumsfeld
himself. A few pages after having excoriated Powell for disloyalty, Rumsfeld
explains that he opposed Bush?s freedom agenda: ?I did not think resolving
other countries? internal political disputes, paving roads, erecting power
lines, policing streets, building stock markets, and organizing democratic
governmental bodies were missions for our men and women in uniform.?
Accordingly, even though the commander-in-chief had made the establishment
of democracy one of the objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom (?the
transformation from dictatorship to democracy will take time,? Bush said on
May 1, 2003, ?but it is worth every effort?), Rumsfeld chose to pursue a
narrower agenda and did not send enough troops to implement a sweeping
political transformation. This was a far more destructive act of
insubordination than the petty press leaks that he accuses Powell and
Armitage of orchestrating.

When it came to the American role in post-liberation Iraq, Rumsfeld seemed
to think that less was more. In his telling, the cardinal mistake we made
was not handing off power sooner to Iraqis. He claims that setting up a
Coalition Provisional Authority to rule Iraq was entirely the State
Department?s idea, and that if only we had created an interim Iraqi
government sooner, everything would have turned out fine. He is particularly
scathing about L. Paul Bremer III?s tenure as head of the CPA, in spite of
the fact that Rumsfeld had recommended him for the post in the first place.
He is incredulous that Bremer could describe himself in his memoirs as an
American viceroy. ?I had no idea that he would see himself this way?,
Rumsfeld remarks. ?It certainly was not a mindset conducive to working with
proud and wary Iraqis or with the large American military contingent in the
country.? He then claims that the ?CPA?s top-down approach inadvertently
stoked nationalist resentments and fanned the embers of what would become
the Iraqi insurgency.?

Yet Rumsfeld was hardly opposed to the top-down approach at the time. As
former CPA officials Dan Senor and Roman Martinez have noted, Rumsfeld
drafted a set of ?Principles for Iraq?Policy Guidelines,? now posted on his
website, which included the following: ?The Coalition Provisional Authority
will assert authority over the country?. It will not accept being defied?it
will not accept or tolerate self-appointed ?leaders?.? That Rumsfeld does
not mention these words in his text is indicative of how selectively he
draws on his ample store of memos, many of them written, one suspects, for
the express purpose of providing him *ex post facto* cover in case anything
went wrong.

In any event, Rumsfeld?s claim that empowering unelected Iraqis faster would
have improved the situation is pretty dubious. In 2004, the United States
did create an interim Iraqi government under Ayad Allawi, but violence
continued to spiral out of control. There is little cause to believe that an
Allawi-led government would have been any more effective in 2003 when the
principal organs of the Iraqi state?the police and army?had fallen apart and
not enough American soldiers had been sent to keep order.

For all his criticisms of Bremer, Rumsfeld essentially endorses Bremer?s two
most controversial decisions: purging the Iraqi state of many Baathists and
dissolving the Iraqi army. Many have argued that it was these decisions,
which cast loose a large, disaffected population of former army officers and
state officials, that led to the rise of an anti-American insurgency. Yet
Rumsfeld admits that he and other defense officials were briefed on these
plans in advance and did not object. Indeed, he backs up Bremer?s claim that
the Iraqi army ?disbanded itself,? which ignores the fact that some units
might have been reconstituted and that the process of forming a new army
might have been given a much higher priority.

No question, Bremer was out of his depth trying to supervise a country he
had never visited; he had scant experience in running large organizations
and in dealing with Arab society. But he was in many ways a victim of the
lack of planning and resources for what the military calls ?Phase
IV??post-invasion stabilization operations. Whose fault was that?
Considering that Rumsfeld fought for and won a decision from Bush that the
Department of Defense should be given complete authority over all aspects of
Iraq, he is hard put to escape censure. He tries, all the same, by insisting
that Bremer was not really his man. Why, Bremer talked directly to Bush,
Powell, and Rice, so how could anyone hold Rumsfeld accountable for his
actions? But his excuses ring hollow given the fact that Rumsfeld remained
one of the senior members of the Cabinet and the direct boss of all the
American troops in Iraq. If he had wanted, surely he could have moved
American policy in a different direction. Instead he allowed the situation
to drift for a scandalously long time.

This raises an interesting question about Rumsfeld. He acquired a reputation
within the Pentagon as a micromanager who bombarded his subordinates with
20,000 memos known as ?snowflakes? on subjects big and small. He even
tinkered with the deployment schedule for minor military units being sent to
Iraq. But now he claims that his major failing was delegating too much
authority. ?Contrary to popular perception,? he writes, ?I was not inclined
to issue direct, detailed, not to be questioned orders to those who work for
me.? So which is it? Was Rumsfeld a micromanager or not? The evidence
indicates that he could be very hands-on in dealing with some matters,
particularly in defending the prerogatives of his office against rivals and
subordinates, but that on the biggest issues of war and peace he was much
too hands-offs.

He was particularly egregious for failing to fire generals who did not
produce results on the battlefield. This is evident in a revealing anecdote
about a trip that Rumsfeld made to Iraq in April 2003. On the flight back to
Kuwait on a C-130 aircraft, he was ?startled? to encounter Lt. General David
McKiernan, commander of CENTCOM?s ground forces and the senior officer
charged with running Iraq. (General Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander, had
already excused himself from this unpleasant chore on the way to retirement
and a lucrative book deal.) Here is how Rumsfeld recounts the exchange that
ensued:

I asked him where he was going.

?To my headquarters back in Kuwait,? he said.

?Well, aren?t you in charge of what?s going on in Iraq?? I asked.

McKiernan told me he went in and out of Iraq once, sometimes twice a week to
check on things. It struck me that in the crucial weeks following the fall
of Saddam, McKiernan did not seem to think of himself as the commander in
charge of the ground operations, and didn?t seem to be preparing to take
over command of all coalition forces in the country, as Franks had indicated
in HIS cable. That meant that the senior American military leadership in the
country consisted of Army and Marine division commanders.

It is telling that only by a chance meeting on an aircraft did the Secretary
of Defense discover that no senior general was running operations in Iraq.
Even more telling is how little he did about it. McKiernan, who should have
been fired on the spot, would later resurface as the NATO commander in
Afghanistan. ?My concerns about the military?s management of Iraq in the
first days of the critical postwar period were abated somewhat,? Rumsfeld
says, ?when I learned that there would finally be a full-time military
commander.? Note the passive sentence construction??I learned??which
suggests that he was not involved in making this pivotal decision.

The man chosen for the job was Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who, as
Rumsfeld notes, was ?not only the most junior three-star general in Iraq,
but the most junior three-star in the entire U.S. Army.? Rumsfeld concedes
that running Iraq at such a delicate moment required ?a senior military
official with far more experience.? So why didn?t he appoint one? That is a
mystery that goes unanswered here. As usual, he lays blame elsewhere: ?That
the Army leadership, with the agreement of acquiescence of CENTCOM and the
Joint Staff, slotted him for the top command post was a serious
misassessment.? He writes as if the army leadership, CENTCOM, and the Joint
Staff did not answer to him. But they did. He could have picked any general
he liked to head operations in Iraq. Instead he allowed the selection of an
obviously unqualified candidate without doing anything about it.

Making the situation worse was that the military services did not provide
Sanchez nearly enough officers or resources to run a corps-level
headquarters to command more than 100,000 troops. Rumsfeld claims that he
did not become aware of this problem until the exposure of the Abu Ghraib
scandal in April 2004. To show how he addressed this deficiency, he quotes a
memo he subsequently wrote to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
General Richard Myers: ?It seems to me we have a real problem. A combatant
commander asks for something. The Joint Staff agrees to it. You recommend it
to me. Then the Services never fulfill it.? If you turn to the footnotes you
discover that the memo in question is actually dated November 1, 2004?seven
months after the exposure of Abu Ghraib and five months after Sanchez had
already left Iraq. Is this really the first time that Rumsfeld discovered
how under-staffed and poorly led the military command in Iraq was during the
critical first year of the occupation? If so, this is an almost unbelievable
dereliction of duty on his part. And now he has the gall to blame his
subordinates for these disastrous decisions which cost so many American and
Iraqi lives.

Perhaps Rumsfeld?s worst quality was his stubbornness. Anyone can make a
mistake but he stuck with a misguided policy in both Iraq and Afghanistan
for year after year?long after his serious errors had become apparent to the
rest of the world. Indeed, to judge by the evidence of *Known and Unknown*,
he still has not abandoned the catastrophic theory that guided his
management of the Iraq War between 2003 and 2007. Call it the ?antibody
theory.? It was based on Gen. John Abizaid?s unproven assertion that U.S.
troops were an antibody in Iraq and that the faster we downsized, the
better, so that the Iraqis could sort out of their own problems. This was a
plausible theory in 2003, but it grew less and less plausible over the
years. In accordance with the antibody theory, we concentrated our troops on
giant Forward Operating Bases where they were cut off from the Iraqi
population and hence presumably less of an irritant. Far from decreasing
violence, however, this led to ever-increasing bloodshed, as Sunni and
Shiite extremists used the resulting vacuum of authority to bring Iraq to
the brink of all-out civil war.

The experience of the surge in 2007-2008 showed that American forces were
not helpless to resist this rising tide of blood; all that was required was
to beef up troop strength and order the troops to protect Iraqi civilians
where they lived. But General George Casey and General John Abizaid?the
senior commanders in Iraq?refused to give those orders, and Rumsfeld refused
to override their obviously flawed judgment. ?I raised the question of
whether we had appropriate resources when I visited Iraq and in regular
conversations with Myers and Abizaid,? Rumsfeld recounts. They assured him
there were plenty of troops, so he left it at that?even as violence went up,
up, up in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Rumsfeld seems to think that because ?we
actively weighed the merits of deploying more troops,? it was almost as good
as actually deploying more troops.

He even made a comically inept effort to solicit dissenting views. On
January 3, 2005 he wrote to Gen. Richard Myers and Gen. Peter Pace, then the
chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He asked them to
tell him what ?commanders at various levels think? and to include ?minority
opinions.? He writes, deadpan: ?I did not receive any responses that they
wanted more forces or that they disagreed with the strategy.? What a
surprise?the two most senior officers in the armed forces did not bring
forward any subordinates to tell their civilian boss that the strategy they
had all agreed on was failing! If Rumsfeld thought he would get another
answer, he was a surprisingly clueless manager. More likely he is simply
being disingenuous. There was no lack of arguments being made in the
political arena (and in the media) for more troops, and he ignored them all,
so one suspects he was not looking too hard for challenges to his views.
Indeed, journalistic accounts have made clear that, far from being open to
expanding the American troop presence, Rumsfeld relentlessly pushed his
generals to consider further reductions.

Rumsfeld?s memoir suggests that he was not averse to outside inputs?as long
as they told him what he wanted to hear. Thus he commends a study prepared
in 2006 by Mike Vickers, a former CIA and Special Forces officer who was
then working at a Washington think tank and who was subsequently appointed
as an assistant secretary of defense for special operations and
low-intensity conflict. (He is now undersecretary of defense for
intelligence.) Vickers argued that increasing force levels was ?highly
unlikely to be decisive? and that it was much better to ?begin and continue
the drawdown of U.S. forces while the insurgency is still raging.? Rumsfeld
notes: ?I found the Vickers proposal to be persuasive.? He even brought the
Vickers paper and its author to the president and recommended that he
implement its conclusions.

Yet he now attempts to soft-pedal his opposition to the surge, referring to
himself as a ?latecomer in supporting the surge?, as if he ever supported it
at all, instead of simply accepting it as a fait accompli on his way out the
door. Even as late as December 8, 2006, when Bush was already strongly
leaning in favor of sending more troops to Iraq, Rumsfeld wrote the
president a memo (it is posted on his website) counseling that ?coalition
forces [should] reduce their presence and activities in major [Iraqi]
cities? and give Iraqi security forces primary responsibility ?for quelling
sectarian violence?: pretty much the opposite of the surge strategy. In
light of his die-hard opposition to the surge, it is almost comical that
Rumsfeld now suggests that he was responsible for its ultimate success
because he supposedly encouraged the contacts with the Sunni tribes that led
to the formation of the pro-government militia which came to be known as the
Sons of Iraq. In reality, the crucial outreach was made by Army Colonel Sean
MacFarland, the brigade commander in Ramadi in 2006, who acted on his own
initiative.

Rumsfeld?s description of the strategy adopted by General David Petraeus in
2007 is constructed very artfully and very deceptively. Petraeus, he writes,
?believed it was time to emphasize protecting the population now that the
Sunni tribal leaders had decided to break with al-Qaida and needed the U.S.
military to shield them from the jihadists? retribution.? This suggests that
the strategy of protecting the population could not have worked before 2007,
when the sheikhs began to defect, and that, by inference, Rumsfeld was right
to resist its implementation earlier.

Obviously we can never know if ?the surge??meaning an expansion of troop
numbers and the adoption of a population-centric counterinsurgency
strategy?might have worked earlier, but the odds are that it would have done
so. Certainly there had been earlier expressions of dissatisfaction in the
Sunni community with Al Qaeda in Iraq, but they had been ruthlessly snuffed
out by AQI because we did so little to protect the population. Contrary to
Rumsfeld?s sly insinuation that Petraeus only came to favor a
counterinsurgency strategy in 2007, Petraeus had been in favor of such an
approach all along. And such a strategy had paid spectacular dividends in
2005-2006 in the northern city of Tal Afar, which Colonel H.R. McMaster?s
Third Armored Cavalry Regiment had pacified *before* the beginning of the
Anbar Awakening. But such isolated successes were not reinforced or
expanded. Abizaid, Casey, and Rumsfeld remained locked into a dogmatic and
wrong-headed ?light footprint? approach right up until the bitter end. Bush
was only able to implement the surge by firing all of them, a decision that
should have been taken years earlier.

There were many tragedies in the Rumsfeld years. Worst of all were the lives
lost, the bodies mangled, the countries devastated, because of his terrible
decisions. But among the many other casualties of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan was the reputation of a man who prior to the Bush administration
had enjoyed renown as one of the Republican Party?s wise men. Now his name
will be inextricably bound up with the unraveling of the Bush
administration?s post-9/11 foreign policy?with Abu Ghraib and ?stuff
happens.? Bush seems to be enjoying a rebound in public affections, thanks
in large part to the vindication of two of his most controversial
strategies?the surge in Iraq and the ?freedom agenda? across the Middle
East. Rumsfeld, who opposed both policies, is unlikely to enjoy any such
redemption. He will now be remembered as an awful Secretary of Defense and
as an even worse memoirist. It is a fate for which he can blame no one but
himself?although I would not be surprised to hear him in a few years? time
attributing his book?s shortcomings to his ghostwriters and his
researchers.

*Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security
Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of *The Savage Wars
of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power *and *War Made New:
Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today*, he is now
completing a history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism. *
Sentinel, 815 pp.,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home