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Up to a Point, Lord Rumsfeld

US defence secretary Rumsfeld, as imperious, bullying, sneering, abrasive and unlovely a zealot as ever disgraced the pages of American history, has announced “There should be a debate and discussion on [the shambles in Iraq]. We can live with that. We can live with a healthy debate as long as it is as elevated as possible, and as civil as possible.”

Oh my. As civil as possible, eh? This from the man whose approach to commonsense advice is to treat the person offering it with all the charm and benign dignity usually associated with a psychotic rottweiler.

He openly expressed scorn and contempt for (selected) countries that warned that the US foray into Iraq would have detrimental and long-lasting effects. It is now forgotten that a joint declaration in February by France, Germany and Russia cautioned the US concerning the likely consequences of war. They were supported by China’s President Jiang Zemin who stated “Warfare is good for no one, and it is our responsibility to take various measures to avoid war”. For these sagacious words the countries of ‘Old Europe’ were treated with insolent arrogance by Rumsfeld and his clique. (US investment in Russia and China is too sensitive to be hazarded even by Rumsfeld.) Of course Rumsfeld was wrong, and in nothing has he been quite so disastrously amiss as in his decisions concerning troop strengths in Iraq. And make no mistake, they were HIS decisions.

Rumsfeld and his crew are now trying to tap dance away from responsibility about the paucity of troops in Iraq who are capable of performing counter-insurgency and policing operations. (And not killing Iraqi policemen while they are about it.) This belongs to the generals, they say. To an extent they are right. It is up to commanders to request more troops if they need them. This they are reluctant to do, even when it is obvious that increases are required, because Rumsfeld would then revile them with spiteful ferocity. Look at what happened to General Shinseki, the former Army Chief, who was foolhardy enough to proffer wise counsel. It would take several hundred thousand troops to pacify Iraq, he said before the conflict. Thereafter he was a non-person, attacked by Rumsfeld and his deputy pup, Wolfowitz, and every other lickspittle gofer who cared to give the media a poisonous off-the-record briefing concerning the alleged shortcomings of an honourable man whose was loyal to his soldiers and his Service. Pentagon civilians and, regrettably, some military officers, expressed contempt for him, and it was made clear by a deliberate leak from Rumsfeld’s office that his replacement had been selected eighteen months before he was due to leave his post, thus rendering him ineffective. This was deliberate, official, humiliation of a military patriot. Rumsfeld didn’t even attend his farewell ceremony, a public insult that was as unnecessary as it was malevolent. The message was brutally clear : don’t disagree with Rumsfeld if you want to survive.

But Rumsfeld is finding it difficult to maintain even a veneer of calm about his egregious errors, and requests for straight answers on the question of troop numbers in Iraq are making him increasingly peevish, shifty and devious. Let’s look at the facts, so far as his reported words are concerned. God knows what goes on inside his mind, but he can’t deny what he said. (Although deputy pup Wolfowitz denied his lies on 11 September about supposed al Qaida involvement in the uprising against occupation troops in Iraq.)

Here is a definitive Rumsfeld statement about adequacy of troop numbers in occupied Iraq : “If [the force commander] believes additional troops are needed, he will have additional troops, let there be no doubt about it.” He did not give his own opinion about troop levels. In the past he has been eager to give opinions on everything, but is now skittering round the subject like a flighty horse refusing a jump. Most media representatives are ludicrously servile and fail to ask him questions of any depth, and my heart sank when I heard Dan Rather of CBS begin his interview with him by saying “Mr. Secretary, I do not know of any American who doesn’t admire what you did in helping secure the battlefield victory that resulted in the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t appreciate your service.” This seemed to be grim, but then he dropped any pretence of even mock deference and got stuck in.

Rumsfeld had no option but to agree that the point of Washington’s draft UN resolution was to “bring additional countries’ troops into Iraq . . . 10,000 to 15,000 troops,” but he couldn’t give an answer as to how these troops would be used, he did not know when they might arrive, and had no idea what would be done, in Rather’s words, “between now and whenever they can arrive”. This, said Rumsfeld, the ultimate dabbler in detail (to the despair and frustration of planners who actually know what they are doing), is the responsibility of “General Sanchez . . the senior coalition military person in Iraq.”

So on behalf of the Pentagon, the State Department is going to the UN to ask for large numbers of foreign troops without knowing what tasks they would have (if any nation is unwise enough to provide them). In the words of Rumsfeld, “The implication that the 15,000 plus or minus that might come if there is a second resolution would leave a gap if they didn’t come, or would leave a gap if it came two or three or four months later than someone thought, I think is a misunderstanding of the situation.” Don’t bother to reread that; you will be just as confused as was the gibbering defense secretary, who in another statement said “Simply flooding [Iraq] with two or three times the number of foreign forces that are here, it would increase the number of targets for the handfuls of criminals and the handfuls of terrorists . . . ” I have never heard this particular Principle of War before. It appears Pentagon policy, now, to avoid committing troops to tasks in case they get shot at. And how fascinating that mere “handfuls” of criminals and terrorists can be so dextrous and efficient as to immediately multiply to present an instant threat to increased numbers of troops. The man is a piffling prat.

But it was elsewhere in the interview that Rumsfeld displayed furthest detachment from reality. He was asked “Are you worried about what’s happening here [in Iraq]?” and replied “Worried isn’t the right word. I’m impressed with the accomplishment that’s taken place. The 23 million Iraqi people are free . . . ” OK. Here is an example of freedom, Rumsfeld style, described by one victim of his accomplishments : ” “I shouted at them [US soldiers] with all my strength to stop shooting” said Al Sayeed, 62. “I will open the door. Please give me a chance.” Eventually, Al Sayeed said, the commanding officer told him he was sorry: they had raided the wrong house. But not before a soldier had burst in and struck Al Sayeed with a rifle butt, knocking him down. The soldier kicked him in the ribs-an X-ray later showed they were cracked-and others bound his hands with plastic cuffs as his wife and young nieces cowered in the next room. They also took his three grown sons in for questioning, and they remain in a military jail . . . ” Some freedom.

But Rumsfeld doesn’t hear any of these stories. People tell him what he wants to listen to and believe, as is obvious from this minor but revealing exchange: Rumsfeld: “I haven’t been back into Iraq or Afghanistan I guess since April. Is that correct, Larry?” Larry [de Rita]: That’s right. Or May.” One is reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s surreal and megalomaniacal London newspaper proprietor, Lord Copper, whose editor in the 1930s treated him obsequiously : “When Lord Copper was right he said ‘Definitely, Lord Copper’; when he was wrong : ‘Up to a point’ . . . . “Let me see, what’s the name of the place? Capital of Japan? Yokohama, isn’t it?’ ‘Up to a point Lord Copper.’ ‘And Hong Kong belongs to us?’ ‘Definitely, Lord Copper’.”

“I don’t believe it’s our job to reconstruct [Iraq],” said Rumsfeld last week. “The Iraqi people will have to reconstruct the country over a period of time.” He couldn’t have known that Bush was about to say “we will help them to restore basic services, such as electricity and water . . . “, with some 12 billion dollars of reconstruction cash (if it ever comes). And he forgot that he himself had said “Over 50 countries have pledged almost $4 billion for reconstruction . . .”, which is complete rubbish, as the figure is nowhere near that; but what do mere facts matter? Then Rumsfeld, in a truly amazing declaration betraying total ignorance of the situation, announced that Baghdad’s electricity supply was splendid. “For a city that’s not supposed to have power, it has so many lights it’s unbelievable. It looks like Chicago.” The man is a raving idiot who fantasises about what is going on in the country he has destroyed.

Are we impressed? Up to a point, Lord Rumsfeld.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, the Nation (Pakistan), the Daily Times of Pakistan and other international publications. His writings are collected on his website:

He can be reached at:


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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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