HE WAS the architect of the war in Iraq, and like a condemned building, it all came tumbling down around Donald Rumsfeld’s ears last week.
In the aftermath of the Republicans’ crushing defeat in congressional elections, with voters in large part registering their protest of the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, somebody’s head had to roll.
And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. The resignation of Rumsfeld the day after the election, argued the Wall Street Journal, “opens the door for the biggest change of U.S. policy in Iraq” in three years.
Rumsfeld epitomizes the arrogance and brutality of the Bush administration. When the ordinarily compliant media began airing criticism of the administration’s policy in Iraq this summer, Rumsfeld accused them of appeasing “a new type of fascism” that he likened to Adolph Hitler’s Nazis.
This from the man who crafted a U.S. defense policy that is guilty of any number of war crimes–from the “pre-emptive” invasion of Iraq to the torture, abuse and humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. In fact, a German prosecutor recently announced plans to seek a trial of Rumsfeld for his role in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.
As a Pentagon consultant told the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, Rumsfeld may not be personally culpable, “but he’s responsible for the checks and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, we’ve changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and created conditions where the ends justify the means.”
By the time of Rumsfeld’s resignation, his opponents were too many to mention. They included not just Democratic Party politicians but Republicans, too–among them, military brass and former Pentagon advisors, some of whom make up the old guard that served under Bush’s father.
On November 4, a few days before the election, the Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times all ran an editorial simply titled “Time for Rumsfeld to go.”
Still, the resignation came as a surprise, since Bush had insisted he would stand by Rumsfeld.
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WHEN RUMSFELD cleans out his desk, he’ll be taking with him not just warm memories of his service to the Bush administration, but a long legacy in previous administrations.
In 1971, Rumsfeld–a four-term congressman representing the wealthy suburbs north of Chicago–got a job as special adviser to President Richard Nixon. He was appointed NATO ambassador in 1972, after Nixon’s re-election, and began advocating a more hawkish approach to foreign policy.
A survivor of the Watergate scandal, Rumsfeld became chief of staff to Gerald Ford, where he hired a former colleague, Dick Cheney. Appointed defense secretary in 1975, Rumsfeld worked to strengthen the Pentagon and re-establish the military power the U.S. military lost as a result of its defeat in Vietnam.
In between government jobs, Rumsfeld was a natural in the dog-eat-dog business world. He became the CEO at the drug giant Searle and scored big profits for the company–and a small fortune for himself–through brutal job cuts.
Meanwhile, as Ronald Reagan’s Middle East envoy, Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein to offer intelligence and other aid for Iraq to win its war with Iran.
In 1987, Rumsfeld headed a commission–along with Paul Wolfowitz–to investigate the supposed ballistic missile threat to the U.S. The Rumsfeld Commission’s report a year later warned that the potential danger to the U.S. was greater than intelligence agencies had believed, with the gravest threat coming from–sound familiar?–Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
Rumsfeld helped develop and implement a new strategy for U.S. imperialism in the 1990s, as one of the founders of the right-wing think tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), along with Wolfowitz and the Reagan administration’s Richard Perle.
PNAC’s aim was to put forward a more aggressive foreign policy doctrine, in which the U.S. would finally overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome” by being unafraid to conduct “pre-emptive war” against so-called rogue states like Iraq. Under the strategy, the U.S. would no longer be afraid to “go it alone,” without the partnership of other nations or international bodies like the United Nations.
In 1998, the group wrote an open letter–signed by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, the conservative Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and John Bolton–to Clinton, arguing, “We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.”
Rumsfeld was successful, at least in part. That year, Clinton signed the “Iraq Liberation Act,” which paved the way for regime change five years later during the first Bush administration.
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THE HAWKS in the Bush administration had been trying to cook up a pretext for war on Iraq since they came to office. The September 11 attacks provided it.
For Rumsfeld and his friends in PNAC, the 2001 terrorist attacks were viewed as an “opportunity” to project U.S. imperialism anywhere in the world in the name of the “war on terror.” After what seemed at the time like a quick and decisive victory in Afghanistan, the hawks could hardly wait to move their “war on terror” to their long-awaited target.
As columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in November 2001, “The elementary truth that seems to elude the experts again and again–Gulf War, Afghan war, next war–is that power is its own reward. Victory changes everything, psychology above all. The psychology in the region is now one of fear and deep respect for American power…
“Now is the time to go for the low-hanging fruit: giving the Philippines assistance in crushing their own al-Qaeda guerrillas. Telling the thugs running Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen to cease and desist, to shut down the training camps, to cough up the terrorists–‘or else,’ as the president so delicately puts it. And then on to Iraq.”
For its vast untapped oil resources and strategic importance in the Middle East, Iraq was an important stop for Bush’s war on terror.
As journalist Patrick Cockburn writes in The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq, “The debate on why the U.S. invaded Iraq has been over-sophisticated. The main motive for going to war was that the White House thought it could win such a conflict very easily and to its own great advantage. They were heady times in Washington in 2002, as the final decisions were being taken to invade Iraq. It was the high tide of imperial self-confidence.”
The administration was willing to use any story to justify the invasion–like Saddam Hussein’s non-existent ties to al-Qaeda, or the Iraqi government’s phantom weapons of mass destruction. When the administration decided it wasn’t getting a good enough story from its spy agencies, Rumsfeld formed a new Pentagon Office of Special Plans to “shape” the intelligence.
Rumsfeld’s strategy for Iraq envisioned a quick and decisive war. The U.S. would use its overwhelming firepower to create “shock and awe,” allowing a relatively small force on the ground to seize control. Iraqi citizens, starving for democracy, would hail U.S. soldiers as liberators.
That, as we know, proved to be fantasy.
Rumsfeld’s lean-and-mean approach sparked disagreement and anger among some generals and other higher-ups in the U.S. military, because he downgraded the importance of the number of troops and supplies. When resistance to U.S. forces developed in the wake of the seemingly quick conquest of Iraq, the Rumsfeld strategy was proved wanting. A growing number of generals began speaking out.
As usual, Rumsfeld tried to bluster through on the strength of arrogance alone. In 2004, when a soldier asked the defense secretary during a stop at Camp Buehring in the Kuwait desert why the troops had to fortify their vehicles with scrap metal, Rumsfeld replied, “As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want.” He added, “You can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and it can [still] be blown up.”
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U.S. SOLDIERS are paying a heavy toll for the Rumsfeld doctrine in Iraq.
The human cost for the people of Iraq is far greater–as they suffer the ravages of war and occupation, starvation and poverty, and an infrastructure that remains worse today than under Saddam Hussein. According to Cockburn, “Before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, 50 percent of Iraqis had access to drinkable water, but this figure had dropped to 32 percent by the end of 2005.”
The avalanche of opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq shown at polls put pressure on him to got rid of his right-hand man in Iraq. But what the future holds is far from certain.
In December, a White House commission led by senior Republicans James Baker and Lee Hamilton is scheduled to release its finding and present recommendations for a “new course” in Iraq. A member of that commission, Robert Gates–another senior Republican and veteran of past administration–has been nominated to replace Rumsfeld.
These people may talk about a “changed” strategy, but they won’t give up Iraq. “I don’t think Gates means the president is looking for a way out of Iraq,” William Kristol told the New York Times. “Gates means he knew he had to make a change and get a fresh face in to build public support. So long as Bush is president, he’s not going to want to withdraw from Iraq, and he’s not going to want to go back to a pre-9/11 foreign policy, and that’s really the core of it.”
Gates’ methods may be different, but the goals will remain the same. And so far, the solutions being offered by Democrats are a far cry from what’s needed to end the Iraq disaster–immediate withdrawal.
Antiwar activists need to seize the opportunity that has opened up with the Bush administration back on its heels–and build the grassroots opposition that calls for immediate withdrawal.
ELIZABETH SCHULTE writes for the Socialist Worker.