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The Undertaker’s Tally

“The finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had.”

— Vice President Dick Cheney

“The past was not predictable when it started.”

— Donald Rumsfeld

On a farewell flight to Baghdad in early December 2006, the departing Secretary of Defense reminisced about his start in politics more than forty years before. Aides leaned in to listen intently, but came away with no memorable revelations. It hardly mattered. As usual with this man who dominated government as no cabinet officer before him — including the power-ravenous Henry Kissinger he so despised and outdid in effect, if not celebrity — authentic history and Don Rumsfeld’s version of it bore little resemblance.

There was portent in those beginnings. He came out of an affluent Chicago suburb in the 1950s with brusque confidence and usable contacts at Princeton, among them Frank Carlucci, a future Defense Secretary of mediocre mind, yet the iron conceit and shrewd fealty far more effectual in government than intellect or sensibility. After college and two years as a Navy pilot, Rumsfeld did politic stints as a Capitol Hill intern and Republican campaign aide, and by twenty-nine, back in Chicago in investment banking, was running for Congress.

As with much to come, a darker thread lay beneath the surface from the start. In a Republican primary tantamount to election, he was outwardly the boyish, speak-no-evil, underfunded, underdog challenger of an old party stalwart set to inherit the open seat. In fact, he was generously financed by wealthy friends, while his operatives — including Jeb Stuart Magruder of later Watergate infamy — furtively harried and smeared his opponent, using tactics never traced to Rumsfeld.

He went to Washington in December 1962 a handsome, square-jawed, safe-seat tribune from the North Shore’s lakeside preserves, epitomized by the leafy estates of Winnetka and high-end Evanston. The old Thirteenth District of Illinois was one of the wealthiest in the nation and had been smoothly in Republican grip for most of a century. In the House, Rumsfeld was soon seen by some as he always saw himself — a prodigy in the dull ranks of his Party.

Then, as afterward, he had no authentic qualifications or independent achievements. But that was always masked by the same muscular, aggressive style he took onto the mat as an Ivy League wrestler — “sharp elbows,” a meeker, envious colleague called it — as well as by the flaccid banality of most of the GOP in the 1960s. The Republican Party Rumsfeld strode into was already caught between the wasting death of Eisenhower worldliness and moderation (with Richard Nixon’s haunted succession in the wings) and a fitful right-wing urge to seize control that, in little more than a decade, would deliver the Reagan Reaction.

Rumsfeld’s own rightist mentality, his New Deal-phobic corporatist cant and Cold War chauvinism, came dressed more in modish vigor than telltale substance — and he was already attracted by a tough-minded layman’s zeal for the era’s pre-micro-processing but grandly prospering military technology. Like most of his generation born in the early 1930s, the scrap-drive, victory-bond children of World War II who came to govern the postwar world and would be the decisive elders of the post-9/11 era, he had no doubt about the natural nobility of America’s sway or the invincibility of its arms; all this made ever sleeker, ever more irresistible by the demonstrable twin deities of American capitalism — technology and “modern” management.

That, after all, was the unquestioned, unquestioning faith of North Shore fathers and other successes like them across the nation. That was the world, according to postwar Princeton, as well as Harvard Business School. That was the supposed genius of future Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s duly quantified Ford Motor Company as well as his Vietnam-era “systems analysis” Pentagon, and so much more.

In the early 1960s, that received world ended just beyond the suites and suburbs. Given America’s moral and material omnipotence, its exemplary excellence (so evident on the North Shore), the remainder of the planet required no particular exploration, knowledge, or historical-political understanding, nor did such men need to have the slightest recognition of America’s own non-mythologized past. Alert decision-makers, busy with the numbered bottom-line results, had no time for such “academic” ephemera.

When money or force needed to be applied to Asians, Arabs, Latins, or Africans, a crisp briefing by some underling who had read the necessary memos would always do. Caught up as we all have been in Rumsfeld’s kinetic, churlish descent into the bloody chaos of his Iraq, it has been easy to neglect how richly cultural it all was from the beginning — America’s haunted half-century of vast might and presumption set beside our still vaster ignorance and irresponsibility. It was in 1963, during Don Rumsfeld’s first months in Congress, that the Iraqi Ba’ath Party — since 1959 recruited, funded, marshaled and directed by the CIA, and trailing a twenty-six-year-old Tikriti street thug named Saddam Hussein (himself a CIA-paid assassin) along with lists of hundreds of left-leaning Iraqi political figures and professionals to be murdered after the coup — seized power in Baghdad.

On Capitol Hill, the spirited young Republican legislator was then absorbed in exhilarating new appropriations in aeronautics and weaponry. His trademark clipped fervor and biting sarcasm in questions and speeches already held a hint of the Pentagon E-Ring canon four decades later: the superpower military as classic wrestler — lithe, superbly equipped, swift to pin a dazed foe, dominant beyond doubt, and with garlands all around. It was only a matter — he began to learn early from helpful briefings and testimony by military-industrial executives — of making the commanders (the branch managers, after all) change their sluggish old ways. The by-word would be: Procure to prevail. So superior was new technology and the management that went with it that it scarcely mattered who the competitor might be. In those long-gone days, in obscure Washington hearings unheard, in colloquies before empty chambers, there were the first faint drums of distant disaster in the Hindu Kush, Mesopotamia, and beyond.

Of course, in the 1960s, Rumsfeld’s ardor for a high-tech military was only stirring, a minor dalliance compared to his preoccupation with advancement. While few seemed to notice, the brash freshman made an extraordinary rush at the lumbering House. In 1964, before the end of his first term, he captained a revolt against GOP Leader Charles Halleck, a Dwight D. Eisenhower loyalist prone to bipartisanship and skepticism of both Pentagon budgets and foreign intervention. By only six votes in the Republican Caucus, Rumsfeld managed to replace the folksy Indianan with Michigan’s Gerald Ford.

In the inner politics of the House, the likeable, agreeable, unoriginal Ford was always more right-wing than his benign post-Nixon, and now posthumous, presidential image would have it. Richard Nixon called Ford “a wink and a nod guy,” whose artlessness and integrity left him no real match for the steelier, more cunning figures around him. To push Ford was one of those darting Capitol Hill insider moves that seemed, at the time, to win Rumsfeld only limited, parochial prizes — choice committee seats, a rung on the leadership ladder, useful allies.

Taken with Rumsfeld’s burly style that year was Kansas Congressman Robert Ellsworth, a wheat-field small-town lawyer of decidedly modest gifts but outsized ambitions and close connections to Nixon. “Just another Young Turk thing,” one of their House cohorts casually called the toppling of Halleck.

It seems hard now to exaggerate the endless sequels to this small but decisive act. The lifting of the honest but mediocre Ford higher into line for appointment as vice president amid the ruin of President Richard Nixon and his Vice President, Spiro Agnew; Ford’s lackluster, if relatively harmless, interval in the Oval Office and later as Party leader with the abject passing of the GOP to Ronald Reagan in 1980; Ellsworth’s boosting of Rumsfeld into prominent but scandal-immune posts under Nixon; and then, during Ford’s presidency, Rumsfeld’s reward, his elevation to White House Chief of Staff, and with him the rise of one of his aides from the Nixon era, a previously unnoticed young Wyoming reactionary named Dick Cheney; next, in 1975-1976, the first Rumsfeld tenure at a Vietnam-disgraced but impenitent Pentagon that would shape his fateful second term after 2001; and eventually, of course, the Rumsfeld-Cheney monopoly of power in a George W. Bush White House followed by their catastrophic policies after 9/11 — all that followed in the wake of making decent, diffident Gerry Ford Minority Leader that forgotten winter of 1964.
Burial Party

They were Nixon men. Rumsfeld and Cheney rose via the half-shunned political paternity of a cynical president who abided and used some he distrusted, even came to deplore. Brought into Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign through Ellsworth’s influence, Rumsfeld fell into an opportune role — spying on the Democratic Convention in Chicago, which exploded in the infamous “police riot” against antiwar demonstrators that tore apart the Democrats and lent the spy’s reports unexpected gravity. (Among faces in the crowd watching the mayhem was another onlooker out of a comfortable Republican suburb, a twenty-one-year-old Wellesley student from Park Ridge named Hillary Rodham.) Though he gained attention in the Democrats’ disaster, Rumsfeld ran up against Nixon’s equally barbed campaign manager, Bob Haldeman and, despite their election victory, returned to Congress in 1969 without reward.

Bipartisan collusion rescued him. By 1968, President Lyndon Johnson’s four year-old Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the heralded antipoverty program with its grassroots “Community Action” and its Legal Services for the poor, had become a potential success story — and thus anathema for powerful Democrats as well as Republicans. Denied a 1964 cigarette tax (that would have funded it securely) by the tobacco lobby, then starved by the sinking of resources into the maw of the Vietnam War, OEO was ultimately doomed when the nascent political, economic, and legal assertiveness it nurtured among the thirty to fifty million dispossessed threatened the hold of vested-interest donors and the mingled power bases of governors and mayors, congressmen and legislators of both parties. As early as 1966 they began trooping in numbers through the Old Executive Office Building — liberal and conservative but uniformly self-preserving, the single party of incumbent power — to lobby Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who planned to cut the program when he himself became president.

With Nixon’s victory over Humphrey, OEO’s death became a certainty, though a tough infighter was needed as director to take out the agency’s life support systems. Nixon first ignored the appointment; then, later in 1969, at the urging of ranking Senate and House Democrats as well as Ford and Ellsworth, named Rumsfeld to the post. He, in turn, chose as his deputy Princeton pal Frank Carlucci, already off to a buccaneering start in the Foreign Service amid early 1960s CIA coups and assassinations in the Congo. The writ was plain. On Capitol Hill, they called Rumsfeld “the undertaker.”

So it was that a slight, already balding 28 year-old Republican Congressional intern, Richard Bruce Cheney, soon steered to the new OEO Director a 12-page memo setting out how to run the agency in a way that would kill what they all deplored. Cheney had failed at Yale. Returning to his native Casper to work as a telephone lineman, he eventually went to college in Wyoming and, avoiding the Vietnam draft like the plague, on to graduate school and a DC internship meant to satisfy his ambitious fiancée Lynn and to retrieve a white-collar career. Like so many in the neo-conservative swarm he came to head after 2001, Cheney brought to public life no intellectual distinction or curiosity, and certainly no knowledge of the wider nation and world. Washington in 1968 marked the first time he had lived in a town of more than 200,000.

Over his glacial insularity, though, lay a reassuringly phlegmatic manner. In Washington, he found he had an instinct for the quiet, diligent subordinate’s exploitation of institutional indolence, and he brought with him a clenched-teeth, right-wing animus that more visible Republicans judged impolitic to express but impressive in a backroom staff man.

“Dick said what they all thought but didn’t say aloud,” a Hill aide (and later Congressman) recalled of often raw conversations about money, race, partisanship, and particularly Cheney’s angry, acid scorn for college antiwar protests that gave reassuring voice to the publicly muted abhorrence of Republican politicians. Having earlier rejected him as a House intern, Rumsfeld now made the young right-winger his key personal assistant at OEO, where he proved devotedly efficient. The hiring brought three future Secretaries of Defense — Rumsfeld, Carlucci, and Cheney — into the same office, toiling to abort the unwanted embryonic empowerment of the poor.

When they became celebrities, there would be much written about how the styles of Rumsfeld and Cheney meshed ­ Rummy’s sheer brio, his relishing combat and the limelight, his free-wheeling way of sparking ideas and decisions helter-skelter (his famous routine of dropping to the floor for one-arm push-ups, a tic that a bureaucrat-benumbed Washington media always found fetching); and steady, backroom Dick, the methodical organizer, the modest detail man seeing to practical execution.

Close up, the bond was even deeper. Across an age gap of almost a decade, despite the distance between charged and calm, North Shore and Casper, Princeton and Wyoming, country club Congressman and lumpen-proletarian repairman, they shared something rarely then so openly admitted on the right: an abhorrence of the liberations sweeping the 1960s, not just the right’s pet scourges of bureaucracy, crime, drugs, social fragmentation, and (however suitably coded) racial integration, but the unsettling ferment of newfound freedoms and honesty, the defiance of cultural and institutional oppressions — especially by minorities and women. They detested Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the way it seemed to advance beyond the New Deal and Progressivism at the expense of settled money and power.

Altogether it was a moment of hurtling change that many saw as ominous weakness and laxity, of new public programs for the long-excluded, which the world of Rumsfeld and Cheney imagined as “socialism.” For them, the balancing regulation of long-dominant business power was nothing short of “tyranny”; the new arrangements of race and class, the myriad threats of sheer liberty in a more equitable society and economy, were menacing.

Whatever their other ties, Rumsfeld and Cheney were two of the era’s visceral reactionaries in the classic sense of the term. Musing with younger aides on one of his last days in the White House, Johnson came up with a telling term for their ilk. “The haters,” he called them. “They hate what they can’t run any more” was the way he put it. The calamity Rumsfeld and Cheney later wrought in American foreign policy traced not only to profound ignorance and immense, careless pretense about the world at large, but in some part to a four-decade-old kindred fear and loathing at home.

OEO began the Rumsfeld myths. “He saved it,” Carlucci would blithely tell oblivious post-9/11 reporters hardly apt to check the actual fate of the agency. Carlucci would spin an image of an ever-energetic Rumsfeld taking up the cause of the needy, streamlining and fortifying the laggard agency despite the funeral that had been ordered. It was a blasé postmortem lie. Community Action, Head Start, VISTA, Job Corps, and most decisively Legal Services (whose leadership Rumsfeld and Cheney together decapitated in 1970) — one by one, each of these beleaguered efforts was stifled or sloughed off to political sterility. This mission, at least, was accomplished. By the time the burial was complete — with the agency’s quiet extinction in 1973, unmourned by the powers of either party — the undertaker had moved on to higher office.

In 1971, Nixon had been stymied in his plan to use Rumsfeld in a cabinet shakeup and so took him into the White House as a domestic affairs “counselor.” The Rumsfeld White House interval over the next two years is captured on Nixon’s infamous secret tapes. With his ever-aggressive, if not megalomaniacal, 40 year-old aide, the 60 year-old president adopts an avuncular tone, while Rumsfeld angles brazenly to supplant Henry Kissinger as a special envoy on Vietnam or even to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew on the 1972 ticket. Patiently, yet with audible derision and occasional incredulity, Nixon suggests seasoning in more modest positions. Thus, after the president’s 1972 reelection triumph, an eager Rummy would be made ambassador to NATO, spoils previously in the hands of their mutual friend Ellsworth, who urged Rumsfeld for the job.

It all yielded more myths, more confected history by a submissive, uninformed media profiling post-9/11 power. There would be the image of Rumsfeld as White House “dove” on Vietnam, when his bent was exactly the opposite; or that Nixon, it would be claimed, saw him as uniquely in touch with the diversity of the country, especially the young — when the reality was that Rumsfeld, having served an impatient three terms from his lavishly unrepresentative rotten borough of Winnetka wealth, with his generic contempt for the 1960s and his part at OEO suppressing the emergence of millions of the young poor, was anything but.

At the time, privately at least, his grasping shallowness led to withering — now long-forgotten — verdicts from knowing witnesses. Even a jaded Nixon would eventually deplore him as “a man without idealism.” His extensive experience with despots giving the judgment added weight, Henry Kissinger came to think Rumsfeld the “most ruthless” official he had ever known.

In a Washington that routinely hides its ugly inner truths of character and incompetence, none of it mattered. Away at NATO in Brussels, frustrated by multinational diplomacy but expanding his own sense of political-military mastery, Rumsfeld managed to escape the Watergate incriminations of 1973-74. Instead, he seemed like a fresh face when Gerald Ford succeeded the disgraced Nixon in August 1974. Anxious to be rid of Nixon co-conspirators like then-White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, but facing a period of rule with inadequate crony aides, the earnest new president called back clean, hard-charging Don to be his chief of staff. Rumsfeld promptly brought in Cheney, just on the verge of vanishing mercifully into private business — and the rest is history.
Massacres

Barely a year after moving next to the Oval Office (and contrary to Ford’s innocent, prideful recollection decades later that it was his own idea), Don and Dick characteristically engineered their “Halloween Massacre.” Subtly exploiting Ford’s unease (and Kissinger’s jealous rivalry) with cerebral, acerbic Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, they managed to pass the Pentagon baton to Rumsfeld at only 43, and slot Cheney, suddenly a wunderkind at 34, in as presidential Chief of Staff.

In the process, they even maneuvered Ford into humbling Kissinger by stripping him of his long-held dual role as National Security Advisor as well as Secretary of State, giving a diffident Brent Scowcroft the National Security Council job and further enhancing both Cheney’s inherited power at the White House and Rumsfeld’s as Kissinger’s chief cabinet rival. A master schemer himself, Super K, as an adoring media called him, would be so stunned by the Rumsfeld-Cheney coup that he would call an after-hours séance of cronies at a safe house in Chevy Chase to plot a petulant resignation as Secretary of State, only to relent, overcome as usual by the majesty of his own gifts.

With such past trophies on their shelves, it would never be a contest for Rumsfeld and Cheney after 2001. That fall of 1975, 29 year-old George W. Bush, the lineage’s least fortunate son, was in Midland, Texas, partying heartily and scrounging for some role on the rusty fringes of the panhandle oil business.

By December 1975 having pushed aside Watergate-appointed Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, the longtime abomination of the Republican right, Rumsfeld was already positioning himself to be Ford’s 1976 running mate — and eventual successor. But that spring Ronald Reagan came so close to wresting the nomination from Ford, with primary victories in North Carolina and Texas, that the President’s other advisors, many of whom detested Rumsfeld anyway, sprang to appease the Reagan camp by persuading the President to put choleric right-wing Kansas Senator Bob Dole on the ticket instead.

Among those advisors was George H.W. Bush, then-CIA Director. (He had gotten the job thanks to a cynical recommendation from Rumsfeld, calculating that to put Bush at the scandal-ridden agency would eliminate him as a potential rival). Another was Bush’s onetime Texas campaign aide, a moneyed corporate lawyer and would-be power-broker from Houston, and now an obscure Commerce Department official who became Ford’s 1976 campaign manager, James Baker III. It was an adroit back-corridor move, the sort Rumsfeld himself had been practicing so adeptly, and it embittered him for years toward his old patron Ford as well as Bush, Baker, and others — one more wisp of a seamy, unseen history, of customary Republican cannibalism that wafted ironically over the last days of 2006 with Baker’s Iraq Study Group and the Ford funeral.

Designs on the Oval Office thwarted but by no means given up, Rumsfeld spent scarcely fifteen months at the Pentagon in 1975-1976, but they were quietly, ominously historic. It was an interval, however brief, that proved far more significant and premonitory than commonly portrayed. In many ways, it both foreshadowed 9/11 and prepared the way for the fateful sequel to it.

At every turn, the new SecDef pulled policy to the right — aligning Washington even more egregiously than usual with reactionary regimes in Asia and Latin America, smothering the nation’s only serious attempt at intelligence reform, beginning the demolition of détente with Russia that would climax in its extinction under Jimmy Carter. At home and abroad, Rumsfeld seeded the Middle East for future crises and, even more insidiously, joined the military leadership in cravenly abandoning the post-Vietnam battlefield of historical understanding and institutional change.

In his first days in office, he quickly allied himself with the longtime (but until then vain) efforts of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stall the pending Strategic Arms Control Agreement with Moscow. He also pushed Kissinger and Ford into one of the more disgraceful acts of that presidency (discreetly ignored in the recent Ford retrospectives) — the assuring of the Indonesian military junta that U.S. support and arms would continue to flow, despite the brutal suppression about to be unleashed on East Timor.

It was only a taste of the Rumsfeld preference for uniformed right-wing tyrants, indulged over the next year in an ever closer Defense Department liaison with military dictatorships in Latin America, most notably through Operation Condor, joint covert actions involving several regimes, among them Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s Chile and the Argentine military dictatorship, with Pentagon attaches and intelligence advisors looking on approvingly. The result was a plague of kidnappings, disappearances, and assassinations throughout the Hemisphere, including, in 1976, the brazen car bomb murder of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and an American colleague on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Washington. Unfailingly backed and expanded by Rumsfeld, the collusion with Indonesian and Latin American despots underwrote more than a decade of some of the most savage repressions of the second half of the twentieth century.

The customary Pentagon-State Department bureaucratic war Rumsfeld waged against Kissinger (with a vengeance fired by the Defense Secretary’s presidential ambitions) involved a furtive alliance with Capitol Hill’s ubër-hard-line Democrat, Armed Services Committee Chairman (and Kissinger nemesis) Henry “Scoop” Jackson. A Washington State backwoods, shoreline-county prosecutor, he had become the “Senator from Boeing.” Jackson’s Russophobia, demagoguery on arms control, and zealous backing of Israel (especially on the then-charged issue of Jewish emigration from the USSR) would land Rumsfeld in the milieu of the Israeli lobby, already formidable if only a kernel of the special interest colossus it would later become.

Jackson’s Cold War mania was fattening military budgets along with the requisite Puget Sound contracts, not to speak of the senator’s own war chest for a 1976 presidential run, and all this was being fomented by a bustling, pretentious, pear-shaped young Jackson aide named Richard Perle. Perle’s somber, if oily, manner hid his own considerable lack of intellect or knowledge about either Russia or the Middle East, but his hard-line anti-Soviet and Zionist zeal gave him, as Jackson’s policy broker in the politics of the moment, a cachet and following far beyond his meager substance. Rumsfeld’s collusion with Jackson would thus introduce him to some of the still marginal publicists, ideologues, and Washington hangers-on who would take the term neoconservative as the label for their career-plumping chauvinism and, less audibly, their tragically intermingled allegiances to right-wings in both the U.S. and Israel.

In Rumsfeld’s early tie to this wanna-be-establishment claque were omens of the history they would make together after 2001. It was his “sharp elbows” that were thrown to create the notorious “Team B,” a collection of incipient neocons and Russophobes in and out of government, including Paul Wolfowitz. They were summoned to offer a fearsome analysis of Soviet capabilities and intentions that would be an alternative to comparatively unfrightening (and accurate) CIA assessments being attacked by Ronald Reagan and his right-wing minions in the 1976 campaign. In this surrender to election-year demagoguery could be found the hands of the White House and the elder Bush at the CIA (more Ford regime shame politely forgotten in the mournful, anxiety ridden, anyone-compared-to-George-W. fin de 2006 moment), but Rumsfeld’s role was crucial — and the consequences historic.

The absurdity and ideological corruption of Team B’s “analysis” of the Soviet bogeyman (along with a desired future confrontation with China, a nakedly racist, essentially right-wing Israeli view of the Arab world, and a refusal to face the Vietnam defeat) would be plain even then; though decades later, the post-Soviet archives would definitively reveal it for the fraud it was. As it was meant to, it fed the massive arms buildup of the Reagan 80s, and with it the engorging of the military-industrial colossus that, in turn, filled Republican campaign coffers. And all of this, of course, including the ensuing distortions in domestic priorities, would pave the way for Rumsfeld’s eventual return to power.

The “Team B” scandal also foreshadowed an insidious post-9/11 plague, the right-wing assault on relatively non-ideological national intelligence that was to lead to the blatant substitution of alternative “intelligence” operations in Rumsfeld’s Pentagon and Cheney’s vice-presidential office (full-time versions of “Team B,” as it were), as well as the coercion and corruption of conventional CIA channels.

In 1976, Rumsfeld worked assiduously to undercut any intelligence that challenged his right-wing bias and, with Cheney helpfully in the background at the White House, fought hard to drown any meaningful intelligence reforms after mid-1970s hearings chaired by Senator Frank Church and Congressman Otis Pike offered shocking revelations of CIA covert-operations abuses. The resulting half-measures and truncated accountability sent unmistakable signals through Washington, setting the stage for various CIA rampages of the 1980s under Reagan campaign manager William Casey (and one of Casey’s ambitious, agreeable aides named Robert Gates). The direct consequences in blowback and loss of professional integrity would be felt for decades to come.

Then, there was the Middle East. In mid-1976, exiled Palestinians allied with a Lebanese nationalist coalition to politically and economically challenge the traditional privileged rule of the West’s Christian-dominated client regime in Beirut. Faced with this, the Secretary of Defense was decisive in the secret US-Israeli instigation of a Syrian military intervention meant to thwart both the Palestinians and the Lebanese rebels. Rumsfeld muscled the covert action through, despite Kissinger’s initial hesitation. It ushered in a three-decade-long Syrian occupation of Lebanon, with relentless machinations in the Levant involving the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, the CIA and, beginning under Rumsfeld as never before, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Already significant in the 1950s, the CIA-Mossad collaboration in Lebanon and elsewhere certainly pre-dated Rumsfeld, and crucial decisions in the deepening collusion would come after him. But the 1976 intervention, which he backed so strongly, would take the complicity to a new level, with a twisting sequel of tumult and intrigue that directly paved the way for the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and thus for the eventual rise of Hizbullah.

At the same time, Rumsfeld avidly stepped up ongoing U.S. arms shipments to the Shah of Iran’s corrupt, U.S.-installed oligarchic tyranny — its torture-ready SAVAK secret police intimately allied with the Mossad, the CIA and the DIA. In 1976, Rumsfeld also pressed the sale to the waning Shah of up to eight nuclear reactors with fuel and lasers capable of enriching uranium to weapons grade levels. Ford was prudently uneasy at first, but relented under unanimous pressure from his men. Cheney backed Rumsfeld from the start in urging an Iranian nuclear capability; and, in this at least, they were joined by their arch-rival Kissinger, ever solicitous of his admirer the Shah, ever oblivious to internal Islamic politics ­ he himself primed by an obscure but vocal thirty-three-year-old State Department aide named Paul Wolfowitz.

At its Rumsfeldian peak in 1976, U.S. weapons and intelligence trafficking with the rotting Iranian imperial regime took up the time of some eight hundred Pentagon officers. Barely two years later, the Shah’s regime would fall to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, in part under the sheer weight and waste of the Pentagon’s patronage. Like CIA-DIA connivance with SAVAK — which included coordinated assassinations of Iranian opposition political figures or clerics and, in 1977, even Khomeini’s son — Pentagon complicity with the hated old order made all but inevitable the widespread anti-American sentiment in Iran that would in the future be so effectively exploited by the Islamic regime’s propaganda. Detonating in the 1979 seizure of U.S. embassy hostages in Tehran, popular Iranian hostility would burn out of a history of intervention and intrigue few Americans ever knew the slightest thing about.

In this way, Rumsfeld and others, including Gates and his slightly mad patron Casey at the CIA, would all, in some degree, become policy godfathers of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran as well as of Hizbullah.
“The Dark Ages”

Even more costly would be the toll the Rumsfeld interregnum would exact deep inside the American military. However brief, Rumsfeld’s mid-1970s rule over the Defense Department proved, in certain respects, the most crucial moment at the Pentagon since World War II. In seven tumultuous years from Johnson’s fall to Nixon’s, spanned by defeat and de facto mutiny in Vietnam, four secretaries would troop through Defense, each consumed by war or politics, none engaging the institution’s historic plight.

Taking office six months after the fall of Saigon, Rumsfeld would inherit the first truly post-Vietnam military. Fittingly, the institutional crisis he faced had come into being over the full two decades of his adult life since the 1950s. By the time he settled in at the Pentagon, that crisis had already been extensively studied and well documented. Conclusions were available for the asking — or hearing or reading — in any Pentagon ring, at any military post at home or abroad as well as in Congress, the White House, and the press, not to speak of the American public. It was unmistakable in the searing experiences of a war whose dark-soil graves at nearby Arlington were still fresh.

By any measure, Rumsfeld arrived at a rare, and exceedingly fleeting moment when the enormous U.S. war machine might have come to terms with its past, and so the future. The failure to do so — hardly Rumsfeld’s alone, but his role was decisive — would haunt America and the world into the twenty-first century.

Vietnam had laid bare the malignant decaying of America’s armed forces that began in the wake of their first unwon war in Korea. There was “no substitute for victory,” General Douglas MacArthur had written a Congressman in the letter that finally prodded President Harry Truman to fire him as commander of U.S.-U.N. forces in Korea in 1951. The services nonetheless promptly found a perfectly reasonable substitute — for a while — in the warm bath of a careerist managerial ethic.

Ruled in World War II by an ever-growing bureaucracy, ever more inhospitable to the officer as individual, America’s superpower military was, as the Korean War began in 1950, already a sclerotic giant. “A glandular thing” was how Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett would describe it a decade later to John Kennedy. The brutal Korean stalemate, following on the early rout of a billet-flabby, semi-demobilized occupation army from Japan, and later the frozen, bloody retreat from a heedless, MacArthur-led advance to conquer North Korea right up to the Chinese border, added to the curse.

Faced with the demanding, unnerving politics of a nuclear-armed peace, a supposedly matchless force met its match in Korea not just on the battlefield, but in the murky realms of political sophistication. In response, grappling to redefine its place (and reassure itself at the same time), the military in the 1950s came to produce a preponderance of what one critic called the “formlessly ambitious” officer; one who saw climbing the military ladder like ascent in any other corporate culture. To a blight that Charles de Gaulle once deplored in his French Army as “solely careerism,” the post-Korea U.S. military added the fetish and pseudoscience of “management” — warriors astride desks, commanding paper flow and brandishing the numerology of budgets with ever-more expensive weapons systems.

Procurement plunder and corruption, the venal revolving door between senior officers and corporate contractors, the inveterate lack of authentic accounting and accountability at almost every level — all the old Pentagon scourges now ran rampant. The good staff life rather than active command, “ticket punching,” the right job at the right time — all of this fostered an officer corps overwhelmingly pursuing rank as an end itself, at pains to do no more than what one embittered combat colonel recalled as “a necessary but minimal amount of field duty.”

As credentials merely accumulated, as efficiency reports inflated and grew meaningless, there was the inevitable atrophy of ethics and the military art. Oddly enough, management itself, the faith and practice of the new creed, was the first casualty of institutional shallowness and self-protection. Winners emerged compromised and cynical; losers, alienated and contemptuous of superiors. General morale, credible command authority, and old-fashioned élan as well as esprit de corps were decimated in the process. Graduates and non-graduates alike trained their disillusion on institutions like West Point, which, by the early 1960s, many privately mocked as the South Hudson Institute of Technology — SHIT. The Academy’s sacred “duty, honor, country” now seemed eclipsed in practice by any mammoth organization’s immutable rule of survival: Cover your ass.

Despite the need to understand the history and politics of vast new arenas of American policy — regions of potential military embroilment such as Asia or the Middle East — once-elite service graduate schools like the War Colleges became what one study termed “usually superficial and vapid.” There would be no twentieth-century American Clausewitz, wrote Ward Just, the best of the era’s military-affairs journalists, surveying the wreckage of a defense establishment driven by corporate inanity, “because the writing of Von Krieg (On War) took time and serious thought.”

Much of this bureaucratic decadence overtook other arms of government in the 1950s, not least the State Department. As Vietnam soon would prove, however, a craven ethos and command mediocrity in a military — whose business, as Korea savagely reminded everyone, is sometimes to fight wars — would be catastrophic.

Within the system, there were predictable if vain attempts to hide the approaching disgrace. When, in 1970, a war-college study of “professionalism” in Vietnam was done with implications (as a pair of reviewing experts described it) “devastating to the officer corps,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff quickly classified and suppressed the findings. Yet none of the inner withering was a secret, or even arcane knowledge, in government. Before, during, and after Rumsfeld’s first regime at the Pentagon, Congressional hearings, journalism and memoirs exposed the reality for what it was; while nationally noted, amply documented books, often written by veteran officers or based on their testimony, appeared under titles that spoke eloquently of the disaster still to come: Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army, Defeated: Inside America’s Military Machine, Self-Destruction: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Military, The Death of the Army.

Vietnam nearly made the figurative death literal. Ironically, there had been a portent of the debacle ahead in Southeast Asia (and of Iraq and Afghanistan 30 years later, for that matter) in a book discussed in Washington to the point of fad just as Rumsfeld began his political career in the early 1960s.

General Maxwell Taylor was a handsome, much-decorated World War II airborne hero, a Missouri country boy who became a reputed military intellectual, albeit given to the pandemic provincialism yet gall typical of postwar American officialdom, whose nation’s new world power so outstripped its knowledge of the planet. The general could thus unabashedly extol the Shah’s repressive Iranian troops as among the “armies of freedom,” and instruct a West Point class on the eve of Vietnam that they were entering a world in which “the ascendancy of American arms and American military concepts is accepted as [a] matter of course.”

More grandly, Taylor proposed to correct the errors of the key strategic doctrine of the Eisenhower presidency, the policy of “massive retaliation” in which America’s overwhelming nuclear superiority — its bombers ringing the USSR and China, some within minutes of their targets — was to deter any move by Soviet or Chinese forces across the Cold War’s post-Korea established boundaries. That strategy might keep the Red Armies in their kennels, Taylor argued, but it was hardly a response to campaigns waged by proxy communists on the periphery in the Third World.

To meet that threat — and, not incidentally, to rescue his beloved Army from the mission and budget predations of the nuclear-armed Air Force throughout the 1950s — Taylor proposed a new orthodoxy of “limited wars,” adding to nuclear deterrence a “strategy of flexible response.” He defined his breakthrough in a celebrated book, Uncertain Trumpet, as “the need for a capability to react across the entire spectrum of possible challenge for coping with anything from general atomic war to infiltration and aggressions”

On whether the United States could practically, or should politically, as a matter of national interest cope “with anything,” the confident paratrooper Taylor wisely did not elaborate. His point, after all, was at heart a bigger, better army with bigger better budgets. Properly selected “limited wars,” with newly created forces chafing to be used, would presumably take care of themselves. But Taylor at least did warn that it would be necessary “to deter or win quickly,” dictating an overwhelming application of men and weaponry and a victory so swift and decisive that everyone, including the defeated enemy, would accept it. “Otherwise,” he noted ominously in a passage the general as well as his admirers later tended to overlook, “the limited war which we cannot win quickly may result in our piecemeal attrition.”

Minus this gloomy caveat, Taylor’s theme enjoyed swift vogue in the early 1960s — with both Republicans and Democrats eager to engage what were seen as ubiquitous Russians and native communists scavenging post-colonial turmoil in the Third World. Among them were right-wingers like Rumsfeld, impatient with the aged caution of the Eisenhowers and Hallecks in their own Party, and among the Democrats, President John F. Kennedy himself. He promptly made Taylor a ranking advisor on Southeast Asia and other matters. Crippled by careerism, the military thus readied itself to fight in reassuring theory what in Vietnamese reality would be Maxwell Taylor’s oxymoronic nightmare — a limited war of attrition.

That war, of course, had its men of courage and integrity. More than ever, though, they were the exceptions to the prevailing system, and few of them made it as intact survivors to highest rank in the twenty-first century. The machinery that in peacetime routinely ground out rhapsodic officer efficiency reports instantly applied the same practiced reflexes to the surreal paper work of Saigon and its offshore carrier groups, fattening Vietcong body counts, bombing damage assessments, and accounts of South Vietnamese client efficacy that seemed to prove victory ever on the way. When intelligence reports discovered awkward enemy strength and resilience or detected unwanted signs of another losing war, they were simply falsified, destroyed, or buried.

The massively beribboned chests of commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan three decades later, many of whom had been junior officers in Southeast Asia, would be unintended reminders of how much the Vietnam fraud fed on even the old honor of citations. Like a debased currency, ribbons for courage or exceptional service lost value as they accumulated, with awards snidely known as “gongs” and oak leaf clusters as “rat turds.” Once-respected air medals (800,000 of them) were handed out for almost any non-combat flight in that helicopter-swarming war, or even for hauling holiday frozen turkeys snugly behind the lines.

Decorations were heaped so bountifully on generals along with lesser staff officers that valor in such numbers, wrote one combat veteran, was “incomprehensible.” To Vietnam’s “grunts,” as they related again and again, the war was too often fought with their officers 2,000 feet up in the comparative safety of “eye in the sky” command helicopters rather than with their “ass in the grass” with their troops.

Casualty figures were telling. In over a decade of fighting, with over 58,000 American dead, only four generals and eight colonels fell in combat. Commissioned rank was a guarantee of survival as for no other modern military at war (save perhaps in Iraq and Afghanistan in figures yet to come, but where we know high ranking officers were seldom at the front). “The officer corps simply did not die in sufficient numbers or in the presence of their men often enough,” concluded two postwar analysts of the army’s resulting “crisis.”

With the corruption of standards came an inevitable loss of morale. To soldiers of honor at every level the ignorance, self-protection, and widespread opportunism of so many superiors made Vietnam what one colonel called “the dark ages in the army’s history.” Through the ranks, unprecedented, ran the unchecked contagion of disintegration — refusal of orders amounting to mutiny; desertions in the tens of thousands; a drug epidemic and race riots; uncounted, unaccountable atrocities; and not least the assassination of officers and noncoms by their own men.

The American military’s internecine murder acquired its own ugly Vietnam name, “fragging.” Among the officer corps, according to a war-college appraisal, there had been “a clear loss of military ethic,” not to be explained simply by a largely citizen-soldier, draft-dependent army. Altogether, another study concluded still more clinically and bluntly, the Armed Forces in Vietnam bordered on “an undisciplined, ineffective, almost anomic mass,” its commanders high and low manifesting “severe pathologies.”

Added to the war’s vast profiteering and waste, all this spurred an exodus of disillusioned military professionals (unprecedented and unmatched until the Iraq War), depriving the services of most of their most promising young leaders. It also produced by 1975-1976 an unparalleled outpouring of public and internal criticism with often shocking revelations by officers, enlisted men, and other knowledgeable observers in and out of government.
The Great Evasion

Yet atop the Pentagon at the immediate postwar height of the now furious, anguished outcry — what an admiral witnessing it called a “real rebellion of the heart” — Rumsfeld took no meaningful part in the airing or soul-searching; nor did he take control of, or cleanse, the pestilent contract and accounting scandals. What he did was effectively ignore, dismiss, or on occasion repress and even punish critics and whistle-blowers.

Typically — yet another grim foreshadowing of Iraq with its Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan with its Bagram prison in cavernous structures at the old Afghan and Soviet air base– when new Congressional questions began to be asked about the involvement of the U.S. military as well as the CIA in the Saigon regime’s infamous “Tiger Cage” torture camps in South Vietnam, an issue that surfaced well before his tenure at the Pentagon but which arose anew in 1975-1976 after fresh revelations of US-aided torture and assassinations, Rumsfeld led the Ford Administration in blocking damaging disclosures until the issue eventually trailed off. It was one more plot of buried history — along with a seedy CIA front, the Office of Public Safety, implicated in advising and abetting the secret police “renditions” and torture practices of client regimes worldwide until its quiet disbanding by Congress in 1975 — with echoes into the twenty-first century.

Officially, the crumbling of discipline and performance in Vietnam would be blamed not on the military’s long-festering venality and incompetence, but on the ready scapegoats of antiwar agitation and the larger social turbulence of the 1960s, a perfect fit with Rumsfeld-Cheney demonology. To the relief of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense scoffed at, or swiftly suppressed, any institutional self-examination; yet the counterattack on critics was vicious. “Overlong in battle and emotionally unbalanced,” was the way one Pentagon-kept military columnist smeared an officer of legendary heroism who publicly deplored service careerism.

As America gladly celebrated its Bicentennial under Gerald Ford’s calming, anodyne post-Watergate presidency, the tide of self-awareness in the Pentagon was “allowed to recede,” as a later study recorded, and officers “whose careers were deeply rooted in the polices and practices [of the war] finally prevailed.” The latter included leaders of the 1991 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq debacle, most famously Colin Powell, who as a mid-grade careerist was personally involved in a whitewash of the My Lai massacre.

When a superintendent of West Point was earlier removed for his implication in the My Lai cover-up, he bid farewell to a dining hall full of sympathetic cadets with the old adage of General Joe Stillwell, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Who the Superintendent’s “bastards” were, the new Secretary of Defense and his unreconstructed high command had no doubt in 1975-1976.

In the siege mentality of Rumsfeld’s post-Vietnam Pentagon, the besieging force was never a blindly misjudged nationalism, an intrepid insurgency, corrupt, untenable clients, or persistent myopia, folly, self-delusion, and ultimate self-betrayal of U.S. policy. It was the curse of wavering civilian masters at home — craven Washington politicians and the old foreign policy establishment, especially Democrats — and a public too easily swayed by the treachery of a mythological “liberal media.” Humiliation in Vietnam had come not from colossal blunder, but from homefront perfidy, from the hoary stab in the back. “Do we get to win this time?” Rambo famously asks about his return to Vietnam, echoing in popular lore that denial of debacle.

It was Rumsfeld’s historic legacy to rubber stamp the Great Evasion performed by America’s military and sullen ideological right, as both fled headlong from the Vietnam reckoning. In the process, they all jettisoned responsibility, much as Saigon’s American-bred profiteers cast cumbersome loot from their Mercedes sedans as they honked south through pitiful hordes of refugees just ahead of the final North Vietnamese offensive in the spring of 1975.

While U.S. foreign policy — in heedless covert action as well as an orgy of globalism begun even before the fall of the Soviet Union, and then the reactionary mania loosed by 9/11 — broadcast the seeds of new insurgencies (the prospects for what a handful of largely ignored theorists were calling “Fourth Generation Warfare”), serious study of counterinsurgency all but vanished from Pentagon planning and even from the service schools’ curricula. The Iraq war would be years old and long lost by the time the Army revised, postmortem as it were, its little-read counterinsurgency manual written two decades before and anachronistic even then.

With Vietnam lessons unlearned and careerist blight as well as contract pillage uninterrupted, the military system’s answer — already emerging as orthodoxy under Rumsfeld in 1976 — would be the simplistic, foolproof dictum, claimed by Colin Powell but hardly his originally, of fighting only with overwhelming forces, crushing firepower, and uncontested air cover (and even then having a precise “exit strategy” in place). This was, in sum, a version of General Taylor’s “deter and win quickly.” (As a “doctrine,” it was as if the Army or Navy football team would only go on the field with its own rules, its own referees, and a 33-man team in the latest equipment to face an opposite 11 without helmets, pads, or the ability to pass.)

The so-called Powell Doctrine would soon be applied in settings allowing the post-Vietnam Pentagon’s ever costlier, ever more “managed” high-tech bludgeon to be wielded against suitably feeble foes, without troublesome duration of engagement or the need for political understanding. Intelligence gaffes and the usual civilian carnage (“collateral damage”) aside, the results looked encouraging in Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1990, and most notably the 1991 “turkey shoot” of the First Gulf War, carefully conducted to keep American casualties to the level of industrial accidents.

Fastidious, blameless brevity and detachment tended, of course, to sacrifice controlling the political outcome in any geopolitically meaningful arena — as in, for instance, allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in power after his troops were expelled from Kuwait, and then, in defeat, to butcher Shiite rebels who, at the call of the first Bush administration in the persons of Baker, Cheney, Powell, and Scowcroft, thought the moment ripe to overthrow the tyrant themselves. Regrettably, they misread Pentagon imperatives. Chilled by a ghost they stoutly denied for decades, joint chiefs and defense secretaries would not repeat hot pursuit into North Korea or Vietnam’s limited war of attrition — not until the undertaker’s fortuitous last chance at greatness arrived so explosively and irresistibly on September 11, 2001.

 

The Power and the Glory

In 1976, when Jimmy Carter took the Presidency from Gerald Ford, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went off to seek corporate wealth as head of G.D. Searle, a Skokie pharmaceutical company. His period running the business, inherited by the family of his North Shore friend and early backer Dan Searle, would become part of Rumsfeld’s legend of success as a master manager, negligently accepted as fact by the media and Congressional representatives at his 2001 confirmation hearings.

The legend went this way: Political prodigy slashes payroll 60%, turns decrepit loser into mega-profit-maker, earns industry kudos and multiple millions. In looking at men of prominence like Rumsfeld who revolve in and out of the private sector, the Washington media almost invariably adopts the press-release or booster business-page version of events from what inside-the-Beltway types call “the real world.” In Rumsfeld’s case, behind the image of corporate savior lay a far more relevant and ominous history.

In the documented version of reality, derived from litigation and relatively obscure investigations in the U.S. and abroad, Searle turned out to enjoy its notable rise less thanks to Rumsfeldian innovative managerial genius than to old-fashioned reckless marketing of pharmaceuticals already on the shelf and the calling in of lobbying “markers” via its well-connected Republican CEO. And over it all wafted the distinctive odor of corrupt practices. A case in point was Searle’s anti-diarrhea medicine Lomotil, sold ever more widely and profitably internationally (in industry terms “dumped”) — especially in Africa in the late 1970s — despite the company’s failure to warn of its potentially dire effects on younger children.

“A blindly harmful stopcock,” one medical journal called the remedy, which could be poisonous to infants only slightly above Searle’s recommended dosage. Even taken according to directions, Lomotil was known to mask dangerous dehydration and cause a lethal build-up of fluids internally. Having advertised the medicine as “ideal for every situation,” Searle did not undertake a cautionary labeling change until the end of 1981, nearly five years into Rumsfeld’s tenure, and then only when threatened with damaging publicity by children’s advocacy groups. Part of the vast outrage of multinational “pharmas” exploiting the Third World, the company under Rumsfeld would, like the more publicized Upjohn with its Depo-Provera, be implicated in widespread bribery of officials (and others) in poorer countries to promote the sale of oral contraceptives which had been found unsafe for American or European women.

But Searle’s magic potion, concocted well before Rumsfeld’s arrival, was to be the controversial artificial sweetener aspertame, marketed under the trade name NutraSweet. By 1977, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had staunchly refused to approve aspertame for some 16 years, finding test data dubious or inconclusive and fearing that potential long-term dangers might prove prohibitive. As Rumsfeld took over in Skokie, the FDA was taking the rare step of recommending to Justice Department prosecutors that a grand jury investigate the company’s applications for FDA approval for “willful and knowing failure to make reports concealing material facts and making false statements” in connection with the statutory application process required by law and FDA standards.

Over the next four years, federal regulators held firm against Searle’s heavily financed campaigns. Only with Reagan’s election in 1980 did fix and favor supplant science and the public interest. Having campaigned for the new president and been named to his transition team, Rumsfeld told his Searle sales force, according to later testimony, that “he would call in all his markers and that no matter what, he would see to it that aspartame would be approved”

The sequel would be a classic of the genre: Searle’s reapplication to the FDA the day Reagan was inaugurated; the prompt appointment of an agreeable FDA commissioner who would later go to work for Searle’s public relations firm for $1,000 a day; further questionable, company-commissioned tests with more doubts by FDA scientists but approval of aspertame nonetheless; a later plague of health problems but by then vast profits throughout the corporate food economy followed by lavish, multi-company contributions to Congressional committee members to stifle any outcry; eventually, a $350 million class-action suit alleging racketeering, fraud, and multiple abuses centering on Rumsfeld, who meanwhile had become gloriously rich from aspertame and the $2.7-billion sale of Searle to Monsanto in 1985.

In his return to the Pentagon in 2001, he would go duly unscathed by any of the company’s history. By the time litigation would be filed, the United States was already 18 months into the occupation of Iraq.
Envoy

As it was, despite his business conquests, Rumsfeld missed an even greater prize. He had been on a short list to become Ronald Reagan’s running mate in the 1980 presidential campaign when the candidate unexpectedly reached for his defeated primary rival (and Rumsfeld nemesis) George H.W. Bush. While, over the next 12 years, Bush went on to the vice-presidency and presidency, and Jim Baker — equally detested by Rumsfeld — went along with his patron to White House staff and cabinet power, Rumsfeld would build his Searle fortune and bide his time.

The one exception to his involuntary Reagan-era exile from government would be a stint in 1983-1984 as special presidential envoy to the Middle East. He would be sent to arrange U.S. support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war with the hated Iranians of Ayatollah Khomeini, a role little noticed at the time which nonetheless produced the notorious photo of Rumsfeld shaking hands with the Iraqi dictator. The deeper story was far more embarrassing than any simple handshake.

Most of the relevant records on Rumsfeld’s several-month assignment are still classified, though it is clear that, as at the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), he took on his mission with a passion. He worked to shower on Saddam (in a manner as unnoticed as possible) an infamous flow of intelligence, financial credits, and sensitive materials and technology that would come to underpin Iraqi chemical and bacteriological warfare programs, leading to hideous gas attacks on Shia dissidents and Kurds as well as the Iranian forces. In general, Rumsfeld put his shoulder to the wheel to shore up the war-worn Ba’athist regime that had attacked Iran in 1980.

In this mid-1980s de facto alliance with Saddam, as in much else, Rumsfeld was never alone. He was joined in this pro-Iraqi tilt in the Middle East by President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, National Security Advisors William Clark and Robert McFarlane, and a number of still obscure men like Paul Wolfowitz at State, Colin Powell, then Weinberger’s aide at the Pentagon, and Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, not to speak of his zealot acolyte assistant Douglas Feith (who would return in a pivotal post under Rumsfeld in 2001) as well as Bill Casey and Robert Gates at the CIA, among other officials.

Their gambit was, in turn, backed by Senators and Congressmen in both parties who were briefed on Rumsfeld’s mission and obligingly shunned oversight of the manifold aspects of the sometimes illegal collusion with the Iraqis. Their dereliction was assured, in part, by the general animus toward Iran on a Capitol Hill then effectively controlled by the Republicans, and increasingly under the bipartisan influence of the growing Israeli lobby and its Tel Aviv handlers. The lobby quietly, cynically pushed both for Reagan administration aid to Iraq and for covert arms-dealing with Iran (later exposed in the Iran-Contra scandal), viewing the ongoing no-winners carnage of two Islamic states as a boon. All this went on largely unreported, given the customary media diffidence or indolence on national security issues.

Historically, the moral outrage and far-reaching political folly of Washington’s furtive arming of one tyranny to bleed another, with untold casualties on each side (including the murderous suppression of would-be democrats in both countries), would belong at the doorstep of Reagan’s reactionary regime and the Washington foreign-policy establishment as a whole. Rumsfeld’s role was instrumental and in some respects crucial, but only part of the larger disgrace.

At the same time, in the intelligence briefings he received as the first ranking U.S. official to go to Iraq since the Baghdad Pact of the 1950s, he would have been uniquely aware, as no other senior figure in Washington, of the brutal character of Saddam Hussein’s regime and, in particular, the sectarian, regional, tribal, and clan politics that lay behind it. The Ba’athists were a government, after all, that the CIA itself had helped to recruit and install in the coup of 1963, reinstalled in 1968 when the Agency’s original clients lost control, and then watched closely while Baghdad had a flirtation (involving an arms-supply relationship) with the feared Russians (whose influence the bloody 1963 coup was supposed to counter). This was particularly true in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 with its peace agreements from which Iraq emerged as a principal remaining challenge to Israel.

By 1983-1984, the volatile, complex currents of Iraq’s political culture, Saddam’s essentially family and clan rule, and the now crude, now subtle layering of Sunni and Shia in the Ba’athist bureaucracy and plutocracy, as well as the wartime distrust and savage repression of a suspect, subordinate Shia majority, were well known to outside intelligence agencies as well as scholars and journalists. The CIA, DIA and State Department Bureaus of Near Eastern Affairs and Intelligence and Research — and certainly Rumsfeld as presidential envoy — also had reason to understand much about Saddam’s grandiose ambition, in Iraq’s old rivalry with Egypt, to lead a pan-Arab nationalist renaissance to some kind of future parity with Israel’s nuclear-armed military might.

In addition to the usual extensive intelligence-sharing with Israel’s Mossad, less than two years before Rumsfeld’s Iraq mission CIA operatives had literally lit the way for Israeli F-16 fighter bombers in their June 1981 surprise attack on Saddam’s fledgling nuclear reactor at Osiraq. They planted guidance transmitters along the low-level flight path under Jordanian and Iraqi radar to the point of painting the target with lasers. The Agency and Mossad then watched as the Iraqis dauntlessly, defiantly began to rebuild and expand their nuclear program. From some 400 scientists and technicians with $400 million in funding, that program would grow to perhaps 7,000 scientists and technicians with as much as $10 billion at their command, some of which was indirectly made possible by the bounty Rumsfeld carried to Baghdad in the mid-1980s

For anyone dealing seriously with these issues, there could have been little doubt that Saddam would use the considerable aid and trade Rumsfeld was sliding his way under the table to mount a better-armed, more bloody war on Iran, to further the regime’s most ambitious dreams of weapons development, and to tyrannize all the more savagely potentially rebellious Iraqi Shiites and Kurds. As Washington watched, he did all of that — and no one could have been less surprised than Rumsfeld himself. Long afterward, as some of the ugly essence of his mission to Baghdad dribbled out amid the ruins of Bush’s Iraqi occupation, Rumsfeld would be faulted for pandering to, and appeasing, Saddam (whose gassing of the Kurds had already begun) — in the wake of a single, timorous, hypocritical statement issued in Washington in March 1984 criticizing his use of chemical weapons. The actual toll of the policy to which he was integral would prove so much higher as time passed.

Iraqi chemical weapons plants bombed in the 1991 Gulf War released agents to which some 100,000 American troops were exposed. The infamous Gulf War Syndrome might evend be traced in some measure to the U.S. credits, materiel, and technology Rumsfeld knowingly conveyed seven years before. So, too, of course, could Saddam’s brutal 1980s repression of the Shia, underlying the sectarian animus and resolve for vengeance and dominance by the U.S.-installed Shia regime after 2003 that shaped Rumsfeld’s, and America’s, historic failure in Iraq.

Others colluded at every turn in the long scandal of policy toward Iraq. Colin Powell, then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense during the First Gulf War, would, for instance, be directly complicit in the Syndrome outrage. Yet none of the participants in the larger post-9/11 disaster was more directly responsible than Rumsfeld.

While Reagan’s special envoy was, with his usual energy and sharp elbows, dickering with the Iraqis in the mid-1980s, Condoleezza Rice was an assistant professor of no scholarly distinction at Stanford; Cheney a third-term congressman from Wyoming squirming up the House leadership ladder; future viceroy of Baghdad L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer moving from State Department clerk and Alexander Haig protégé to lavish-party giving ambassador to the Netherlands; and George W. Bush, still by his own account given to “heavy drinking,” absorbed in changing the name of his chronically failed Arbusto Energy oil company to Bush Exploration.
Waiting Game

By 1987, Rumsfeld was flexing his muscles once more, preparing for the ultimate goal, assembling money and party support for a presidential run against George H. W. Bush in 1988. But after a dozen years out of office, and against the entrenched power of an heir apparent, he would soon enough discover that backing just was not there. Off more recent prominence and with a wider political base, Cheney would try to mount his own presidential campaign in the early 1990s, only to meet the same bitter rejection

Historians will only guess at the rancor building in these two deeply ambitious, deeply disappointed figures at the president they had, George W. Bush, whom they no doubt saw as manifestly, maddeningly inferior. The Rumsfeld-Cheney recompense, at vast cost to the nation and world, would be their fierce seizure of power after September 11, 2001.

Rumsfeld spent the 1990s again in business, becoming CEO of General Instruments, then Chairman of Gilead Sciences Pharmaceuticals, with another history reminiscent of Searle. In 1990, he joined the board of ABB, a Swedish-Swiss conglomerate that had gobbled up companies in the latter 1980s, including Westinghouse energy operations, and would move aggressively to win a $200-million contract for “the design and key components” for light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea. Rumsfeld pursued this prize even while chairing a Congressional commission on missile threats that found a “clear danger” for the future from Pyongyang. In the alarming report, his otherwise fulsome résumé failed to mention that he was an ABB director.

In 1996, he took leave from Gilead to become chief foreign policy advisor, along with Wolfowitz, in Robert Dole’s failed presidential run. He would end as the campaign’s eighteen-hour-a-day manager. By 1997, amid the full-scale takeover of the Washington GOP by the long-churning cabal of neoconservatives, he joined Cheney and Wolfowitz on a Newt Gingirch-instigated Congressional Policy Advisory Board to shape attacks on the second Clinton Administration.

In January 1998, he signed the celebrated letter so publicly sent to Clinton from the right-wing, Israeli lobby-dominated Project for a New American Century. Alongside Wolfowitz, Perle, and others soon to be key players in the younger Bush’s regime, he vigorously urged the “removal” of Saddam. In July 1998, there followed the “Rumsfeld Commission” report on missile threats, wildly claiming, in an unnamed debut of the “axis of evil” drawn from the testimony and staff work of right-wing ideologues, that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea would each be able to “inflict major destruction” on the U.S. by 2002. Through it all, including the first seven-and-a-half months of their rule after the seamy election of 2000, there would be no trace of the actual danger that erupted out of a September morning sky in 2001.

Though he had repaired surface relations with the Bushes, Rumsfeld took no major role in the 2000 race. In any case, the elder Bush had erased him from his son’s list of possible running mates, while ultimately waving through Cheney, whose reactionary animus had been relatively well masked at the Pentagon in 1989-92. When, post-election, Cheney vetoed Governor Tom Ridge for the Pentagon, and there were throbbing neocon fears that a cosmetic Powell, bureaucrat at heart, would be far too equivocal at the State Department, Rumsfeld would be Cheney’s, and so Bush’s, antidote.

His appointment was a mark of the extreme poverty of Republican talent the administration reflected so graphically. The supposed party of national security, having held the White House for five of the last eight terms and dominated Congress for much of the previous 30 years, had no serious alternative to a man who had perched atop the Pentagon a full quarter-century before. Apart from the patently right-wing, widely discredited missile panel he had chaired, Rumsfeld had shown no palpable interest or competence in the ever more complex defense issues accumulating since then, much less the rapidly changing politics of the post-Cold War world. Nonetheless, fit, relatively youthful at 69, he strode again into the E-Ring. There was speculation that the old Halloween Massacre goal was still there, that Cheney, with his uncertain health, might step aside in 2004, that the undertaker might yet reach the Oval Office.
Mastery

Rumsfeld began his Pentagon reprise by seizing on a dead Russian marshal and an octogenarian Washington bureaucrat few had ever heard of.

Like Osama bin Laden, steely-haired Nikolai Ogarkov first came to light during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. In 1977, at 50, he had become a prodigal chief of the Soviet General Staff. In that superannuated, medal-mummified company, he proved a dynamic, technically inclined, forward-thinking young general. Over the ensuing years, he would be an impressive Moscow spokesman on arms control, and defend stubbornly, even abjectly, the 1983 shooting down of a civilian Korean Airlines 747 that had veered into Soviet air space.

Ogarkov would fall from power in a 1984 Kremlin struggle over weapons spending, write a valedictory book warning of American militarism, and die in post-Soviet obscurity in 1994. But his main, if esoteric, historical distinction would lie in a slight 1982 pamphlet in which he blamed the early, nearly lethal Russian defeats in World War II on a failure to adapt to the new German blitzkrieg concepts in tank warfare. Recent U.S. advances in weapons technology, he argued, could leave the Russians similarly vulnerable if they didn’t adapt quickly enough.

Sweeping changes in tactics and arms as well as more agile, responsive armed forces were needed to face the American challenge, the Marshal advised. Otherwise, Soviet forces would fall into a series of devastating traps on a future remote-targeted battlefield in which the enemy would utilize the latest computerized surveillance and information systems in a new form of high-tech warfare. His vision soon gained vogue as much in Washington as amid the stultified upper reaches of the Soviet military of the early 1980s. It was grandly christened — and welcomed by Pentagon aficionados — as the “Revolution in Military Affairs” or, in that acronym-laden world, RMA.

There was a certain banality to Ogarkov’s stress on technology. That a fighting force should be best attuned to the battlefield and adversary of the moment — modern, adaptable, quick, and informed — should have been self-evident, on the order of the bloody lesson 80 years before of the Tsarist cavalry charging entrenched machine guns in the Russo-Japanese War. Yet however obvious the premise, the RMA concept — transported to the Pentagon and put in the context of an onrushing generation of electronic warfare, of near-nuclear effects with non-nuclear means, along with Ogarkov’s call for fresh tactics (and thus new weaponry and higher spending) — was taken up by innovators, opportunists, and their assorted hybrids on both sides of the Cold War.

This was particularly so among the Soviets, whose rusty Europe-heavy military was already being shaken and bled in Afghanistan by the Mujahideen — in 1982-1983, despite ample Saudi money, still only partially armed by their cynical CIA, Pakistani, and Chinese handlers. At any rate, Ogarkov’s truism was also grist for the Pentagon’s back-ring band of civilian military “theorists,” career bureaucrats ever in search of a mission and occupationally disposed to attribute evil genius — requiring a suitable Washington budgetary response — to the Red Menace.

Short, bald, and with stylishly severe wire-rimmed glasses, Andrew Marshall was a Dickensian clerk of a man who took up the bureaucratic cudgel RMA represented and brought it down inside the Pentagon. An economist by training, he had begun at RAND as an analyst in the late 1940s, when Rumsfeld was still in New Trier High School. Marshall was archetypical in the career-making fear and folly of the U.S.-Russian mirror-image rivalry. He had been a protégé of think-the-unthinkable, World War III theorist Herman Kahn, and then, via Henry Kissinger’s mentor Fritz Kraemer, had gone to work for Kissinger at the National Security Council (NSC) in the first Nixon term. In 1973, he moved on to the Pentagon where he presided over his own obscure nest, the Office of Net Assessment, from Rumsfeld I to II, while gradually gaining the reputation of resident genius of new war methods.

Discreet guru to reactionaries, ignored but thought untouchable by Democrats when in power, Marshall looked on as the Joint Chiefs not only spied on Kissinger’s arms control negotiations with the Russians, but also played an ardent supporting role in Nixon’s fall. He subsequently signed on to Rumsfeld I’s denial of defeat in Vietnam and then, on RMA’s advent, used the concept to evoke ominous fears of a new Kremlin military prowess, justifying the orgy of Pentagon spending that took place during the Reagan era. (Ironically, of course, Ogarkov in 1982 was arguing for a Russian response to a still largely prospective American escalation of weaponry and warfare.) While the U.S. armaments spree of the 1980s paid for some new RMA developments, most of the expenditures fit snugly within the corrupt, obtuse old Cold War system, with America’s armed forces tailored to a lumbering Soviet threat in Europe, and no serious anticipation of the neo-insurgency wars that actually lay ahead.

As Marshall toyed with “flexibility” — and the Joint Chiefs cherry-picked his conjuring of Moscow’s might for their own budgetary purposes, while ignoring the real import, and limits, of RMA — the Cold War ended in the equivocations and evasions of Bill Clinton’s two terms in office and the low-rent, self-congratulatory installing of mafia regimes in Bosnia and Kosovo. The gnome-like Marshall, well past retirement but a lionized witness before the missile-threat commission, hung on for Rumsfeld’s return.

The resulting history is far too close for much documented detail, though its silhouette is plain enough. Summoning Marshall as soothsayer, Rumsfeld made RMA the logo of his determination to gain managerial dominance over the Joint Chiefs and the Pentagon bureaucracy, exactly the opportunity he thought he had missed 25 years earlier. Under the old banner of a clash between a brave, beleaguered secretary of defense and the recalcitrant brass astride an impossible, “glandular” system, he held up the all-purpose, all-seasons ideal of Pentagon “reform.” That “reform” movement was to be his ultimate takedown, his claim to greatness, and perhaps — who knew in 2001 — one last shot at the presidency.

Amid the inevitable claims of “streamlining” and “modernizing,” Democrats applauded and reporters gushed reflexively about Rumsfeld as a celebrity CEO and national quipster. The willing ignorance, denial, careless trust, or craven acquiescence that marked the essential submissiveness of the political and media culture to Rumsfeld’s rule were only part of a larger, thoughtless national abdication of judgment and responsibility in the wars he would propel in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In blindly striking out after 9/11 — a reflexive, grandly opportunistic, richly self-satisfying political act in America — without seriously understanding the politics or history of either country, he plunged the Pentagon into blundering, plundering occupations that made the nightmares of 2007 and beyond nearly inevitable.

That was the price — in the utter absence of serious dialogue in the 2000 election or the first eight months of 2001 — of the original uncontested surrender of foreign-policy power and initiative to such evident presidential incompetence (including the shocking ineptitude of NSC Advisor Condoleezza Rice and her staff) and the long predictable Rumsfeld-Cheney dominance. All of it was plain in Washington soon after George W. Bush’s arrival in the Oval Office; none of it was then questioned, much less challenged, by Congress, the remnant foreign policy establishment, or the mainstream media. No democratic process so completely failed a test of substance as America’s after 9/11. No ensuing catastrophe was more consensual.

History will unravel only slowly Rumsfeld’s relationship to the neocons, who dominated the middle and upper reaches of his Pentagon, a relationship more complex than contemporary hagiographies or demonologies have had it. Historically, he was their ally, patron, legitimizing figurehead, but never really of them, never a fellow ideologue, dogmatist, or slavish adherent to much of what they pursued. In enlisting Wolfowitz, Perle and their train, he would use them, much as he used Marshall, as he had used so many before, as a means to what was so largely a personal, megalomaniacal end. But that use, too, was characteristically heedless of substance and cost.

He opened government as never before to men who habitually, automatically assumed that U.S. and Israeli interests were identical, with no objectivity about American policy in a Middle East they scarcely understood to begin with. Their ignorance and presumption were matched only by their zeal to cluster in decisive quarters of the new Bush regime where decisions of grand strategy, of war and peace, were now shaped and predetermined.

“Like cancer cells,” as eyewitness, Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiakowski, would describe them in action in Rumsfeld’s Defense Department. Half-educated and fanatically loyal to the rote Israeli lobby view of the Middle East and the larger neocon craze for American post-Cold War global hegemony, they crowded the domains of the number three official at the Pentagon, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, whose career was a model of their kind and whose notorious Office of Special Plans was created as a fount for the fraudulent intelligence spurring the invasion of Iraq.

Historians will debate, too, the obvious blurred allegiance of what some call these American “Likudniks” with their utter conformity to the belligerent ultra-Zionist mentality of the Israeli right. Never before — not even in the post-World War II heyday of the powerful China Lobby with its formidable grip on Capitol Hill but not within the upper reaches of the Executive itself — had so many of such uncritical adherence to the policies of a foreign power been so well placed in Washington.

As often in American politics and government, however, no conspiracies were necessary, though a Pentagon-Israeli lobby spy scandal has yet to be played out. Unrelieved substantive shallowness, a perversely narrow sociology of knowledge, long-jockeyed-for power and career advancement, a grandiose parochial vision of a Pax Americana world nursed in a hundred forgotten think-tank papers and incestuous conferences — all that as well imposed a stifling, disastrous orthodoxy on the administration.

Not least, they operated without the need to support their prejudices or delusions in authentic high-level debate, flourishing in their members-only domains of the Pentagon, the NSC Staff, and the State Department, enjoying exclusive channels of communication to the White House controlled by Cheney, and unchallenged under a President of uniquely closed mind.

As for Rumsfeld’s relations with his generals, the subject of veiled accusations of his heedlessness to dissent or running roughshod over warnings of serious problems, we actually know very little. The calamity in Iraq has brought more public criticism by senior officers than any other war in American history, including Vietnam, but almost all of it hurled from the relatively safe seats of two-and three-star retirement — and forlornly after the fact.

This much is clear: No major Pentagon leaks, the time-honored Washington weapon of dissenting commanders, marked the run-up to the invasion. There have been no public resignations in protest of his policies. And the negligence, incompetence, and inertia of commanders in recognizing and coping with the insurgency, in dealing with scandals of prisoner abuse, inadequate equipment and more, have been all too obvious. There is no evidence that any ranking American officer on duty pressed an intellectual or moral challenge to the unfolding debacle — even after it was too glaring to be ignored. As in so much else in his long record, Rumsfeld enjoyed, by Washington’s inimitable mix of careerism and cowardice, submission and opportunism, a large supporting cast in his folly.
Takedown

In the exhilarating dash to Baghdad in 2003, none of the admiring gallery seemed to notice that Rumsfeld’s “new” military was largely the old one, “reformed” in name only; nor did many note that the vaunted lean, mean machine of RMA and the again-lionized Marshall had no grasp of how profoundly political was the act of overthrowing 40 years of Ba’athist rule; how deeply political was the campaign to which so many American lives, so much of the country’s material and symbolic national treasures, would be committed.

Rumsfeld would take his victory tour in the Gulf that spring as if circling the mat after a stunningly swift pin. What was his toughest call, trailing reporters asked –part of the traditional garlands of victory tossed his way — and how did he “feel” at such a victorious moment?

It was hardly the time for the media, the seemingly omnipotent military, or the rest of government and the political culture to reflect on how much “shock and awe” depended on overwhelming force brought down on the near-defenseless, on how much the concept reeked of racism and colonial pretense ­ of natives on the scene and in the vicinity “shocked and awed” like Zulus pounded and panicked by the Queen’s own latest howitzers.

It was far too early for other questions — about a force cosseted at the end of vulnerable supply lines, nicely photogenic in night goggles but without enough body armor; about acronyms like IED that had yet to enter the vocabularies of either commanders or reporters; about the familiar chase for medals and the absence of an enemy admitting defeat and ready to surrender (a missing essential of “victory” that would have much worried Maxwell Taylor).

Unreformed, uninformed commanders, uninstructed beyond brief battles, led their charges into Iraq relying on their generals. The generals relied on civilians. The civilians relied on (or were seduced or bullied by) the neocons. The neocons relied on their own ersatz expertise, Mossad insiders, and Iraqi exiles long out of touch with their homeland. The exiles — holed up in Baghdad palaces with U.S.-paid-for mercenary guards, ignorant and contemptuous of the Iraq that had passed them by, and where they were now powerless, even with the might of the Pentagon behind them — relied on the Americans.

Rumsfeld, as always, relied on himself. The ranks trusted him — and political decision-makers — to know and manage post-Saddam politics in Iraq to secure the victory as well as to provide the political setting that fulfilled the military triumph. When they failed miserably, condemning the American force to a corrupt, untenable occupation and slow-wasting attrition of men and prestige, the debacle was complete.

Beyond Iraq were his other lasting legacies.

As no other cabinet officer in history, he turned over crucial, self-sustaining functions of his department to privateers and private armies. He surrendered vital supply and commissariat services for the American military to profit-plundering contractors for whom U.S. forces were neither fellow warriors, nor even share-holders, but captive “customers” to be treated with the offhandedness afforded by guaranteed contracts. He ceded security and combat functions essential to the national mission to a corps of thousands of hired guns whose qualifications, standards of conduct and ultimate loyalty — all integral to the safety and success of American forces — were beyond effective governmental control or measure. (Exposed in a Congressional hearing February 7, the scandal of the infamous Blackwell Security Corporation, shirking amid vast profit the arming and protection of its own ranks, would be only a glimpse of the larger disgrace.)

Not since the British hired hordes of Hessians to crush George Washington’s revolutionary army had a military force tracing to America been so utterly mercenary. The potential direct and indirect levy on policy and the armed forces would not be known for years.

As no other cabinet officer in history, he squandered the integrity of his department and the unique, indispensable code of honor of its services. He joined, and often led, the rest of an intellectually degraded administration, heedless of Constitutional and human rights, in violating the very heart of their ostensibly conservative convictions. With the ready sanctioning, and then de facto cover-up of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the less noticed but equally gruesome prisons at Bagram Air Base and elsewhere in Afghanistan, he changed, for untold millions, the symbol of America and its once-proud military from freedom and the rule of law to the unforgettable prisoner’s hood and shackles. Rumsfeld’s impact would not vanish with terms of office or elections. By the very nature of contracts, personnel practices, and imparted ethics — some of Washington’s most permanent monuments — his legacies would remain deep in the tissue and soul of the institution he was entrusted to lead. At the end, a pathetic climax to his more than four decades either in government or imploringly on its threshold, there was only his hackneyed memo on Iraq policy — leaked, even more pathetically, in an apparent attempt somehow to vindicate him after all.

Thus, he growled that the Iraqi regime, like some seedy wrestling team, should “pull up its socks”; and, most poignantly, ever the politician conducting lethal policy as politics, he advised that Washington “announce that whatever new approach the US decides on, the US is doing so on a trial basis. This will give us the ability to re-adjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.'”

As he left office for the last time, it would be only the loss that mattered. As a pathologically unfit president struggled to recoup his historic blunder, as the neocons and Israeli lobby pressed on a gullible media and restive but still captive Congress the myth of an Iranian nuclear threat, as the Navy and Air Force, lesser actors in the Iraq action, promised wondrous results in Persia, the chaos and ineffable danger were left to Robert Gates, the puffy courtier.

Weeks after Rumsfeld’s departure, history — the little ever really known or understood — was already being waved off, forgotten. The past was too complicated and troublesome, too guilt-ridden and close to home, too filled with chilling consequences.

The worst of it was the most basic and damning. Donald Rumsfeld and all he represented, all he did and did not do, came out of us. The undertaker’s tally, including Iraq, was compiled at our leave, one way or another, at every turn. His tragedy was always ours.

ROGER MORRIS, who served in the State Department and on the Senior Staff of the National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, resigned in protest at the invasion of Cambodia. He then worked as a legislative advisor in the U.S. Senate and a director of policy studies at the Carnegie Endowment, and writes this Rumsfeldian history from intimate firsthand knowledge as well as extensive research. A Visiting Honors professor at the University of Washington and Research Fellow of the Green Institute , he is an award-winning historian and investigative journalist, including a National Book Award Silver Medal winner, and the author of books on Nixon, Kissinger, Haig, and the Clintons. More recently, he co-authored with Sally Denton The Money and the Power, a history of Las Vegas as the paradigm of national corruption. His latest work, Shadows of the Eagle, a history of U.S. covert interventions and policy in the Middle East and South Asia over the past half-century, will be published in 2007 by Knopf.

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com.

 

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