Home Japanese warriors Donald Rumsfeld, Cold War warrior and Iraq war defense chief, indelibly associated with his “known strangers” – obituary

Donald Rumsfeld, Cold War warrior and Iraq war defense chief, indelibly associated with his “known strangers” – obituary


He started well. His handling of the administration’s first press conference after the attacks was masterful; he gave direct answers to the questions while refusing to speculate on the number of victims.

As hostilities approached in Afghanistan, he refused to be tempted by chauvinism and warned against a long and complicated struggle. His serious, candid, unfazed style was right for the moment.

But as it became evident later, Rumsfeld always had a personal agenda. Within five hours of the attack, Rumsfeld wrote to his staff: “The best information quickly. Judge if good enough hit SH at the same time. Not just UBL.

UBL was a reference to “Osama” bin Laden. SH was Saddam Hussein, a tyrant, yes, but a layman with no connection to Bin Laden. So even as his fellow Americans struggled to figure out what was happening to them, Rumsfeld coldly searched for a way to use his country’s catastrophe as a pretext to accomplish a long-standing neo-conservative geopolitical goal.

The 2003 decision to invade Iraq was sold on the premise (backed by the messianic zeal of British Prime Minister Tony Blair) that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat.

Rumsfeld was at the forefront of the argument, claiming to know precisely where the weapons of mass destruction were – a blatant lie. Not only was the premise turned out to be wrong, but the invasion turned into a long and bloody insurgency that claimed the lives of over 4,000 Americans as well as tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and makes denigration of America a global sport.

The reasons why Iraq has become such a bloodbath are due in large part to Rumsfeld’s arrogance and his refusal to listen to advice. Upon arriving at the Pentagon, he proposed a new doctrine for the US military, seeking to increase force readiness and decrease the amount of supply needed to maintain forces by reducing the number of troops in theater.

A key part of what became the “Rumsfeld Doctrine” was the use of light forces to search for the enemy and launch airstrikes. In contrast, Colin Powell favored the use of overwhelming force, with well-defined goals and exit strategies.

The apparent initial success of the Rumsfeld doctrine in Afghanistan took little account of the major role played by the Northern Alliance [the umbrella organisation made up of Afghan groups formed in 1996 to combat the Taliban]. In Iraq, it turned out to be almost disastrous.

In the run-up to the invasion, a vigorous debate ensued over the number of troops needed. Rumsfeld preferred to use only a small force of around 60,000 people, modeled on Afghanistan. The American army wanted 400,000. The final number retained was 130,000. It was largely insufficient. Pentagon officials blamed Rumsfeld for choosing to ignore well-founded predictions of an insurgency as well as the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi military, a move that left a vacuum in which insurgents have flocked.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, it soon became clear that the Rumsfeld Doctrine meant that coalition forces did not have the military strength to complete the job.

In his book Washington’s War, Michael Rose, former director of British special forces and commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia, wrote: “Above all, at no point in Operation Iraqi Freedom has the coalition led by the United States was never able to protect the civilian population from the insurgents. From the outset of the war, Rumsfeld, like Lord Germain before him, consistently refused to respond to calls to dramatically increase the number of US troops in Iraq.

When things started to take a turn for the worse, Rumsfeld blamed the military: “You go to war with the army you have,” he said.

While these decisions could be traced to arrogance or incompetence, Rumsfeld’s policy on the treatment of detainees was far more morally reprehensible. In 2008, the US Senate Armed Services Committee accused him of being directly responsible for abusive interrogations of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.

After an 18-month investigation, the committee concluded that its approval of aggressive interrogation methods in December 2002 had been a direct cause of abuse that culminated in the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2003, where Iraqi detainees were found forced into naked pyramids, sexually humiliated and threatened by dogs.

The Bush administration insisted that the abuses were the result of a few “bad apples” and that those responsible would be held accountable. The committee found that neither of these statements was true.


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