National Security Network

Rumsfeld's Recriminations

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Report 9 February 2011

President Bush President Bush's Legacy


Yesterday, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld released his memoir, which chronicles his years of government service. It's an 800-plus page tome entitled, "Known and Unknown." Rumsfeld tells his side of the story of the myriad disasters of the George W. Bush administration's foreign policy, most notably the Iraq war. The book dodges blame or tries to rewrite history on a number of issues -- including planning for the Iraq war, manipulating intelligence, torture of detainees and errors in post-war Iraq. Fred Kaplan of Slate says the book's "distortions and lies... are just too blatant to be countenanced." Rumsfeld's memoir represents the latest installment in a long line of former Bush administration officials who, instead of exhibiting leadership and taking the blame for their mistakes, try to shirk responsibility and point fingers.

Rumsfeld rehashes failures, without taking responsibility for any.

Skirting responsibility for troop levels. Long-time defense writer Fred Kaplan systematically takes on Rumsfeld's distortions: "Most shameless are Rumsfeld's attempts to deny the undeniable fact that he ordered far fewer troops to Iraq than his army's generals recommended:  ‘In reality,' [Rumsfeld] writes, ‘there was full debate and discussion, but there was no disagreement among those of us responsible for the planning. ... Among [Gen. Richard] Myers, [Gen. Tommy] Franks and me, there was no conflict whatsoever regarding force levels. If anyone suggested to Franks or Myers that the war plan lacked sufficient troops, they never informed me' (p. 452)."

As Kaplan details, "It is extremely well-documented, however, that the senior officers who created the war plans engaged in endless disputes with Rumsfeld, who whittled down the troop levels again and again, over their objections... Here Rumsfeld's error stemmed from sheer arrogance. Finding them excessive, he stripped away whole layers of support troops and logistics that the Army had built into the war plan. What he didn't comprehend was that these layers contained the vital elements for postwar ‘stability operations.' The war plan, as Rumsfeld trimmed it down, ordered the columns of Army and Marine troops to dash straight toward Baghdad, bypassing the towns along the way, except to overwhelm the occasional pockets of resistance. This was a brilliant stroke, but no follow-on troops were allocated to occupy those bypassed areas-and thus to pre-empt the insurgency that grew up as a result... Insufficient troops didn't merely create a perception of chaos; it led to a real breakdown." Rumsfeld also failed to recognize the need to secure arms. "Dozens of weapons depots were left unguarded and, so, Saddam-loyalists and the insurgents-to-come made off with thousands of small arms, ammunition, and explosives, with which they killed U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians in the coming months. He doesn't even acknowledge this fact." [Fred Kaplan, 2/8/11]

Manipulating intelligence. "The book devotes some space to the erroneous intelligence reports on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and alleged connections with al-Qaida. Rumsfeld puts all the blame on the CIA. Neither he nor any other Bush official lied, he says; they were simply wrong... This explanation might have been slightly plausible-except that Rumsfeld doesn't even mention the Office of Special Plans, the unit that he set up inside the Pentagon that riffled through raw intel data and cherry-picked the bits that seemed to suggest an Iraqi connection with Osama Bin Laden. (The OSP did this after the CIA's analysts concluded that no such connection existed.) A February 2007 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that this special unit, run by Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith (a member of Rumsfeld's inner circle), was improper for two reasons. First, the law forbids policymakers from doing intelligence analysis. Second, the unit ‘was producing intelligence products' without ‘clearly conveying to senior decision-makers' that their conclusions were at ‘variance with the consensus of the intelligence community.'" [Fred Kaplan, 2/8/11]

Torture. "Looking back, I see there are things the administration could have done differently and better with respect to wartime detention," Rumsfeld acknowledges in the book. Even so, writes the Washington Post, Rumsfeld "remains unrepentant about the Pentagon's overall handling of detainee interrogations, his own approval of interrogation techniques that were harsher than those in the Army Field Manual, the management of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the creation of military commissions."

Rumsfeld's account flies in the face of facts well-established by journalistic, bipartisan and military investigations.  To take just one example, he claims: "These acts could not conceivably have been authorized by anyone in the chain of command, nor could they have been any part of an intelligence-gathering or interrogation effort. Rather, they were the senseless crimes of a small group of prison guards who ran amok in the absence of adequate supervision." A bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee Report repudiated that claim. It noted unequivocally that, "The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."  [Washington Post, 2/3/11. Rumsfeld, 2/8/11. Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/08]

Ensuring post-war stability in Iraq. Rumsfeld bears ultimate responsibility for the decision to to disband the Iraqi army during the "de-baathification" process. Kaplan explains that, "[Coalition Provisional Authority Head L. Paul] Bremer issued the orders in May 2003, just days after arriving in Baghdad. He could not have had time to write them himself. In his own memoir, Bremer claims that Doug Feith handed him the orders, saying they were to be his top priority, as Iraqis had to be shown that a new day was dawning. It is still not known, after all these years, who wrote those two orders... But it is unimaginable that Feith would have handed Bremer any orders without at least Rumsfeld's consent. Many of Rumsfeld's criticisms of Bremer's imperiousness and ignorance are on the money. But he doesn't mention, much less refute, the claim about getting his marching orders from Feith." [Fred Kaplan, 2/8/11]

Another entry in what Doug Feith calls the "I-was-surrounded-by-idiots school of memoir writing." Kaplan writes that, "Some have already noted the tome's self-aggrandizement, its insistence that all the horrors and mishaps of George W. Bush's presidency were the faults of others-Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, Jerry Bremer, Richard Armitage, even (a little bit) George W. Bush. But never Donald Rumsfeld or his longtime friend Dick Cheney. Many autobiographies exhibit this trait to some extent. It can even be tolerable if it's joined to an engaging style or sage insights about broader matters. Rumsfeld's book has no such redeeming features. And even if it did, its distortions and lies (I use the term advisedly) are just too blatant to be countenanced."

Distortion in order to shift blame to others has been turned into its own writing genre by former Bush administration officials, writes Dana Milbank at the Washington Post, "Rumsfeld is the latest to join a circular firing squad of former Bush administration officials continuing their bureaucratic disputes in published form - what former Bush Pentagon official Doug Feith dubbed the ‘I-was-surrounded-by-idiots school of memoir writing.' In his own book, Feith blamed Colin Powell and the CIA. Former CIA chief George Tenet wrote a memoir blaming Vice President Dick Cheney and Rice. Bremer's memoir blames Rumsfeld. Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's book blamed Karl Rove. Rove's memoir blamed McClellan. Bush revealed that he considered replacing Cheney." According to the Bush administration, everyone and no one is to blame for their failures - it's no wonder there were so many. [Fred Kaplan, 2/8/11. Dana Milbank, 2/6/11]

What We're Reading

Egypt's protests swelled as marchers camped out in front of the parliament building in Cairo for the first time.

A severe drought is threatening the crop in China, the world's largest wheat producer.

Pakistan's prime minister dissolved his 50-plus member cabinet.

North Korean officers walked out of military talks with South Korea without any agreement.

Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor is again boycotting his trial for war crimes.

Russian authorities have named the suspected suicide bomber in the Domodedovo airport attack and arrested his siblings.

A series of bombings in northern Iraq killed seven.

More than a dozen vehicles, including four NATO tankers carrying fuel to Afghanistan, were destroyed in Pakistan near the Khyber Pass.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai called for a former Taliban governor to be released from Guantanamo Bay prison in order to participate in reconciliation talks.

The Israeli air force carried out airstrikes in Gaza.

Commentary of the Day

Joshua Foust argues that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is correct to call for the removal of Provincial Reconstruction Teams from Afghanistan.

Simon Tsdall cites the Domodedovo airport bombing as more evidence that Vladimir Putin has escalated a containable local insurgency into an increasingly regional conflict.

Jayshree Bajoria cautions against a return to military rule in Pakistan in search of stability.