Rumsfeld's ways

Print edition : May 19, 2006

The Defence Secretary has argued for a high-tech U.S. military with limited manpower, with personnel from "allied powers" bearing the arms.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.-REUTERS/JIM WATSON/POOL

DONALD Henry Rumsfeld is an enigmatic man. At a United States Defence Department news briefing on February 12, 2002, a reporter asked him if there was any evidence that Iraq had reached out to terrorist organisations to give them destructive weapons. Rumsfeld said, "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns. The ones we don't know we don't know."

For this sentence, Rumsfeld won the British Plain English Campaign's annual award in late-2003. A spokesperson for the award said, "We think we know what he means. But we don't know if we really know." If Rumsfeld has a hard time being understood by the press, he has recently had no problem understanding what his generals have been telling him. One after another, a parade of Generals and other high-ranked officers of the U.S. military have come to the press to urge his resignation. Since mid-2004, retired General Anthony Zinni has called for the resignation of the Defence Secretary. During the Clinton years, Zinni was the top commander of U.S. troops in West Asia, and during the early Bush years, he was the administration's special envoy to the region.

In a 2004 book written with the popular author Tom Clancy, Zinni described the administration's conduct in the lead-up to the Iraq war: "I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption." Two years later, Zinni has created a dust storm. He took leadership in organising several retired Generals to speak out against the Rumsfeld dispensation. On a television programme in early April, Zinni led the charge: "There's a series of disastrous mistakes." When asked if someone should resign, he answered, "Absolutely." When asked whom, he said, "Secretary of Defence to begin with."

Zinni was followed by at least six others. Retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops from 2003 to 2004, wrote an opinion piece in which he called Rumsfeld "incompetent, strategically, operationally and tactically. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down".

The "Rebellion of the Generals" was a major "known unknown". The disgruntled Generals are now joined by active duty officers and a group called the West Point Graduates Against the War (West Point is the premier military academy in the U.S.). It could hardly be anticipated by an administration that lives with the belief that it is totally supported by institutions like the military. But the military is not the only traditionalist organisation to give the Bush administration trouble.

When Vice-President Dick Cheney went to throw the first ball at the Washington nationals baseball game in the first week of April, he was booed. The loyalty of the white working class has frayed, for which reason Bush has not visited a car-racing event for over a year (the President used to enjoy deep popularity among "NASCAR dads". white men who frequented race car tracks). The traditionalist venues are no longer safe havens.

Recent polls show that more than half of the population feels that the Iraq war is going badly and about half want U.S. troops to be withdrawn immediately. A similar percentage does not trust Bush on Iran. The "Rebellion of the Generals" could not have come at a worse time for the Bush administration.

On April 18, Bush took to the lawns of Camp David, Maryland, to defend once more his embattled Secretary of Defence. "I hear the voices," he told the press, "and I read the front page and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider, and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the Secretary of Defence."

Rumsfeld entered the U.S. Congress in 1962. Seven years later, he joined the Nixon administration, where he established a liberal record on poverty issues. Nixon liked the scrappy young politician, whom he called "a ruthless little bastard" in a 1971 tape-recording. In a private conservation between Nixon and Rumsfeld in July 1971, the two confer on the lack of options for the U.S. in Vietnam. "When we get down to it," Nixon said, "the war will be over one way or another, next year at this time. [The Democrats] got us in, we got us out." "Exactly, that's right," said Rumsfeld.

Eager to advance his political career, Rumsfeld cozied up to Nixon and earned an ambassadorship to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The physical distance from Washington allowed Rumsfeld to escape the Watergate fallout. He reinvented himself as President Ford's Secretary of Defence, in which position he debuted as a hawk. During the 1980s he concentrated on making money, but for two short missions to Iraq in 1983-84 where he egged on the Saddam regime (whose use of Euro-American chemical weapons on the Iranians and Kurds had already been criticised by the United Nations).

From the start of the Reagan presidency in 1981, one faction of the defence establishment was eager for an expansion of U.S. armed might. They felt that dtente had weakened the hand of the military. Rumsfeld was chief among that faction and soon became their spokesperson. He chaired the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control in the 1980s, the U.S. Ballistic Missile Threat Commission (1998) and the Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organisation (2000).

All these reports urged more government expenditure and less U.S. government concern for international treaties. The U.S., Rumsfeld argued, needed weapons in space, and it should create a high-tech military with only limited manpower. Those who bear arms would come from other "allied" countries, whereas the U.S. would use its high-tech superiority to ensure that it had command responsibility. This was the Rumsfeld doctrine.

Afghanistan and Iraq served as laboratories for Rumsfeld. He disregarded the strategic questions raised by the chain of command in the military, which he anyway regarded as a recalcitrant institution that had to be forced to change. Major General John Batiste, who commanded the First Infantry Division in Iraq until 2005, told the press, "We served under a Secretary of Defence who didn't understand leadership, who was abusive, who was arrogant, and who didn't build a strong team."

What the peeved Generals do not grasp, however, is that Rumsfeld's vision for the U.S. military is in line with the broad developments in the global economy. The U.S. will be home to the high-value information sector (in this case, smart bombs and their delivery systems) and will outsource jobs that will now come with few social benefits and with low pay (the troops from allied countries who will be "inter-operatable" with the high-tech U.S. platforms). The Rumsfeld doctrine is the military policy of jobless growth.

On April 17, veteran reporter Seymour Hersh revealed that the White House has begun to plan actively for strikes on Iran. Bush dismissed the article as "wild speculation", but Rumsfeld was more circumspect. "We have, I don't know how many, various contingency plans in this department and the last thing I am going to start telling you, or anyone else in the press or the world, at what point we refresh a plan or don't refresh a plan, and why. It just isn't useful." To whom this would or would not be "useful" was left unspoken. A senior intelligence official told Hersh that the assault on Iran would not require any public oversight because it would be conducted by clandestine Special Forces (small, mobile detachments favoured by the Rumsfeld doctrine).

"The guys in the Joint Chiefs of Staff [the main military command] say there are a lot of uncertainties in Iran," the official told Hersh, "We need to have more than we had in Iraq. Now we have the green light to do everything we want." In February, Rumsfeld told the German press: "All options, including the military one, are on the table."

In a stunning editorial, The Los Angeles Times (April 23) called for a thorough overhaul of the White House, including the resignation of Rumsfeld. "The Secretary should go not because he has been criticised by a group of retired generals but because he embodies the smugness and inability to acknowledge error that has characterised both the Iraq war and the wider war on terrorism. Rumsfeld has been the pinched public face of an administration that has cut legal and humanitarian corners in dealing with people - including U.S. citizens - suspected of involvement with terrorism."

Congressman John Conyers has brought forward a bill to investigate the Bush regime for "administrative abuses of power", while Congressman Peter Defazio has begun a campaign to stop the Bush move on Iran. The road to Teheran is via the Pentagon; the White House might find itself stuck in Washington, D.C. before its Rumsfeldian forces can even begin to cross the Atlantic.

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