Why should we listen to Donald Rumsfeld?

    Everybody this week has an opinion about what we should do with Syria, or whether we should do it, or how we should do it, or when we should do it, or under what conditions we should do it or not do it. It’s a free country, after all. But that doesn’t mean we have to listen to every opinionizer, or to accord them equal respect.

    Which brings me to Donald Rumsfeld.

    It’s a lamentable truism that in Washington, there is no shame. There is no price to be paid in the public square for royally screwing up. Once you’re in the club, you stay there. Once you’re a brand, you remain a brand- and past failures, no matter how egregious, are flushed down the memory hole.

    So all I could do Wednesday night was sigh when Rumsfeld caught my eye. There he was on CNBC – one of the prime failed architects of the Iraq war debacle – opining away about Obama and Syria. And the host, Larry Kudlow, actually said he was “honored” to indulge such a guest.

    Kudlow apparently wants Obama to foment regime change in Syria, but Obama doesn’t want to do that. So Kudlow asked Rumsfeld what he thinks about Obama’s wussy stance. Rumsfeld, of course, was something of an (incompetent) expert on regime change before he was sacked as Pentagon chief in 2006. And in the closed loop of the political-cable-establishment complex, once you’re an expert, you’re always an expert.

    Rummy’s complaints

    So the expert spoke. He complained that “the administration has simply not indicated what the mission will be. What – what the goal, what the outcome, what is our strategic interest?” Because when you don’t clearly communicate why we’re going to war, “the disadvantage to our country is to the men and women in uniform.”

    All this, from a guy who – in his military planning for the invasion and occupation of Iraq – did a great disservice to the men and women in uniform. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the conservative National Review magazine had to say, back in the day: “Rumsfeld has made serious – perhaps catastrophic – mistakes. (Insufficient) troops on the ground, this was a terrible mistake….(He) showed very little interest in planning for post-combat stability operations in Iraq. This was an error, too, one for which we are still paying and from which we may never recover.”

    It would be great if quotes like that were featured in the crawl at the bottom of the screen – as a cure for the public’s amnesia. Or maybe this ’06 quote from Phil Carter, a former U.S. Army officer who was tasked with helping the Iraqi police during the early American occupation: “Iraq dominates the list of Rumsfeld errors because of the sheer enormity of his strategic mistakes. Indeed, his Iraq blunders should have cost him his job long before the 2006 midterm elections….Rumsfeld’s failures transformed the Iraq war from a difficult enterprise into an unwinnable one…..These were not tactical failures, made by subordinate military officers. Rather, these were strategic errors of epic proportions that no amount of good soldiering could undo.”

    Anyway, there was Rumsfeld two nights ago, going on and on about Obama’s strategy, and about how this is really all about Iran, and that Obama needs to be tough with Iran: “In the Middle East, the single most important thing is Iran and its potential nuclear capability….We have to have in mind, what will be the implication in Iran? Will they conclude from our behavior that it’s OK to proceed with their nuclear program? Would they conclude it’s OK to use nuclear weapons?”

    The sage in ’03

    At this point, the crawl at the bottom of the screen should have pointed out that Iran today is stronger than ever in the Middle East – precisely because of Rumsfeld and the Bush administration made it so. Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime was a regional counterweight to Iran’s Shiite regime. But thanks to Rumsfeld and the Bush administration, Iran-allied Shiites now run Iraq.

    But today he’s still treated as a cable TV sage anyway – despite the fact that, in 2003, he never anticipated that American troops would be trapped in the midst of a long shooting war between Sunnis and Shiites. (On the eve of the U.S. invasion, he decreed that the whole Iraq conflict “could last six days, six weeks, I doubt six months” because our troops will be “welcomed,” with people in the streets “playing music, cheering, flying kites.”)

    Ideally, there should be a penalty for talking foolishly about non-existent weapons of mass destruction. (Rumsfeld, actual quote, spring 2003: “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”) There should be a penalty for sending our troops into harm’s way without enough body armor or other vital equipment. (When soldiers directly confronted him in 2004 about these shortages, he shrugged it off: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”)

    But once you’re in the club, a member of the insular Washington elite, there is no penalty. Even after screwing up a war, you can still get work as an armchair warrior on cable TV. As war clouds loom, can Dick Cheney be far behind?


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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