Like many in and out of uniform, I’ve often criticized the soon-to-be-former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld.
Finally, just after the Democratic sweep in the 2006 mid-term elections, the long anticipated moment has come, and it is time to speak of Rumsfeld’s legacy.
Surprisingly, it isn’t the Iraq fiasco — this is the criminal legacy of neoconservative advisors in and out of the White House, pro-Likud factions in and out of government, the utterly spineless and incredibly stupid Congress in 2002, and the appalling non-investigatory investigative reporting of major U.S. news corporations.
While he certainly propagandized the 2003 invasion, and glossed over the facts on the ground, I think Rumsfeld was far more honest and forthright with the public and presumably his bosses than either deputy Secretary of Defense Paul "The war will cost $1.5 billion and be paid entirely from Iraqi oil revenues" Wolfowitz or his old friend Dick "Fire-Aim-Ready" Cheney.
Rumsfeld’s legacy will also not be the transformation of the Department of Defense, unless future U.S. historians carelessly use "transform" instead of the more accurate "demolish," "destroy," "demoralize, "defang" and "obliterate."
I remember in early 2001, many in the Pentagon hoped very much that Rumsfeld’s can-do attitude and political history would allow him to do what cautious cost-cutting of the Clinton years failed to do — shake up the military-industrial establishment towards faithful service in a truly post—Cold War world.
Instead, Rumsfeld did his part to ensure that neoconservative conspirers of the Reagan era, so comfortable fighting fake wars, playing overthrow-the-dictator games in vulnerable countries around the world, and offering fake security advice, could re-establish a new Cold War. The Bush War on Terror, while unsophisticated, illogical, and end-times-ish, has become a bellyfeeling and bank-account-filling New Cold War.
The Rumsfeld legacy will not be one of shame, even though we should be ashamed. When I heard that Saddam Hussein would be hanged soon, my first thought was how relieved Mr. Rumsfeld must be. In terms of real legacies, that famous Don-Saddam handshake and the secret deals the United States pushed and pursued in an effort to destabilize Iran in the 1980s are probably the most interesting. This dishonorable history is part of Rumsfeld’s most important legacy — that of the ultimate insider, playing the powerful hand of the world’s greatest democracy, in the name of American people who had absolutely no idea of what was happening.
When we think of Don Rumsfeld, we won’t really remember the Iraq fiasco, the destruction of both quality and confidence of the United States military, the purgings and the sparrings, or even the 100,000 and counting damaged bodies and souls of young Americans returning from a pointless and reasonless Iraqi occupation. They won’t name any of the great American bases in Iraq after Don Rumsfeld. He won’t get a carrier.
I think that we will best remember Don Rumsfeld for his succinct set of favored quotations, known as "Rumsfeld’s Rules."
The original version was prepared in 1974 — and one regrets that these nuggets of pith weren’t finalized then and there, that Rumsfeld had not been content to simply push artificial sweeteners through the FDA, and make boatloads of money.
There are many great quotes in "Rumsfeld’s Rules," and Rumsfeld aspired to apply them liberally.
I’ll point to two that seem pertinent today. Rumsfeld quotes General George Marshall, recalling that "If you get the objectives right, a lieutenant can write the strategy."
In a nutshell, this certainly explains our real problem in Iraq today, and tomorrow. We have misguided, venal, greedy, and idiotic objectives. This means that lieutenants can’t be counted on to write the strategy — and thus we fall back on those famous pseudo-sages at the American Enterprise Institute, and the graybeards of cowardice and intellectual sloth conjoined in the old Project for a New American Century. Don Rumsfeld doesn’t understand that the problem isn’t the strategy — he’d like to tweak and alter and experiment and stay on and on and on. The problem is the objective. Recognizing this early on, as General Marshall might have, would have constructed for Rumsfeld a powerful and grand legacy — but sadly, he was not up to that task.
And this is the rub — the Rumsfeld legacy is that he was simply not up to the task.
This failure may not spring from Rumsfeld’s own history or character. Instead, the reason for this legacy of failure is explained by another of "Rumsfeld’s Rules."
One page ten we find the quote: "Remember: A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s."
That George W. Bush is mediocrity made flesh is not questioned in any part of America or the world. Much like nearly forgotten FEMA Director Michael "heckuva job" Brown, and the forgettable Harriet Miers, Don Rumsfeld was — plain and simple — the hiring outcome of a bona fide "B."
And this, dear reader, is Rumsfeld’s pitiful and pathetic legacy.
Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. Archives of her American Forum radio program can be accessed here and here. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here. A version of this article originally appeared on MilitaryWeek.com.