Criminal, War Criminal, and Bad Liar

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Watching two-timing U.S. Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld do the book rounds is painful. It's also funny, in a Portlandia kind of way.

For those of you who haven't had a chance to watch Portlandia, it is a satirical comedy about knowns and unknowns of Portland, Oregon, delivered in a deadpan style by characters with a guffaw-inducing lack of self-awareness.

Rumsfeld these days — a man who very likely met the criteria of both criminal and war criminal long before his second stint at the Pentagon — brings to mind nothing more than a brutal and blood-thirsty version of Portlandia. The world in which Rumsfeld operates is one of his own creating, a fantastical place where he poses, ever so sincerely, and weaves tales that defy the widely recorded facts. Ironically, Rumsfeldia also defies the down-home, common-sense wisdom with which Rumsfeld self-associates at every turn. There is a way that empires make their wars against weak yet desirable states, and the way always includes egotistical can-do'ers and yes-men, carefully framed and made-up "intelligence" and a story about "why the [easy, quick, short-term and safe] war is necessary for the continuation of life as we know it" for the bread-eating and circus-attending public.

Rumsfeld gently sparred with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Stewart was prepared, probing and polite. It appeared that Stewart was also speechless at times, unable to process Rumsfeldia. Rumsfeld kept his famous tongue in check, relative to his ungentlemanly behavior with Andrea Mitchell the day before, who seemed to be really trying, just a short eight years after the manufactured US invasion of Iraq, to get to the bottom of the story.

Both interviews concentrated on Rummy's role in and knowledge about the lying run-up to war, a war planned in late 2001, and sold the next year to the public and to Congress as a short-term and decisive action to prevent Saddam's use of WMD, to disarm his government of said WMD and to revenge Saddam's involvement with 9/11. There were a multitude of other falsely advertised reasons. Wild stories pushed by the administration ranged from yellow cake buys that never happened, to extremely dangerous and warlike aluminum tubes, to Saddam's alleged support of Al Qaeda training camps. It was a war to avenge the United Nations, or perhaps, a war to punish the UN for actually succeeding in their mission of accounting for the bio-chem agents guys like Rumsfeld had sold them in the 80s. My goodness, there was something for everyone!

In an era when Ronald Reagan seems to a golden boy of American presidents, it may be hard to recall that American high-ranking Iraq war criminals — Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, and Abram Shulsky, among others, were the same creeps who were busy playing Iraq against Iran, Iran against Iraq, and selling bio-chem and conventional weapons to a younger Saddam. But I digress. In Rumsfeldia, history is just a concept, or better yet, optional. Something to be shaped at will to keep you out of trouble in the present, or at least to shift blame to others.

I have not and likely will not read Rumsfeld's memoirs, preferring instead to let the knowns and unknowns of Rumsfeldia remain just that. From the interviews I have seen, it appears that Rumsfeld, as noted by someone who should know, despite being a known micromanager and control freak, was largely unaware of what may or may not be going on under Doug Feith's Policy shop, just a few doors down. Far be it from Don Rumsfeld to have a clue about what an office just one level under Feith, called the Office of Special Plans, a.k.a. the Expanded Iraq Desk, or even the Iran/Iraq desk, as Iran "expert" and neocon-man Larry Franklin was also emplaced in the midst of Abe Shulsky's lair, was doing from dusk till dawn. Oh, the complications of it all.

We now know that Rummy knew nothing — absolutely nothing — of this intelligence-machinating neoconservative nest, nor of its daily communications with Cheney's office. He knew not of the Special Plans' published talking points on pending war in Iraq, WMD, and terrorism, and its orderly and periodic distribution throughout the policy community in the months leading up to the invasion. That these talking points were also made available to some selected and trusted neoconservative newspaper reporters and interested war advocates, hopefuls and beneficiaries — my goodness, Rumsfeld simply couldn't imagine!

We might also get the sense from these interviews and others that even though Rumsfeld himself knew little, Colin Powell on the other hand, and the CIA specifically had no doubts at all. Let me rephrase that. Colin Powell had no doubts at all and believed every word of the Pentagon/Cheney-pushed war rationale. While Rumsfeld calls his own knowledge limited, apparently Powell — whose own INR (Bureau of Intelligence and Research) dissented as much or more than any of the other 13 known and legal intelligence producing agencies — was both knowledgeable and confident.

Rumsfeld says the CIA was also a confident, full-fledged believers. An unprecedented number of visits by the Vice President to the analysts at Langley saw to that, but of course, Rumsfeld had no idea Cheney was up to such madness. Rumsfeld reminded both Mitchell and Stewart that it has always been his philosophy and practice, in the presence of unknowns (apparently, between 2001 and 2003 that would be everything going on in the Pentagon), to always remain searching and skeptical. "You have to question the intelligence," said Rumsfeld to Mitchell, circa 2011. There was a great "absence of certainty" said Rumsfeld to Stewart. I must say, Rumsfeldia leaves me breathless.

I don't know how much Rumsfeld talks about Cheney in his memoirs of the Iraq war years. I do know that long after Cheney and Rumsfeld are paid for their memoirs, we the people are left with a history of lies and a persistent occupation that makes our own country less safe, less respected, less loved, and way more broke. My impression in hearing Rumsfeld talk about his new book is that this guy is still a bald-faced liar. Well, either that or he lives in another world. Rumsfeldia.

If I want to know what happened, I can rely on the long history of Washington's interference in the Middle East. I can read about the 935 lies directly told by the U.S. government regarding Iraq, including the 109 lies told by Rumsfeld. I can look at the strategic structures of domestic power in this country that facilitate wars not for liberty or survival, but for political and business interests. A hundred years ago, Smedley Butler witnessed and served raw business interests, before he came to understand that war is a racket. In modern times, we pay blood and treasure for the more refined and much larger banking/defense/industrial/congressional interests observed and served by John Perkins. We don't fight for constitutional reasons, for reasons of survival or even to bring freedom to the great global unwashed. None of that determines which states Washington chooses to topple and invade, which foreign leaders we prop up, and which ones we assassinate. This, I suspect, Rumsfeld actually knows very well.

As Rumsfeld hawks his book, the Bush III administration under Obama is bringing new charges against Iraq war whistleblower Bradley Manning. The news is abuzz that Manning, for aiding the "enemy" by leaking information to the media, may in fact receive the death penalty someday, if he ever gets a trial, and he's not psychologically or physically destroyed by his incarceration. Yet, if I am not mistaken, leaking classified intelligence, including raw unsubstantiated information to the media, and having that material republished by the New York Times and the Washington Post in order to make a difference in public opinion was precisely what Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans, and Rumsfeld's close friend Dick Cheney, were doing, for months and years in advance of the invasion of Iraq.

In Rumsfeldia, it's OK to lie to make wars you, your children and grandchildren will never fight, but it's not OK to tell the truth to stop a war based on lies that you are actually fighting. Maybe this Rumsfeld guy is on to something, after all. Too bad it isn't the stairs to the gallows.

LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, blogs occasionally at Liberty and Power and The Beacon. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here or join her Facebook page.

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