RUMSFELD’S ‘SLICE OF HISTORY’
Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2011
“I’d read other folks’ books about things I’d been involved in…and I’d think, My goodness, that’s not my perspective,” chuckles former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in [our] interview.… “I remember talking to [former Secretary of State] George Shultz and he said, ‘Don, that’s the way it is. Everyone has their slice of history and you need to write yours one day so that it is part of the records.’”
History, meet Mr. Rumsfeld’s view. With [the] release of “Known and Unknown”—the 78-year-old’s memoir…—“Rummy” is offering his slice of history.…
At the heart of Mr. Rumsfeld’s book is an important critique of the Bush administration that has been largely missing from the debate over Iraq. The dominant narrative to date has been that a cowboy president and his posse of neocons went to war without adequate preparation and ran roughshod over doubts by more sober bureaucratic and strategic minds.
What Mr. Rumsfeld offers is a far more believable account of events, one that holds individuals responsible for failures of execution. He describes a White House with internal problems, at the heart of which was a National Security Council overseen in Mr. Bush’s first term by Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Rice’s style of management, argues Mr. Rumsfeld, led to indecision, which in turn led to the lack of a coherent post-invasion plan, to a sluggish transfer of power to Iraqis, and to a festering insurgency. If nothing else, this gives historians something valuable to ponder as they work on an honest appraisal of the Bush years.…
Mr. Rumsfeld devotes an early chapter to his meditations on the purpose of the National Security Council (NSC), accompanied by his judgment that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice did a poor job of airing and debating substantive disagreements between the State and Defense departments. Rivalries between State and Defense are nothing new, yet Ms. Rice’s most “notable feature” of management, writes Mr. Rumsfeld, “was her commitment, whenever possible, to ‘bridging’ differences between the agencies, rather than bringing those differences to the President for decisions.…”
The memoir relates notable instances when this dynamic played out, but none with more consequence than the muddled plan for post-war Iraq. The Defense Department pushed early on “to do what we’d done in Afghanistan”—where a tribal loya jirga had quickly anointed Hamid Karzai as leader. “The goal was to move quickly to have an Iraqi face on the leadership in the country, as opposed to a foreign occupation.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s early takeaway from NSC meetings was that “the president agreed.”
Yet Colin Powell’s State Department was adamantly opposed. It was suspicious of allowing Iraqi exiles to help govern, claiming they’d undermine “legitimacy.” It also didn’t believe a joint U.S.-Iraqi power-sharing agreement would work. These were clear, substantive policy differences, yet in Mr. Rumsfeld’s telling, Ms. Rice allowed the impasse to drag on.
The result was the long, damaging regency of Paul Bremer as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority—which Mr. Rumsfeld believes helped inspire the initial Iraq insurgency. Mr. Bremer, who set up shop in one of Saddam’s opulent palaces, continued to postpone the creation of an Iraqi transitional government. He instead appointed a “governing council” of Iraqis but refused to give even them any responsibility. The result: delays in elections and in building post-Saddam institutions.…
Officially, Mr. Bremer reported to Mr. Rumsfeld. But he “viewed himself as the president’s man, had a background in the State Department, and a relationship with Condi Rice,” says Mr. Rumsfeld. So Mr. Bremer chose what guidance he preferred, which Mr. Rumsfeld describes as the equivalent of having “four or eight hands on the steering wheel.” Critical issues—whom the U.S. should support, who should have power, how quickly to turn over authority—lingered. I ask Mr. Rumsfeld why he didn’t simply fire Mr. Bremer. He says he couldn’t. Mr. Bremer was “a presidential envoy” and served at Mr. Bush’s pleasure.
Mr. Rumsfeld somewhat shields the president in his book. When the president was brought options, insists Mr. Rumsfeld, “he was perfectly willing” to make decisions. Then again, the book makes clear that Mr. Bush was aware of the ugly conflicts between State and Defense. And there’s no getting around Mr. Bush’s responsibility as wartime manager and Ms. Rice’s boss.
Mr. Rumsfeld is less blunt about his own department’s mistakes, though he does sidle into them. One question is why it took so long to replace Gens. George Casey and John Abizaid, on whose watch the Iraqi insurgency grew. Mr. Rumsfeld’s memoir notes that no one on the NSC or the Joint Chiefs had recommended they be removed by the autumn of 2006, Mr. Rumsfeld’s last months on the job. Yet he does acknowledge a visit in September of 2006 from retired Gen. Jack Keane, a key architect of the surge, who warned that the two generals were not “sufficiently aware of the gravity of the situation.” When I ask Mr. Rumsfeld if they were indeed left in Iraq too long, he concedes: “In retrospect, you could make that case.”
He isn’t as willing to acknowledge that he was slow to address Iraq’s insurgency. It was never one insurgency, he says, but rather it “evolved, and took different shapes.” The first wave, he says, was “Saddam and his Baathists attempting to regain power” aided by “criminals” whom Saddam had released from jail. Then came the influx of terrorists—“facilitated through Damascus”—coming to fight against Americans. Al Qaeda joined the fray, as did a Shiite uprising under Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. “We couldn’t lose any battles over there, but we couldn’t beat them militarily,” he says. “Because there was no one to beat. It was a totally unconventional asymmetrical circumstance.”
Mr. Rumsfeld thus takes an unorthodox view of the significance of President Bush’s surge, which began to take effect in early 2007. He argues that by 2006 things were, in fact, improving in Iraq. The Anbar Awakening—which Mr. Rumsfeld credits as beginning in the fall of 2006—“had convinced a lot of Sunnis they didn’t want to be associated with al Qaeda,” and “the government of Iraq was evolving the ability to take on some of the radicals” with the help of Iraqi security forces that had become “very capable.”
As a result, he argues, the force of President Bush’s surge was as much “psychological” as anything else. “The president’s decision galvanized the opinion in Iraq. It said: ‘Look, if you think it is going to go to the insurgents, you are wrong.’” The fact of the statement, argues Mr. Rumsfeld, mattered as much as did the increase of troops “tactically or strategically.”
Though viewed by many as the spear of Mr. Bush’s “freedom agenda,” Mr. Rumsfeld also expresses misgivings about “nation-building.” He disagrees with the “Pottery Barn rule”—attributed to Mr. Powell—that “if you break it, you own it,” arguing Iraq was already broken under Saddam. While he acknowledges that the U.S. had security obligations to Iraq, he expresses discomfort with Mr. Bush’s broad promises for democracy, and he worries that countries too frequently develop an overreliance on the U.S.…
Mr. Rumsfeld’s critics are bitter that his memoir didn’t go the obvious commercial route, serving up a grand apology for his role in the wars. Yet readers might be appreciative to find themselves in possession of a serious memoir, more in keeping with the older Washington tradition of Dean Acheson or Henry Kissinger. As might the historians.
INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE: THE RUMSFELD VIEW
Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2011
Following are excerpts from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s new book, “Known and Unknown.….”
Mr. Rumsfeld discloses that, in the run-up to the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush never asked his defense chief whether he thought the invasion a good idea:
While President Bush and I had many discussions about the war preparations, I do not recall his ever asking me if I thought going to war with Iraq was the right decision. The President was the one charged with the tough choice to commit U.S. forces. I did not speculate on the thought process that brought him to his ultimate, necessarily lonely decision. We were all hearing the same things in briefing after briefing, and one National Security Council meeting after another, mulling over what we knew of the Iraqi regime and what the intelligence community believed about its capabilities and intentions. Though there were differences among us, they were not differences at the substantive or strategic levels of whether or not to allow Saddam Hussein’s regime to remain in power. Not one person in NSC meetings at which I was present stated or hinted that they were opposed to, or even hesitant, about the president’s decision. I took it that Bush assumed, as I did, that each of us had reached the same conclusion.
As the occupation of Iraq turned ugly, stories emerged that Ms. Rice was going to take over management of postwar Iraq and oversight of Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer from the Pentagon :
…I had been eager for the State Department to accept more responsibility in Iraq and would have been the last person to shut them out. When we asked the State Department to send experts to Iraq, they failed to meet their quotas. When we asked for support for reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, they struggled to fill them. When the State Department was in charge of training the Iraqi police, it did not get the job done.… I was skeptical that either the National Security Council or the State Department truly wanted to be accountable for the administration’s Iraq policy, and I was all too aware that Rice and the NSC were not able to manage it.
On Oct. 6, 2003, I sent a memo to the president with copies to Vice President Cheney and [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card. “In Monday’s paper,” I wrote, “Condi, in effect, announced that the President is concerned about the post-war Iraq stabilization efforts and that, as a result, he has asked Condi Rice and the National Security Council to assume responsibility for post-war Iraq.” I recommended that Bremer’s reporting relationship be formally moved from Defense to the NSC or state. I further noted that I had told Bremer months earlier that I would prefer to have him report to the president, Rice, or Powell.… No one took up my offer. In fact, Rice shortly thereafter reversed herself, apparently at the president’s insistence, and informed the press that, contrary to her previous announcement, nothing about the administration’s Iraq policy had changed.…
After the disclosure of abuses at the military’s Abu Ghraib detention facility, Mr. Rumsfeld writes that he offered his resignation in response:
The previous week had been excruciating because the scandal was so damaging to our armed forces and the country. I generally thrived under pressure, but I wasn’t thriving now. Abu Ghraib was threatening to consume the Defense Department, eclipsing the fine work thousands of service-men and -women did every day.…
On May 10, 2004, President Bush came to the Pentagon for a briefing on Iraq.… As we sat at the round table in my office overlooking the Pentagon’s River Entrance, I handed him a…letter of resignation. “By this letter I am resigning as secretary of defense,” it read. “I have concluded that the damage from the acts of abuse that happened on my watch, by individuals for whose conduct I am ultimately responsible, can best be responded to by my resignation.…” Nonetheless, [the President] insisted that he wanted some time to think about it and to consult with others. The next day, Vice President Cheney came to the Pentagon. “Don, 35 years ago this week, I went to work for you,” he said, “and on this one you’re wrong.” In the end, Bush refused to accept my resignation.
(Adapted from Known and Unknown: A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld.…)
DONALD RUMSFELD’S IRAQ REVISIONISM
Dan Senor & Roman Martinez
Washington Post, February 15, 2011
What went wrong in Iraq? According to Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir, U.S. difficulties stemmed not from the Pentagon’s failure to plan for the war’s aftermath—or Rumsfeld’s unwillingness as defense secretary to provide enough troops to secure Iraqis after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Rumsfeld pins most of the blame on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) for its alleged mishandling of Iraq’s political transition in 2003-04, which “stoked nationalist resentments” and “fanned the embers of what would become the Iraqi insurgency.”
We were Defense Department officials through the early phases of the war and worked for the CPA in Baghdad. We have defended many of the difficult decisions Rumsfeld made and respect his service to our country. But his book paints an inaccurate and unfair history of U.S. policymaking concerning Iraq’s political transition.
Rumsfeld’s basic theme is that the CPA erred by failing to grant Iraqis “the right to govern themselves” early in the U.S.-led occupation. Rumsfeld claims that he favored a “swift transition” of power to an “Iraqi transitional government” and that the Bush administration formally endorsed this strategy when it approved the Pentagon’s plan for an Iraqi Interim Authority in March 2003. He writes that the head of the CPA, L. Paul Bremer, unilaterally decided not to implement this plan.
But Rumsfeld’s own contemporaneous memos undermine this notion. The 26 “Principles for Iraq—Policy Guidelines” that Rumsfeld gave Bremer in May 2003 said nothing about handing real power to Iraqis.… The CPA should “assert authority over the country,” he wrote, and should “not accept or tolerate self-appointed [Iraqi] ‘leaders.’” There should be “clarity that the Coalition is in charge, with no conflicting signals to the Iraqi people,” Rumsfeld wrote. He directed Bremer to take a “hands-on” approach to Iraq’s “political reconstruction,” noting that “the Coalition will consistently steer the process to achieve the stated objectives” and should “not ‘let a thousand flowers bloom.’” The “transition from despotism to a democracy will not happen easily or fast.…” he concluded.
If Rumsfeld’s goal was to quickly empower an Iraqi government, this was a strange way to communicate that objective.
Rumsfeld also claims that the Bush administration decided, before the war, to hand over power to an unelected sovereign Iraqi government. [However], shortly after the end of major combat operations, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith testified before a House committee on May 15, 2003, that the administration planned for the CPA to govern Iraq. The CPA would establish an Iraqi Interim Authority (IIA), Feith explained, whose most important responsibility would be to design the process by which Iraqis would create a new Iraqi government after drafting a new constitution and holding elections.
The president and his top advisers explicitly decided not to make the IIA a fully empowered Iraqi government. As one declassified Pentagon memo explained, the IIA would “take responsibility” for overseeing certain government offices and ministries—but only as determined by the CPA. And Pentagon officials envisioned that the CPA would retain an absolute veto over any IIA decision.…
[Yet], Rumsfeld claims that it was “startling news” when Bremer wrote…in September 2003 that a fully empowered sovereign Iraqi government would take power only after elections were held under a new and democratic constitution. But Bremer had confirmed this exact sequence of events repeatedly in the summer of 2003, in private memos to the president and Rumsfeld, public speeches and the CPA strategic plan that he shared with Rumsfeld for comments in early July. Rumsfeld criticizes the plan now, but he agreed with it at the time: “You’re on the mark,” he wrote to Bremer in September 2003. “I agree with your memo and will send it to [the president] and members of the [National Security Council].…”
Without basic security for ordinary Iraqis, it was extraordinarily difficult to achieve lasting progress in Iraq, especially with respect to a political transition that required negotiation and compromise among competing factions. Establishing public safety was what we failed to do during Rumsfeld’s tenure. Only after he resigned and President Bush deployed more troops and a traditional counterinsurgency approach did things begin to turn around.
Policymakers in Washington and Baghdad did their best to craft workable solutions under extreme circumstances. We at the CPA certainly made our share of mistakes. We only wish Rumsfeld would accept responsibility for his.
(The writers were based in Baghdad in 2003-04 as officials of the Defense Department
and the Coalition Provisional Authority.)