Donald Rumsfeld's Amnesia
You might have thought that Donald Rumsfeld would at least have the decency to keep quiet. Having wrought such damage upon the Middle East as the result of his ill-considered and misconceived policies, he could at least have spared us his ongoing thoughts. Yet here he is again, giving an interview to the Times about the current problems and casting himself as a wise man of the past.
Extraordinarily, Mr. Rumsfeld has announced that he was never really in favour of imposing democracy upon Iraq. George W Bush made a terrible mistake, he suggests. His amnesia is all the more culpable given how much of Iraq's current day trauma stems from errors, mistakes and sheer arrogance on the part of Rumsfeld himself. It does seem extraordinary that he is now suggesting he was not an ideological fellow traveller in the great crusade to impose western democracy on Iraq. Indeed, it is worth just recounting just how responsible Rumsfeld was for the disaster that overtook Iraq, not so much from the initial invasion but from the botched aftermath.
The manifold failings of the worst man to hold the office of American Secretary of defence are documented in many places elsewhere. Suffice it to say here that this was the man who – in pure neo-con fashion – was the strongest advocate of a war against Iraq in the counsels of the Bush presidency, and the strongest advocate of doing so with minimum men on the ground. Having scythed through Baghdad, Rumsfeld’s forces were then confronted with a horrendous security operation, and faced with the Secretary’s unyielding demand that this too be undertaken with the most underwhelming force possible. Rumsfeld, indeed, even stopped one division from going to Baghdad at all, in the belief that it was an unnecessary expenditure.
The man in the Pentagon thus hamstrung the very forces he had sent into Iraq right from the start. There was worse to come, though, in the form of his sweeping aside of the cautious but politically aware team of American reconstructionists who were in Baghdad and headed by Jay Garner, in favour of the brash, arrogant and wholly unsuited Paul Bremer. Bremer, a man of supreme egoism who likened himself to General MacArthur, insisted on complete authority to run Iraq. It couldn’t have gone to a less qualified individual. Bremer had no knowledge whatever of the Middle East – unlike Garner and his team, or the Iraqi originally slated to be a co-leader, Zalmay Khalilzad. His foreign experience had been as a chief of staff to Henry Kissinger, and an ambassador to the Netherlands. It was this lack of any prior involvement in Mid East affairs that endeared him to the ever cretinous Rumsfeld.
Bremer arrived in May 2003 to an urgent need to establish some sort of authority in Baghdad. His predecessors, Garner and Khalilzad, had been making some useful moves to incorporate previous Iraqi civil servants and military commanders into a new governing authority. Bremer swept this aside, since he had arrived determined to stamp his authority on Baghdad by dismissing the whole of Saddam Hussein’s political and military structure. His first order was thus to bar the top four levels of Saddam’s Baath Party from holding any government office. As the CIA station chief in Baghdad noted, Bremer had just disenfranchised 30,000 people.
Bremer’s Order No 2 was even more catastrophic. Despite the talks that had been going on between Garner and Khalilzad and potentially sympathetic Iraqi army commanders, Bremer’s order – drafted by former Clinton aide Walter Slocombe – removed the entire military structure that had existed under Saddam. The reaction in Iraq was furious, with angry demonstrations in Baghdad and other cities; sixteen US soldiers were wounded by violent protests in Mosul, a matter of particular annoyance to General Petraeus whose forces had up to that point been making some headway in winning over the city’s population. And if Order No 1 had sent 30,000 officials to unexpected unemployment, Order No 2 did the same for 300,000 well armed soldiers. It is no surprise to discover that many of those soldiers formed the nucleus of the Islamic Army of Iraq and Syria that is causing so much grief today.
Bremer’s orders, confirmed by Rumsfeld, were ill considered and destructive, but even the logic on which they were based was flawed, not least because Bremer failed to make even the most cursory investigation of the country he had come to rule. Had he done so, he would have discovered that the Iraqi army’s top ranks had far fewer Baathists than he had thought. A mere half of the generals, and only 8,000 of the 140,000 officers and NCO’s were committed Baath Party members. The Iraqi officers who had been in discussions with Garner and Khalilzad knew this, but Bremer had dismissed their contribution out of hand. He ended up pursuing de-Baathification of a military that hadn’t needed it.
There is a final indication – and perhaps an appropriate one – of Paul Bremer’s mendacious ignorance of Iraq and Arab culture. He and Slocombe had devised a scheme to replace the Iraqi military with a ‘New Iraqi Corps’. NIC, when pronounced in Arabic, sounds very much like “fuck”. It is a fitting commentary on a man who has retired into a peaceful life of painting and lecturing in the bucolic countryside of Vermont while the reverberations of his ill-thought out and gung-ho policies continue to condemn thousands of Iraqis to death, torture, or – often at best – a wretched existence carved out in the midst of slaughter, and fear of the ISIL monster which has filled the vacuum he created. Mr. Rumsfled may not have been in favour of imposing democracy. The trouble is, he doesn't appear to have been in favour of imposing anything at all.
The book “Cobra II” by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor (chapter 24) provides much of the narrative detail referred to above.