I must confess I was once a fierce critic of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the person whom, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, our president granted full authority to manage the Iraq war.
But since I’ve learned to put two and two together and listened carefully to Rumsfeld’s many pearls of wisdom regarding matters of administration and military strategy, I’ve come to see the light. Perhaps it was the golden moment Rumsfeld told us “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” in regards to a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Maybe it was the time he told us years ago that the insurgency is “in its last throes.” Or maybe it was the sexy tone of his voice when he recently told critics of his performance to “just back off.”
Yes, it’s probably the “just back off” comment that did it for me. For when a person of Rumsfeld’s power and prestige starts talking as if he walks the schoolyard, you also know he has full confidence in his record. And, as I’ve come to understand, Rumsfeld’s record is unimpeachable. What do you call a war that’s left 655,000 Iraqis dead, 2,811 U.S. troops dead and 21,266 U.S. troops wounded, maimed or burned?
Here in America, we call that a resounding success, which is the main reason Rumsfeld still holds a desk at the Pentagon.
Fact is, the American people are too intelligent to give Rumsfeld’s critics the time of day. We’re smart; very smart. Any fool with eyes can watch the nightly news for proof. Just look at Baghdad, which is a model of civility. Before the war, residents there languished under 20 hours of electricity per day. Now, following our March 2003 invasion, they enjoy a state-supplied six or seven hours per day of electricity. Better yet, generators that run on gasoline produce this electricity. Before the war, gasoline cost Iraqis 20 dinars per liter. Now it costs them a more affordable 200 dinars per liter. To keep up with demand, they stand in long lines to get this gas. Iraqis like standing in line even more than we do. It affords them the wonderful joy of being blown to bits by suicide bombers or insurgency fire. If this isn’t progress, I don’t know what is.
Oh sure, I know even the president has expressed displeasure of late. “I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation there,” he said Oct. 25. “I’m not satisfied, either.” Following the same line of reasoning, Bush later praised Cheney and Rumsfeld for a job well done, stating emphatically that both will hold their jobs until the end of his term. “I’m pleased with the progress we’re making,” Bush said.
Such contrasting statements are the very models of consistency. As Rumsfeld rightly proclaimed during his recent visit to Salt Lake City, it’s the minds of those who dare criticize the war and its management that remain fogged. They suffer, he said, from “moral and intellectual confusion.”
There are, of course, many reasons Rumsfeld should continue managing the war. Chief among them is his remarkable foresight. It’s one of the many reasons his defenders compare him to such eminent statesmen as Winston Churchill.
As President Ronald Reagan’s Middle East envoy, Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad to shake hands with Saddam Hussein himself in Dec. 20, 1983, even as Saddam was in the process of murdering 8,000 Kurds. Rumsfeld returned in March 1984 to meet with Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz. The record shows that Rumsfeld was bothered that Saddam used chemical weapons to kill Iranians. But we hated Iran then, just as we hate Iran now. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld held his tongue. “[Saddam] made it clear that Iraq was not interested in making mischief in the world,” Rumsfeld told The New York Times. “It struck us as useful to have a relationship, given that we were interested in solving the Mideast problems.”
So we see that Rumsfeld understood clearly Saddam’s true nature. And solving problems in the Middle East would become a Rumsfeld specialty. And how did Rumsfeld arrive at the level of perfection at which he currently practices “problem solvingâ€? Through his humility and unique ability to listen and regard the advice of others.
Months before the invasion, former Secretary of State James Baker warned that the United States must not “go it alone” in deposing Saddam Hussein and taking control of Iraq. Furthermore, we would need “sufficient” ground troops. “Anyone who thinks we can effect regime change in Iraq with anything less than this is simply not realistic,” Baker warned. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft voiced the same opinion in a now famous piece published by The Wall Street Journal. Before Rumsfeld took action, former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Forces Committee that we would need “several hundred thousand troops” to accomplish the job with any success.
Rumsfeld took all this advice to heart. He wooed an alliance with France and Germany by calling them the “old Europe” and “a problem.” He launched a “lean” force of 140,000 troops, just enough to turn Iraq into the model of civility it is today. And rather than training our troops in the tactics of counterinsurgency, Rumsfeld made certain they followed the traditional “cordon-and-sweep” operations that rounded up and detained thousands of neutral Iraqis. As we now know, when it comes to “winning hearts and minds” and proving our commitment to furthering democracy in the war on terror, nothing does the trick quite like detaining people indefinitely and without trial.
Just how good a job is Rumsfeld doing? Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently told his country’s health ministry to stop sending mortality figures to the United Nations. That’s understandable, but unfair. For if reports of Iraq’s mounting body count ever reached the president’s desk, Bush would surely give Rumsfeld a raise.