Rumsfeld's Free Pass on Iraq
Senators didn't ask, weren't told.
- Do you really think, given the way you've hounded generals and colonels who dare disagree with you, that some enlisted man or woman is going to tell you we should get out?
- Maybe the poll is flawed, but don't you even want to take a look at the thing? If it really does reflect the thinking of a majority of troops, shouldn't you be aware of that?
On the larger strategic questions, too, Rumsfeld's testimony eschewed logic and fact. In his opening statement, he likened the Bush administration's war on terrorism to the visionary programs and institutions that Harry Truman's team put in place at the outset of the Cold War—the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, NATO, and the World Bank, "to name a few." These creations, Rumsfeld said:
[M]ay seem, to people not rooted in history, a part of a carefully crafted, broadly supported structure, leading inevitably to victory in the Cold War. But of course, things were not that way at all. In fact, these were days of heated disagreement. Yet together, our national leaders of both political parties … understood that a Cold War had been declared on our country—on the Free World—whether we liked it or not. That we had to steel ourselves against an expansionist enemy, the Soviet Union, that was determined to destroy our way of life. Though this era is different, and though the enemy today is different, that is our task today. We must fashion new approaches to enable us to work … in ways unimagined before, and to partner with other nations, if we are to defeat this peril to our way of life.
The question practically screams out (though nobody so much as whispered it): Where are your Marshall Plans and NATOs and World Banks? Where are your plans to work "in ways unimagined before" to defeat this new adversary? Why is Rumsfeld comparing himself and his colleagues to the likes of George Marshall, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Paul Nitze, and Truman himself, when they so clearly come up short?
And speaking of people "rooted in history," as Rumsfeld put it, what on earth compelled him to make this comment (again, in his opening statement):
The enemy cannot win a single conventional battle, so they challenge us through non-traditional, asymmetric means, using terror as their weapon of choice.
He read these lines as if the first clause were a boast and the second clause were an accusation of unfair behavior. Doesn't Rumsfeld remember the famous story about Col. Harry G. Summers' conversation at the four-party military talks in Hanoi in April 1975, just after President Gerald Ford conceded defeat in the Vietnam War? Col. Summers, then the chief of the U.S. delegation's negotiating team, was chatting with his North Vietnamese counterpart, Col. Tu. "You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield," Col. Summers said. "That may be so," Col. Tu replied, "but it's also irrelevant."
Leave it to Rumsfeld to invoke memories of Vietnam as others in the administration are trying to dispel such comparisons. Leave it to the Senate to miss the slip-up.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Donald Rumsfeld by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.