Donald Rumsfeld is writing his memoirs, and if his op-ed in the Nov. 23 New York Times is any preview, it should be a classic of self-serving revisionism.
On the surface, the former defense secretary's piece seems to be a warning—sound, if unoriginal—that merely sending more troops to Afghanistan won't fix that country's problems or win the war.
But his real intent is clearly to justify his own policies on the war in Iraq, to refute the (properly) widespread idea that he committed serious errors, and even more to deny that he held the views that he actually did hold.
The first eyebrow-raiser comes in the second paragraph, in which he writes, almost in passing, "As one who is occasionally—and incorrectly—portrayed as an opponent of the surge in Iraq. …"
Let's stop right there.
From beginning to end—from the preparations for the invasion in the summer and fall of 2002 until his (forced) resignation was announced in November 2006—Rumsfeld consistently opposed all proposals to send more troops to Iraq.
The quarrels between Rumsfeld and the generals over how many troops to send at the outset of the war have been well-documented. It turned out that Rumsfeld was right about how few troops would be needed to overthrow Saddam Hussein—and very wrong about how many would be needed to impose order afterward.
That is to say, he understood (as many of the Army's senior officers did not) that the new GPS-guided "smart bombs"—which could destroy enemy tanks and troop formations from the air with extreme accuracy—meant that massive artillery units, with their heavy weapons and long logistical lines, were no longer necessary. However, he did not understand (as those officers did) that when it comes to postwar "stability operations," the key ingredient is boots on the ground—and lots of them.
Rumsfeld saw the Iraq war primarily as a showcase for a new style of warfare known as "military transformation"—the idea that, in the post-Cold War world, America could project power and topple rogue regimes with a small number of troops (backed by high-tech air forces) and that, therefore, we could do so repeatedly, anytime, anywhere, at low cost and with little effort. The Pentagon laid out no official plans for post-Saddam Iraq because Rumsfeld wasn't interested in the subject. To him, Iraq wasn't what the war was about.
He felt confident in his views because of the lightning victory in Afghanistan, where a very small contingent of Special Operations forces, backed by smart bombs and indigenous guerrilla fighters, ousted the Taliban regime from Kabul in a matter of weeks—much more rapidly than the year or two that many Army generals guessed it would take. But Rumsfeld erred here, too. He thought that the war was over when Kabul fell and the Taliban retreated. At that point, according to Sean Naylor's excellent book Not a Good Day To Die, he issued orders that no more ground forces could be deployed to Afghanistan—not even an individual soldier or Marine, much less a battalion or brigade—without his explicit approval. It was a few months after this decision that U.S. forces fought their toughest battle, in Operation Anaconda (made all the tougher because they were so short on troops), and when Osama Bin Laden escaped into the mountains.
In his memoirs, Rumsfeld will no doubt reprint a memo that he wrote in November 2006 in which he supported the surge in Iraq. (A former official who took part in these deliberations tells me that such a memo does exist.) However, it is worth noting that he wrote the memo after the midterm elections—that is, after President George W. Bush forced him to resign. The policy was moving in the direction of a surge and Bush was about to sign on, so Rumsfeld went there, too. This isn't necessarily a cynical interpretation; he may have supported the surge not so much to give the appearance that he was on "the right side" as simply to support the president's policy. In any case, two points should be kept in mind: He did so without enthusiasm, and the policy went totally against the spirit and substance of his positions up until then.