Wednesday, September 14, 2011


"Rumsfeld afforded me a close-up look at a special Washington phenomenon: the skilled full-time politician-bureaucrat in who ambition, ability, and substance fuse seamlessly. Rumsfeld had served briefly on the domestic side of the Nixon White House; there he skillfully avoided involving himself in the controversies of an embattled presidency…Charming, tough and capable of being quite decisive. Rumsfeld neither explicitly supported nor explicitly defied the critics of Ford’s foreign policy. As Secretary of Defence, he thwarted new diplomatic initiatives or military moves by a rigorous insistence on bureaucratic procedures and playing the devil’s advocate with respect to every new proposal, as I shall discuss in a later chapter…Whatever the motive---and they were all honorable---Rumsfeld was skillful at deflecting every controversial issue into some bureaucratic bog or other…With the passing of time, I grew more mellow about Rumsfeld’s brilliant single-mindedness, especially after I left government and was no longer in his line of fire. He was tough, capable, personally attractive, and knowledgeable, I came to believe that if he ever reached the presidency, he might be a more comfortable chief executive than Cabinet colleague---indeed, he had the makings of a strong President.”

Henry Alfred Kissinger, Years of Renewal (1998), pp. 175-177.


Tacitus on the Emperor Galba (68-69). HISTORIES, Book I,chapter 49.

On Wednesday the 8th of September, Donald Rumsfeld, the man who has been both the youngest and the oldest Defence Secretary in American history spoke to a select audience at the Oxonian Society. The following is a rough transcription of Secretary Rumsfeld's remarks. Prior to however relating his words, I did wish to offer up my own brief assessment of Secretary Rumsfeld's tenure at the Department of Defence. The disjunction between the words of praise by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on his one-time bureaucratic rival, a full three years prior to Rumsfeld resuming office in 2001, and the famous dismissal of the great Roman historian Tacitus on the brief reign of the Emperor Galba is harsh, but I do believe just from a historical standpoint. As per why? To my mind the reasons are rather simple: the goals that he set for himself to accomplish: the 'transformation' of the American military for the twenty-first century were for the most part not properly or left undone. In addition, and more problematically, by his great success in 'end-running' his counter-part at the State Department, General Powell as well as the hapless National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice, Rumsfeld helped to ensure the disaster that was the Iraq debacle as well as the bungled diplomacy behind it. Indeed that reign of diplomatic errors which went under the name of 'unilateralism' in the years anno domini 2001 to 2006. Au fond of course, there are few American Defence Secretaries who one can say characterize as being in some overall sense 'successful.' The only ones that come to mind are Robert Lovett, Tom Gates, Melvin Laird, and perhaps Harold Brown. The rest even the most ambitious (Robert McNamara and James Forrestal come immediately to mind) ended up as failures. In the case of Mr. Rumsfeld, it could very well be argued that his failure as Defence Secretary was intimately tied up with his ambitions. That in point of fact, that notwithstanding his past tenure in the office and his intermittent involvement in national security affairs in the 1990's, that his views were too idiosyncratic, unformed and in the final analysis ill-formed about the nature of the American Defence establishment and the changes needed to properly 'transform it'. Indeed, one may argue that the 'transformation' that Rumsfeld argued for was the very last thing needed by the American Defence establishment. As to some extent the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq seem to indicate. And however unfortunate, it is the latter two conflicts more than anything else in his tenure as Secretary of Defence, which will seal Rumsfeld historical reputation. With all of the above being said, it is true that Rumsfeld does still possess a most attractive personality and indeed quite literally had the audience at this event eating out of his hands (giving the same a quite full round of applause as he left the room after the event). He was quite gracious in his remarks about his former (mostly defeated) ex-colleagues such as General Powell and Dr. Rice. All in all, Rumsfeld seems very much of a piece with an older generation of American policy-makers, and that rather than being someone who is seventy-nine years old, his language gives the appearance of someone who is closer to being born circa 1910 or 1915. In short of an older, more homogeneous, settled and self-confident America of the immediate post-war years (1945-1960), rather than the post-1960's era. In a certain sense, notwithstanding the provincialism of that platoon of policymakers (Rumsfeld's Mid-Western accent being the epitome of the latter), I do have a certain degree of nostalgia for that period's brand of policy-makers and the America that they represented. More's the pity that so few of them are left among us.

The following are remarks made by Donald Rumsfeld at the Russian Tea room in the early afternoon of the 8th of September:

As per the character of Saddam Hussein, who Rumsfeld met back in 1983: 'a typical Middle Eastern dictator' and thus 'not someone who you wanted bring home to dinner'. On the idea of Gerry Ford-Ronald Reagan 'Co-presidency', as proposed by Henry Kissinger at the Republican convention in 1980: 'the dumbest idea possible'.

That there: 'was no Rumsfeld doctrine, merely a Bush doctrine' of putting in place structures to combat terrorism both at home and abroad. Not to treat terrorists as merely criminals. And that the policy was in essence: 'putting pressure on terrorists all over the world', that the USA 'cannot defend everywhere' against the same. And that the 'Obama Administration [has] kept Bush Administration measures in place', contrary to campaign rhetoric to discard them.

That the 11th of September 2001, was an impetus to modernize the military. Especially 'the development of asymmetrical capabilities in practice'. That it was 'bad journalism' to harp on the so-called looting of the antiquities museum in Baghdad in 2003. It would not have been possible to have left Saddam Hussein in power (Rumsfeld employs many of the same, not very convincing arguments employed circa 2002-2003). War as 'a failure of diplomacy'.

Rumsfeld disclaims ownership of the phrase and idea behind: 'the war on terror'. As per Rumsfeld, this was indeed a 'Bushism' and that he endeavored to try to have President Bush no longer use the phrase. The chief problem is that the phrase implies that the conflict with Terrorism is similar to that say World War I or World War II. Whereas as per Rumsfeld, the situation was more akin to the 'Cold War' in both its ambiguity and its length.

As per the current situation in the Near and Middle East, Rumsfeld expressed mixed emotions about the same: both optimistic about the long-term possibilities of change and concerns about short-term instability in the region. As per him Libya per se, is not an important American interest, unlike say Egypt or Saudi Arabia. States that the overall situation even in Egypt is 'unclear', much less in the rest of the region.

States that 'China is big and India is even going to be bigger'. As per Rumsfeld, the PRC's many internal, domestic problems will prevent it from even approaching a potential challenge to the United States in the Far Eastern region.


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