BERLIN BULLETIN NO. 191
Don’t speak ill of the dead, they say, but if I were to choose candidates for a Hall of Evil Fame, I’d have to ignore such advice; the late Donald Rumsfeld would be close to the top of my list.
Starting off as just one more conservative congressman from a conservative Chicago district, he joined the gang in opposing anything social in the programs of Presidents J. F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and in the general attack against Fidel Castro. But clever, handsome, a good speaker and a dependable rightist, he moved on up the line and President Nixon appointed him to be head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the federal antipoverty agency, where he had a far better chance to oppose anything social for the underprivileged.
After Nixon was forced to quit as president his successor, Vice President Gerald Ford, made Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense. In his two years at that job his main accomplishment, in 1976, was to stymie a nearly agreed-upon arms control agreement with Moscow and effectively kill any other disarmament negotiations.
With Democrat Jimmy Carter in office, Rumsfeld lost that job and moved into private business, taking his many connections with him. He soon hit it rich as an executive with pharmaceutical, electronics and biotechnology companies.
When the Republican Ronald Reagan elbowed Carter out, Rumsfeld remained in the business world, by now for him the very big business world, with dizzy-digit dollar figures. But he took a six-month break when Reagan, recognizing his capabilities, sent him to the Middle East as a special envoy – to strengthen friendship with the president of Iraq, arranging American intelligence and military support in his war with Iran, which Washington had now decided was a major menace to world democracy. Iraq’s use of chemical weapons failed to disturb Rumsfeld on that occasion. The name of Iraq’s president, Rumsfeld’s friendly new chum on this job, was Saddam Hussein. But, as it later turned out, that friendship was not written in golden letters!
After the defeat of the socialist bloc in 1989-1992, Washington’s goal since 1917, major policy-makers faced two big problems. Their main adversary was a mangled, helpless giant, no longer even an imagined menace, while Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic countries and above all Poland, successfully turned upside down, had become their closest allies.
But the mighty arms-manufacturers, led by Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, all with immense power in policy-making, needed some justification for the tens of billions of dollars unceasingly poured into their account books and from there into their pockets – or landed estates, jet planes, fleets of superfast autos and yachts – or private accounts in out-of-the-way hideouts. Where could they find a big new threat which demanded the “safety and security” afforded by the muzzles of their missiles?
The second problem was closely related: some countries were recalcitrant about accepting US control, now spreading down over the globe like a Sherwin-Williams paint logo. The leaders in some capitals, for whatever reasons, whether patriotic, selfish, altruistic or a mix, did not want a handful of American companies in each field – fast food, pharma, seed and pesticide, tobacco, soft drink, news and mass retailing – to rule their roosts. Nor did they want American billionaires grabbing the profits from their oil wells and mines while banks, insurance giants and hedge funders moved in to run and ruin their economies.
For Washington and Wall Street such recalcitrance was obstreperous and unacceptable! It had to be dealt with promptly, as in Guatemala, Congo, Chile and a few dozen other countries, most recently with helicopters against Somalia and bombers against Serbia. And those US Army setbacks and defeats in Korea, Vietnam and Cuba must also be compensated!
In 1997 a small circle of determined right-wing strong men decided that a plan was necessary. They included the journalists William Kristol and Robert Kagan and the politicians Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and, by no means last or least, Donald Rumsfeld. The aim of their Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was clear and sharp: to maintain “global U.S. preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.”
In 2001 George W. Bush became president – with a half million popular vote minority compared to his opponent, Al Gore, but a one-man majority in the Supreme Court – which proved decisive. With him Dick Cheney became vice-president (and a strong mentor for the somewhat limited president). Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense and Wolfowitz his Deputy Secretary. The Clinton team had been martial enough; now the worst war hawks had taken over the whole nest.
In less than eight months the spectacular destruction of the World Trade Towers and the crash into the Pentagon gave them – by almost mysterious coincidence – just the chance they were looking for. A few months later they had a war in Afghanistan – possibly ending just this summer after two bloody, ruinous and useless decades. And in March 2003, despite anti-war marches and demonstrations by millions all over the world, and for no real reason, bombs fell on Iraqi cities – and rescue shelters! The war against the Communist “Axis of Evil” could now be followed by a world-wide “War against Terror”. Washington and its media buddies were always good at finding rousing names! And the Northrup and Raytheon millionaire crowd could smile again!
As Secretary of Defense – as in private business – Rumsfeld had the reputation among his staff members of being nastily dictatorial. He was also known for sending out innumerable notes and memoranda, so often they came to be known as “snowflakes”.
One such snowflake, described years later, was part of a snowstorm, a catastrophic blizzard which is still defying all climate warming and causing countless deaths. It was General Wesley Clark, once Supreme NATO Commander in Europe, who reported the following event in a surprising TV interview in 2007 with the journalist Amy Goodman:
About ten days after 9/11 I went through the Pentagon and one of the generals called me in. He said . . . “We’ve made the decision; we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments. . . . I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs today”—meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office—and he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran…” (“Democracy Now”, March 2, 2007.)
It was Rumsfeld who had claimed, perhaps louder than anyone else, that Iraq had a program involving active weapons of mass destruction; a Pentagon Inspector General report later described in the best literary style how Rumsfeld’s office “developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers.” In simpler words, it was all lies! No leftover chemical stockpiles were ever found, no atomic preparations, and no connections with al-Qaida! But Rumsfeld’s one-time chum Saddam Hussein was hanged anyway!
Rumsfeld was not! There was no punishment for the tragedy of Iraq, which is still torn, wrecked, bullet-ridden and torn by missiles, with the Pentagon and Washington openly defying a new but weak Iraqi government’s demands to move out.
No, Rumsfeld was never punished, not for the invasions of Afghanistan and not for torture methods, exposed in a prison in Abu Ghraib, which, further developed, outdid those of the Spanish Inquisition in their almost indescribable cruelty. But the military failure, costing too many American limbs and lives (for many the only ones that counted), proved unpleasant enough, and in late 2006 he resigned and returned to private money-making and retirement. To his last day – last Tuesday – he maintained that his policies had been correct and justified. In this he stood almost alone – with then Secretary of State Powell calling his own support an awful “blot on his record” and top Democrats like Biden and Hillary Clinton now admitting, in fainter voices, their one-time errors in believing and supporting Rumsfeld and Bush (and all other wars in those years).
The government could not keep to the exact same “seven countries in five years” schedule, but has come close, and that plan has decided the course of history ever since. In every country mentioned but the last one, Iran, the USA has moved in, shot off weapons, spread many other weapons around, organized coups and putsches and left a total mess – a mess which cost huge numbers of human lives, men, women, very many children. In Iraq alone the death toll is estimated to be between 300,000 and a million and the displacement – for most poorer families a terrible disaster – of perhaps three million people within their countries, to neighboring countries, or to Europe. Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia – all have suffered from the plans and actions of Rumsfeld and his accomplices and apprentices.
Rumsfeld is gone. Those others are still around, unrepentant, and their apprentices and successors, some Republicans, some Democrats, are as active as ever in the Senate, in Congress, in the Pentagon. As for the White House – it remains to be seen how it turns. Afghanistan may lose its GIs, but how pacific will it be? And Iran? Will those turn-of-the-century planners once again have their way in the destruction of one country after the other?
But times change, and George W. Bush’s slogan – War Against Terror – though still in use, has worn very thin and for many in the world it has become less convincing than ever.
That means that while Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan – and Palestine – remain very much unsettled, and no-one can predict whether the treaty with Iran will finally be renewed, new impulses were needed. Those take-home pay packages for the big arms companies – in the $17-21 million annual range for the top bosses – must not require paring down because of any possible cuts thanks to a Bernie Sanders, AOC or Barbara Lee.
The lobbies are still full and world hegemony remains a shiny goal for all the many Rumsfeld types in and near Washington and other northwestern world capitals. But it now faces difficulties; indeed, it is being threatened. A revived Russia, though ringed by 800 or more American bases with a NATO military budget more than twelve times its own, nevertheless has the nerve to bring its tanks right up to its own borders, close to all those defensive American, German, French and other tanks and planes on maneuvers every year – right along those borders. And its atlases, just like ours, show that Tallin in Estonia is only 200 miles from St. Petersburg, Ukrainian Kharkov only 400 miles from Moscow while Vitebsk in Belarus is less than 300 miles from Red Square. Some people are almost audibly licking their chops.
Far more menacing than Russia is now China, no longer a sleeping giant, but getting stronger than ever, economically and militarily – though still far, far behind the USA in the latter. But these two are becoming increasingly friendly, reason enough for Washington to spend even more on expensive versions of Reagan’s star wars and ever more penetrating weapons system of every variation!
In Germany this provides people like Defense Secretary Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer or the Green candidate for chancellor Annalena Baerbock with many a justification, either new-born or revived like a zombie from the past, to push for more steel and electronic muscle and stronger tank-proof bridges and rail lines. Those are the policies which offer real satisfaction to a wide array of businessmen, politicians and generals on both sides of the Atlantic – all in the spirit of the late, lamented (at least by his family) Donald Rumsfeld.