Friday, November 28, 2008

Rumsfeld's Attempts to Rewrite Himself on the Right Side of History Are Laughable

By Gary Brecher, AlterNet. Posted November 26, 2008.

The failed defense secretary pens a historical cover-up on Iraq and reveals more wild stupidity with his advice on Afghanistan.

I've been following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from Go to Oh-No, and by far the biggest surprise has been how many whopping lies you can get away with. The biggest whoppers I've seen lately were in a Nov. 23 op-ed piece by Donald Rumsfeld for the New York Times, "One surge Does Not Fit All."

Rumsfeld's main point is that the "surge" that supposedly worked so well in Iraq might not work in Afghanistan. But Rumsfeld spends most of the essay talking about what he did, or didn't do, in Iraq. He claims he's been "…occasionally -- and incorrectly -- portrayed as an opponent of the surge in Iraq." This is a classic example of Rumsfeld in full denial mode. For proof that he was in fact opposed to the surge, here's Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard saying outright that Rumsfeld opposed the surge:

"In September [2006], Rumsfeld had rejected the idea of a surge when retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army and a member of the advisory Defense Policy Review Board, met with him and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter] Pace. Keane insisted the "train-and-leave" strategy, as Bush referred to it, was failing. He proposed a counterinsurgency strategy, the addition of five to eight Army brigades, and a primary focus on taking back Baghdad. Rumsfeld was unconvinced."

You may not be surprised that Rumsfeld is changing his story to cover himself; after all, that's what ex-cabinet types generally do in these articles. They didn't oppose the surge because they grudged a few more troops, a few billion more taxpayer dollars. The Bush administration was never known for being either squeamish or penny-pinching. Their problem was pure denial: The people at the top, Rumsfeld among them, were too cowardly to admit that a big chunk of the Iraqi people we had "liberated" weren't grateful but were out for our blood.

The key phrase in that quote from the Weekly Standard is the distinction between two kinds of strategy: the "train-and-leave" favored by Bush and Rumsfeld, and the "counterinsurgency strategy" the Army was desperately trying to get the administration to adopt. Letting U.S. forces in Iraq implement a counterinsurgency strategy meant admitting that there was an insurgency. That was the problem, not finding enough troops or money.

I've studied war all my life, but I can't think of another example where one side refused to admit it was in a war at all. And when you won't admit you're in a war, you're not likely to win. Rumsfeld was part of that chorus of denial, but the prize for most advanced case has to go to Vice President Dick Cheney, who said in May 2005 that the Iraqi insurgency was "... in the last throes, if you will." In May 2005, 80 American soldiers died in Iraq, a rate of three dead (and dozens wounded) every day.

For the whole of 2005, American losses were horrific: 846 dead. American dead for 2004 had been almost the same number, 849. At the end of the year, President Bush summed it all up as only he could: "2005 was a fascinating year [in Iraq]. You know, elections were held, the country looked relatively calm." That was the official story from the Bush administration, and they gave absolute priority to maintaining it. That's why Rumsfeld wouldn't listen to any talk about adopting counterinsurgency tactics, rather than sticking with the fantasy that we were only there to "train" the local forces and then "leave."

Rumsfeld purposely misses this point when he claims that there had been earlier "surges" before Gen. David Petraeus' 2006 surge:

"In 2005, troop levels in Iraq were increased to numbers nearly equal to the 2007 surge -- twice. But the effects were not as durable, because large segments of the Sunni population were still providing sanctuary to insurgents, and Iraq's security forces were not sufficiently capable or large enough."

It didn't work because the problem was strategy, not troop numbers. Rumsfeld wasn't alone in refusing to think about counterinsurgency. Most of the Army officer corps associated "counterinsurgency" with Vietnam and wanted nothing to do with it, as Lt. Col. John A. Nagl acknowledges: "It is not unfair to say that in 2003 most Army officers knew more about the U.S. Civil War than they did about counterinsurgency." Counterinsurgency tactics are the exact opposite of the "shock-and-awe" strategy Rumsfeld had been pushing in Iraq. Rumsfeld's notion of war involves maximum firepower; counterinsurgency warfare stresses getting to know the locals instead of firing blindly every time a patrol is ambushed. Counterinsurgency is slow, people-centered and low tech.


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Gary Brecher is the author of "The War Nerd" (Soft Skull, 2008). Read more of his work at

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