Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The long, rather damning article on Donald Rumsfeld that appeared in The Washington Post Magazine a couple of days ago, with its focus on his screwup in Iraq, didn't get much attention in the blog world. I understand that -- lefties, most of whom opposed the war from the start, generally aren't interested in a critique of the workmanship of the Titanic's deck chairs, while the right doesn't even want to examine the question of an inadequate fighting force because it undermines the conservative myth of the Bush administration as Manliest Administration Ever.

But the article is well worth reading. I always opposed the Iraq War, but I still believe we made more of a mess of it than we had to, and Rumsfeld needs to be held accountable for that failure in particular.

The article's author, David von Drehle, accuses Rumsfeld of literally not making the war his top priority, because he was more interested in his own program for changing the way the Pentagon operates:

...Rumsfeld explained that he has had to "balance risks between a war plan -- an investment in something immediately -- and an investment in something in the future." This opened a small window into a very important section of his thinking.... Rumsfeld has conceived of Iraq on a smaller scale, as just one of many hungry conveyor belts inside his Pentagon.

He understood that as soon as the Iraq belt started rolling, it would carry resources away from his preferred investments in the future. So he speaks of his job as a matter of reaching onto that belt and pulling stuff off. "Balance" in this context is another word for "limit" -- limit the amount of money, troops, staff and materiel bound for Iraq. The war he wanted was a short one, involving a relatively small force that would start heading home as soon as Saddam was chased from his palaces. When Army generals urged him instead to load the Iraq conveyor belt with enough troops to fully occupy the country -- securing captured weapons depots, patrolling borders, ensuring order -- Rumsfeld saw the large fixed cost involved in recruiting and training thousands of new troops, a cost that would rattle down Pentagon belts for years to come. He tried to balance those risks of chaos against the conveyor belts that could otherwise be loaded with resources destined for future transformation.

It was a gamble, and one he has stuck with through round after round of raised stakes.

Actually, it wasn't just a gamble -- it was a betrayal, of Rumsfeld's country and of the men and women who fought under him. Many have died because he wanted to fight the war on the cheap -- inadequate troop strength, inadequate equipment, inadequate training for National Guard units. ("He cut the time for training National Guard units, including the ones that wound up photographing themselves with naked prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison," von Drehle writes.) Ultimately, Rumsfeld's choices have made the entire world less safe, by creating conditions that permitted a relatively new terrorist organization to grow, thrive, and now turn multinational. There isn't a circle in Hell low enough for him.

Yes, the real mistake was choosing this war in the first place, but once it was chosen, the war-fighting should have been done right -- all the way through the "postwar" period. Rumsfeld has helped make this an endless war because, narcissistically, he wanted to go down in history as the Pentagon's genius CEO, and he simply refused to shift gears when given a new set of responsibilities.

Ultimately, what we learn from this article is that the person who's done most to "undermine the war effort" isn't, as right-wingers would argue, Michael Moore or Cindy Sheehan or someone else on the left -- it's Rummy. He's been a true fifth columnist, less loyal to his country than to his own ego.

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