Thursday, February 15, 2007

Life and times of Rummy

Rummy: too ruthless for Kissinger, not idealistic enough for Nixon

Roger Morris of the Green Institute has done a fascinating historical portrait of Rummy and his dubious accomplishments. In particular, he draws attention to Rummy's malign role in his  first (1975-6) tour of duty as Defense Secretary. Tom Engelhardt is publishing it in two parts at The first part is called
The Undertaker's Tally (Part 1): Sharp Elbows 02/013/07.

I was particularly struck by Morris' description of how Rummy played a critical role in the military's post-Vietnam response to their defeat in the Vietnam War, which largely consisted of deciding to avoid ever having to fight a counterinsurgency war against and also finding scapegoats. Morris writes:

By any measure, Rumsfeld arrived [as SecDef in 1975] at a rare, and exceedingly fleeting moment when the enormous U.S. war machine might have come to terms with its past, and so the future. The failure to do so - hardly Rumsfeld's alone, but his role was decisive - would haunt America and the world into the twenty-first century. ...

Officially, the crumbling of discipline and performance in Vietnam would be blamed not on the military's long-festering venality and incompetence, but on the ready scapegoats of antiwar agitation and the larger social turbulence of the 1960s, a perfect fit with Rumsfeld-Cheney demonology. To the relief of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense scoffed at, or swiftly suppressed, any institutional self-examination; yet the counterattack on critics was vicious. (my emphasis)
Rummy encouraged the stab-in-the-back thinking about the loss of the Vietnam War. The same kind of thinking we hear all the time now in its mutation for the Iraq War, as Republicans routinely and brazenly accuse critics of the Iraq War of treason and of endagering American troops.

Morris' description of the post-Vietnam War stab-in-the-back excuse in its early incarnation, which Rummy had such an important role in promoting, very well:

In the siege mentality of Rumsfeld's post-Vietnam Pentagon, the besieging force was never a blindly misjudged nationalism, an intrepid insurgency, corrupt, untenable clients, or persistent myopia, folly, self-delusion, and ultimate self-betrayal of U.S. policy. It was the curse of wavering civilian masters at home - craven Washington politicians and the old foreign policy establishment, especially Democrats - and a public too easily swayed by the treachery of a mythological "liberal media." Humiliation in Vietnam had come not from colossal blunder, but from homefront perfidy, from the hoary stab in the back. "Do we get to win this time?" [the fictional movie character] Rambo famously asks about his return to Vietnam, echoing in popular lore that denial of debacle.
In other words, Rummy has done far more than most individuals to poison the American political culture. But then, you could hardly avoid knowing that from just living through the last five years.

Morris gives us a useful glimpse, though, at the kind of self-assessment that could have taken place, that should have taken place, had the government been run by people of a less dark and cynical turn of mind that Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger and their boss Gerald Ford:

Within the system, there were predictable if vain attempts to hide the approaching disgrace. When, in 1970, a war-college study of "professionalism" in Vietnam was done with implications (as a pair of reviewing experts described it) "devastating to the officer corps," the Joint Chiefs of Staff quickly classified and suppressed the findings. Yet none of the inner withering was a secret, or even arcane knowledge, in government. Before, during, and after Rumsfeld's first regime at the Pentagon, Congressional hearings, journalism and memoirs exposed the reality for what it was; while nationally noted, amply documented books, often written by veteran officers or based on their testimony, appeared under titles that spoke eloquently of the disaster still to come: Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army, Defeated: Inside America's Military Machine, Self-Destruction: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Military, The Death of the Army.
How bad a person is Rummy really? The following three sentences give the best brief answer to that I could imagine:

At the time, privately at least, his grasping shallowness led to withering - now long-forgotten - verdicts from knowing witnesses. Even a jaded Nixon would eventually deplore him as "a man without idealism." His extensive experience with despots giving the judgment added weight, Henry Kissinger came to think Rumsfeld the "most ruthless" official he had ever known.
Yes, you read that correctly. Richard Nixon thought Rummy was lacking in idealism. Henry Kissinger thought he was the most ruthless official he'd ever encountered. Yikes!

Morris also looks back at a much-neglected even in 1964, when Rummy as a young Congressman led a revolt against the Republican House leadership, successfully placing a conservative Midwestern Congressman named Jerry Ford as the Republican House leader:

It seems hard now to exaggerate the endless sequels to this small but decisive act. The lifting of the honest but mediocre Ford higher into line for appointment as vice president amid the ruin of President Richard Nixon and his Vice President, Spiro Agnew; Ford's lackluster, if relatively harmless, interval in the Oval Office and later as Party leader with the abject passing of the GOP to Ronald Reagan in 1980; [Kansas Congressman Robert] Ellsworth's boosting of Rumsfeld into prominent but scandal-immune posts under Nixon; and then, during Ford's presidency, Rumsfeld's reward, his elevation to White House Chief of Staff, and with him the rise of one of his aides from the Nixon era, a previously unnoticed young Wyoming reactionary named Dick Cheney; next, in 1975-1976, the first Rumsfeld tenure at a Vietnam-disgraced but impenitent Pentagon that would shape his fateful second term after 2001; and eventually, of course, the Rumsfeld-Cheney monopoly of power in a George W. Bush White House followed by their catastrophic policies after 9/11 - all derived from making decent, diffident Gerry [sic] Ford Minority Leader that forgotten winter of 1964. (my emphasis)
Morris' article really illustrates how the Cheney-Bush Presidency and the Iraq War are  the horrible but "legitimate" spawn of the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War.

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