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August 07, 2005


>>for every one person who thinks like this and is a genius, there are (I'm estimating, of course) thousands who are just pig-headed idiots; and how someone could fail to consider the possibility that he was in the second group, not the first, is a mystery to me.

Sadly, I know many of the latter; happily, none of them is in a position where their screwups cost lives. They leave a wake of humiliated, furious acquaintances, and may cost people their jobs and/or dignity.

I don't know what the most accurate term would be:

Sociopathic degree of solipsism?

Strangely, I feel the opposite of you, Hilzoy: I loathe Bush, but believe, perhaps unaccountably, that without Rumsfeld everything would have been much, much worse. It's not that he's competent or that he hasn't made egregious mistakes; I just think everyone else (save Cheney) is absolutely imcompetent.

I guess I am waiting for the Bush supporters to rationalize this all away. Is it more important to discuss how a policy is marketed-ie. its "framing--or how the policy has been carried out?

I am with Tim. Precisely. Rumsfeld is to the Defense Dept as Christie Whitman was to the EPA; standing in the way of a true psychotic and idiot. Without Rumsfeld, nukes would have been dropping like rain.

B) One doesn't know what meta-orders Rumsfeld was under that might have led him to these decisions. Being told to get "x" number of troops in Kuwait by "y" date for instance; or being told that there will be no draft or call-ups; or being commanded to limit costs and casualties.

C) "More troops" takes time. An additional brigade or division might have taken 1-3 months to deploy, so the question might be moot.

D) Bin Laden and the safety of Americans was never a priority for Bush in the first place. If anything, a loose bin Laden suited their purposes more than a captured one. Had Osama been captured in December, are you certain we would have invaded Iraq?

Diagnostically, Bush is less troubled by psychosis and more by personality issues. He's obsessed with sticking it to those who think in complex terms, who he has to belittle because of his own fears of his limitations, a quality he covers over with a simplistic compensatory moralism.

Still pretty damn scary, through.

but you know what? Rummy will never tell us exactly what happened. He will be loyal to Bush to the end and as a result we will never know, will we?

Whenever I see Rumsfeld speak, I watch his hands, they are more expressive than the words he says. If I were to try to define them in one word, it would be sepulchral.

Bob M. and SCMT: Hmm. Rumsfeld as the voice of restraint? That's a novel thought, to me. I mean: he is not a neocon. But he was one of the people who suggested invading Iraq instead of Afghanistan directly after 9/11, and had to be talked out of it.

Moreover, I count two disastrous decisions in Afghanistan, one in between, and three catastrophic decisions and one merely disastrous one in Iraq. In Afghanistan: first, not sending more troops, and second, not sticking around to pacify and rebuild the country. The first was entirely Rumsfeld's doing -- the whole 'let's send fewer troops than anyone but me thinks is remotely adequate' thing is, as best I can tell, entirely his doing. The second was at least partly his. The in between one: the decision to start planning for Iraq in November of 2001, when we were still fighting in Afghanistan, also played in here, and while that was prompted by Bush, it was Rumsfeld who made Tommy Franks and his staff spend their time producing plan after plan after plan while the war in Afghanistan was ongoing.

The mere disaster in Iraq was the decision to disband the Iraqi army, and as best I can tell that was Bremer. Of the three catastrophes, one -- the decision to go in with too few troops -- was solely Rumsfeld's, and two -- the decisions to invade in the first place and to let the DoD plan for the occupation -- were decisions he supported and (in the second case) lobbied for, and that he managed to screw up worse than he had to, by banning the people from State who had done planning for the postwar from all the relevant meetings.

He was also, of course, largely responsible for the whole nightmare of Abu Ghraib.

I don't think it's a record of restraint, and I don't think it's a record to be proud of. A Christy Todd Whitman figure might have resisted distracting the CENTCOM chief with planning for Iraq in the middle of a war; might have refused to go in without something resembling the troop levels the military thought necessary; and might have either declined the task of postwar planning or else done the job in advance, so that when s/he was asked, in February 2003 (??!!), to assume that task, people at Defense had already done a lot of it. Rumsfeld did none of these things. And i continue to think that his special contribution, absurd force levels, was one of the most awful decisions he could have made. It's certainly the one that explains why bin Laden is still out there making videos.


The mere disaster in Iraq was the decision to disband the Iraqi army, and as best I can tell that was Bremer.

Come on. Disbanding the entire Iraqi army must, surely, even in this dysfunctional Administration, be above the paygrade of a diddling factotum like Bremer.

He was the messenger. Who crafted the message?

1) Disbanding the Iraqi army is a decision I don't feel entirely qualified to criticize. Considering the recent sniper teams ambushed likely because someone told someone where they were going to be, it could have been catastrophic.

2)The troops had to come from somewhere. If Rummy understood that no troops supplemental to what was immediately available would become available, his problem was one of allocation. There were no circumstances under which Bush would support a draft or concessions necessary to gain troops from allies, which scarcely existed anyway.

3) Of course the instant decision to attack Iraq, or to take advantage of the opportunity provided by 9/11 was a team decision. I son't know who was more highly motivated among Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, but I doubt it matters.

4) Having watched the pattern of the Republican CINC being protected from responsibility and consequences at any and all costs for more than 35 years I am very sensitive about it. If you had watched Haldeman and Erlichman and Mitchell and etc and etc go down and still Nixon being called beyond reproach you might understand. Ollie and Abrams and Poindexter are blamed for Iran/Contra and Reagan is beatified.

This is a tactic, a method, a strategy. No matter what monstrosities are committed by his subordinates, the leader of the party and by reflection the party itself is ok-fine. Just a few bad apples.

Bob M: I did watch Watergate, actually ;) And I have no particular desire to defend Bush in any way. I do think that Rumsfeld made a few special contributions all his own, but I completely agree with you that the President is, in the final analysis, responsible for what goes on in his administration. What prompted my comment was the idea that Rumsfeld had been in any way a voice of restraint, which I don't think he was.

This is just the recollection of an admittedly uninformed, dilletante of a lurker here... but hasn't Rumsfeld actually tried to resign? More than once? Thus indicating he, at least, is attempting to hold himself to at least some shred of acocuntability for the numerous missteps that have occured on his watch.

Mercutio: I think he offered to resign in the wake of the Abu Ghraib revelations, but Bush didn't accept his resignation. I don't think he has ever admitted that he was wrong about troop strength, though.

And by the way: welcome!

Rumsfeld is wrong but comprehensible. Were you to put those questions to him, he would, out of habit, respond. You might not agree with his responses, you might find them unresponsive, but you could debate him and have a conversation with him.

What in Gawd's name can you do with, "It's haaaard work"? Nothing. Debating Bush is pointless. He and his don't speak the same language as you, they don't have the same referents as you do. You could have a point that he'd agree with, one that would make him happily change his strategy in Iraq or elsewhere, and you'd have no way to communicate the information to him.

When Ken Layne did his posts warning the rest of us that we really didn't get Jesusland, I thought he was being hysterical (both senses). Schiavo showed me I was wrong. And Bush is (perhaps without the religious committment) one of them.

Rumsfeld is to the Defense Dept as Christie Whitman was to the EPA; standing in the way of a true psychotic and idiot.

It's all speculation but I suspect this is correct to some extent. My sense has been that Rumsfeld is concerned with the substance of his job, whereas Bush, and much of the administration, is concerned primarily with domestic politics. I see the recent GSAVE/GWOT wierdness in this light - Rumsfeld using terminology that is more accurate, more conducive to clear thinking, and possibly more conducive to acceptance of our withdrawal from Iraq over the next few years. Bush comes along and reasserts that no, it's definitely War - with all that has meant: war president, power to set aside the law, etc etc.

On the other hand, I take this book with every bit as big of a grain of salt as I took Dereliction of Duty. This is a guy who's selling a book, for crying out loud. If Berntsen had positive intel as to Bin Laden's location, I doubt even countermanding orders from the Pentagon could stop troops from coming down on his head. And if Berntsen had this intel, why wasn't it made available to Franks?

Or is it your position that Franks lied? I notice that Berntsen carefully avoided making that claim.

Do I have this right,we should be using more troops in wars we sholuld not be fighting. Will some bright soul aggresively assert that if we are to fight those wars we should maximize troop levels? That it was ok in Afghanistan but not in Iraq? As to the first;the rapid fire poster itching to pound the keyboard ought to consider that the only logical response to a misbegottn war,which shouldn't have been started,is withdrawal. Am I wrong? I didn't see anybody on the left during Vietnam worrying about consequences and the incessant blather about exit strategies,timely withdrawal,non-timely withdrawal,etc is only a thinly veiled reaction to the negative view of the war's start in the first place. As to the second point,Afghanistan being a good or at least bearable war; sorry girls,but i clearly remember the start up of the "quagmire"bullshit. That war,or more accurately campaign,was over before the media had a chance to develop it's groundswell of bitterness,doubt,and the hallmark of the left,defeatism. Consequently,and extremely important,you on the left didn't have the opportunity to absorb your marching orders, to loudly and indignately do what you are told to do.

JohnT: It's completely consistent to think that a war should not be fought at all, but that if we're going to fight it, we should do it right.

The posting rules forbid profanity. They also forbid incivility, and your post is pretty close to the line on that front as well. If you have some reason to think that I, for instance, would have changed my position on the war in Afghanistan once I got my 'marching orders', please share it.

A whole bunch of points: Hilzoy's post is about how a failure to plan and carry out the invasion of Afganistan (a war almost universally suppported, left and right) in a sensible way resulted in Bin Ladin's escape. This is a very significant example of Bush administration icompetence, which you did not address. Also the issue of troop levels relates to the issue of trying to to the job effectively. In Iraq, a war which I and now a majority of Americans oppose, the situation now would most likely be significantly better if we had gone in with enough troops to secure the place, roundup ammunition dumps, and so on. I don't see why I should be blind to that observation just because, had it been up to me, we wouldn't have invaded at all. Also oppposition to the initial invasion does not lead logically to a desire to pullout now. As Colin Powell said, "We broke it, we bought it".. Many people, including me, feel that we have an obligation to the Iraqis to remain as long as they want us to, to help stabilize things. This obligation, in my mind, has three caveats: we need to ba able to help, as opposed to being unintentional instigators of nationalistic resistance, the Iraqi government has to be one worth fighting for, and there has to be a transfer of responisbility over time to the Iraqis, leading to troop withdrawals as they get stronger. Not troop withdrawals for domestic political manipulation. I opposed the war in VietNam and like most people my opposition came precisly because I thought about the future. I could not see any benefit then or now to killing their people and ours year after year to prop up an evil dicatorship just because it wasn't Communist. The anti-war movement turned out to be right: there was no domino phenomenon. We lost amd now we are on good terms with the government that won. If we had stayed to fight on we would still be there, still propping up a government that harmed its own people. The consequences to the Viet Namese and other Southeast Asian nations of continuing the war would have been much worse than the consequences of admitting a mistake and leaving. Which is not to say the pullout couldn't have been handled better. We could have protected and saved more of the people who were connected in some way to our military or their government. The failure to help friendly VietNamese get out is attributable to the Republican ambassador ( I forget his name) and the Nixon administration.
But none of that relates to or mitigates in any way Rumsfield's terrible incompetence.

having gambled so much on his pet theories and lost so spectacularly, Donald Rumsfeld has not had to pay any price himself.

That's why I do also loathe Bush (and Cheney).

Lily: Lodge.

This is a guy who's selling a book, for crying out loud.

Promoting it before release, more accurately. It's still going through the CIA vetting process. I wouldn't have thought excerpts in Newsweek would help that along, but what do I know?

Yes, Rumsfeld tried to resign, so I have a sense of forgiveness. It was about Abu Ghraib, true, but it does show some accountability.

I don't know what kind of conversation he and Bush had, but it seems to me that if a man says he no longer wants the job, keeping him on it is a mistake. Then again, maybe he didn't say that. Maybe he only offered to resign as a PR move, not because anyone on the inside thought anything was wrong.

Yes, Rumsfeld tried to resign, so I have a sense of forgiveness. It was about Abu Ghraib, true, but it does show some accountability.

Only if the offer was sincere, which assumes facts not in evidence. I know you subsequently acknowledged this, but I think it's worth repeating since I've seen nothing to make me think sincerity had any role to play.

A few questions:

1. How useful would 105mm artillery be in Afghanistan and specifically where the bad guys are hiding? Aren't the battles fought where it's hard to even insert troops let alone artillery? The Russian preferred helicopters for this reason, no?

2. Attack choppers...one commenter said we needed those. Anyone recall how many Apaches were used in Kosovo? How many squadrons did they get in action? I believe they ended up with ONE in Albania but it never did anything. I suspect they are harder to move in for use than fixed wing support.

3. At the time, people we're going bannanas about quagmires, the Soviet experiences there, and how we'd all be killed. I think the plan to keep a bare minimum footprint was smart then. Not to mention cutting down on the crazy US logistical traditions of bringing everything but the kitchen sink along.

4. Anyone willing to call FDR and idiot and "loathe" him because he authorized the use of the inferior Sherman tank against Tigers? Sure, we knew they were outclassed and could only fight with 5-1 odds, but they did fit in the ships and it is a war.

Good questions, Aaron.

1) Not very, in general. This is extremely rough terrain we're talking about, here. Artillery's good for bombarding fixed targets or for pinning down troops in places where there's vehicle access; pretty useless in other situations.

2) I'm not all that wild about attack helicopters in this sort of situation, either, unless they already have a target going in. Looking around for targets in rough landscape means you're low, which in turn means any idiot with a shoulder-held SAM, a recoilless or even a decent rifle can bring you down.

3) It's possible that more troops could have made the difference. Then again, it's possible that this would have been a complete waste of time. And the issue of access is relevant; Afghanistan is a landlocked country surrounded by countries we don't exactly have a Kuwait-like relationship with, and the only way to get troops in is by air. If you look at C-130 and C-17 troop capacities, they're right around 100. Getting, say thirty thousand troops to go search a rather widespread mountainous region, then, presents more than a little logistical difficulty. For comparison, the initial OIF troop intrusion into Iraq was accomplished by troops already in place over the border in Kuwait and (I don't know this for sure) possibly Saudi Arabia. And I'd guess the easiest way to move lots of troops independently from their equipment in such situations is to send them via commercial air carrier.

4) Um, not me, and I'm not even sure what the point is, here, unless it's something like "don't second-guess those with better information than you".

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