Thursday, May 13, 2004

"I am accountable. But the little guys were responsible. I was just giving orders."

That is the defense that Donald Rumsfeld appears to be using to explain his role in the prisoner abuse scandal (quoted from Thomas Friedman's Op-ed piece in today's New York Times). Interesting take, but what I want to focus on is the defense of Donald Rumsfeld's performance by President Bussh, Vice President Cheney and other members of the administration. Vice President Cheney went as far as to say that Donald Rumsfeld "is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had."

Condoleeza Rice said, "Don Rumsfeld was effective before all this began, and he's effective now, and he's going to be effective in the future, because he has the complete confidence of the president."

Bush echoed similar sentiments. The fact that the administration is circling the wagons around their embattled defense secretary should come as no surprise considering this administration's aversion to admitting any wrong, and absolute failure to require that anyone take responsibility for any of a series of colossal mistakes (as pointed out much more eloquently in noted conservative thinker George Will's piece posted below).

What is a cause of concern, though, is the actual track record of "the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had." Upon closer inspection, it appears that Rumsfeld's decisions, and indecision, have been fraught with error and misguided predictions. For now, I will only focus on the invasion of Iraq, and the related lead-up.

1. Rumsfeld's Pentagon created the now infamous "Office of Special Plans" which took raw intelligence reports on Iraq and turned them into the most exaggerated, deceptive and propagandized intelligence regarding Iraq's fictional WMDs and the fictional connections to al-Qaeda. These reports, which were used to form the basis of the arguments for going to war and which Colin Powell relied on for his speech before the U.N., are now totally invalidated and proven to be wrong. These errors have cause enormous damage to the credibility of our intelligence gathering capabilities and will make it more difficult for subsequent administrations to convince the world community of the need for military action in the future. For an insightful first person analysis of the Office of Special Plans from a Pentagon insider, click here.

2. Rumsfeld was consistently wrong on crucial predictions regarding the nature and scope of the war in Iraq. Rumsfeld, and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, claimed that the war would cost less than $20-$50 billion, and that the rest of the reconstruction would be paid out of Iraqi oil proceeds. To date it has cost about $200 billion through next year, and the final bill will likely exceed that amount. Rumsfeld was off by a staggering amount.

3. Rumsfeld said that the U.S. would need fewer than 100,000 troops to conduct the invasion and post-war reconstruction. Then Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, suggested that, based on former peacekeeping missions, we would need more in the neighborhood of 250,000-500,000 troops. Rumsfeld said he was "off the mark," but agreed to increase troop levels for the operation to between 100,000 and 150,000. The failure to stop the post-war looting, restore law and order, seal off the borders from the incursions of foreign fighters, and adequately staff the prisons and detention centers were all a direct result of the insufficient troop presence in Iraq. Shinseki was right, Rumsfeld was wrong, and the consequences have been disastrous on many levels.

4. Rumsfeld claimed that our troop presence would be reduced to 30,000 by the fall of 2003. It is now the spring of 2004, and we are maintaining our troop levels at 135,000, and it appears that the increased troop levels will be necessary for the immediate and near term future. Rumsfeld was very wrong.

5. Relying on the fantastic claims of Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (who left Iraq the same year the Dodgers left Brooklyn), Rumsfeld claimed that the troops would be greeted as liberators with flowers and candies, and that Chalabi would enjoy widespread support in his rapid ascendancy to the leadership of Iraq. This reliance partly informed Rumsfeld's other predictions on troop strength, costs of the war, probability of looting and duration of troop presence. The CIA and Military Intelligence found Chalabi to be extremely unreliable, but Rumsfeld ignored their concerns.

Rumsfeld was wrong, but despite these errors, Chalabi continues to receive $340,000 a month (over $4 million a year) to collect intelligence in Iraq for Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Last time I checked, Chalabi was in talks to sell the Pentagon a bridge.

6. The International Red Cross has been reporting on prisoner abuse "tantamount to torture" from as far back as March 2003. Major General Taguba conducted an internal investigation that was completed in early February 2004. Still, Rumsfeld never told the President of these reports and investigations, leaving Bush to learn about the abuses from 60 Minutes II. Even more troubling, Rumsfeld himself admitted to not reading the Taguba report (to date, it is still not known if he has read it), and had only viewed the now infamous photographs on May 6, several days after they aired on national television. Rumsfeld was wrong not to take these allegations seriously, not to read Taguba's report, not to look at the pictures, and, almost inexcusably, not to inform the President Bush.

In addition, it appears that, at best, Rumsfeld was ineffectual in controlling interrogation tactics and techniques ordered by Military Intelligence, CIA and civilian interrogators. The possibility remains, however, that Rumsfeld knew of these orders and gave his consent.

The fact that Rumsfeld is not even considering resigning is consistent with an environment in which mistakes go unpunished, lapses go uncorrected and errors in judgment go unadmonished. Given this environment, and his dubious track record, why would any rational American believe that "Don Rumsfeld was effective before all this began, and he's effective now, and he's going to be effective in the future"?

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