Donald Rumsfeld has written a memoir. He places part of the problems in Iraq on Condoleezza Rice.
What Mr. Rumsfeld offers is a far more believable account of events, one that holds individuals responsible for failures of execution. He describes a White House with internal problems, at the heart of which was a National Security Council overseen in Mr. Bush’s first term by Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Rice’s style of management, argues Mr. Rumsfeld, led to indecision, which in turn led to the lack of a coherent post-invasion plan, to a sluggish transfer of power to Iraqis, and to a festering insurgency. If nothing else, this gives historians something valuable to ponder as they work on an honest appraisal of the Bush years.
Mr. Rumsfeld tells me that he sees his 815-page volume as a "contribution to the historic record"â€”not some breezy Washington tell-all. In his more than 40 years of public service, he kept extensive records of his votes, his meetings with presidents, and the more than 20,000 memos (known as "snowflakes") he flurried on the Pentagon during his second run as defense secretary. Mr. Rumsfeld uses them as primary sources, which accounts for the book’s more than 1,300 end notes. He’s also digitized them so readers and historians can consult the evidence first-hand at www.rumsfeld.com.
Of course Colin Powell is partially to blame
The memoir relates notable instances when this dynamic played out, but none with more consequence than the muddled plan for postwar Iraq. The Defense Department pushed early on "to do what we’d done in Afghanistan"â€”where a tribal loya jirga had quickly anointed Hamid Karzai as leader. "The goal was to move quickly to have an Iraqi face on the leadership in the country, as opposed to a foreign occupation." Mr. Rumsfeld’s early takeaway from NSC meetings was that "the president agreed."
Yet Colin Powell’s State Department was adamantly opposed. It was suspicious of allowing Iraqi exiles to help govern, claiming they’d undermine "legitimacy." It also didn’t believe a joint U.S.-Iraqi power-sharing agreement would work. These were clear, substantive policy differences, yet in Mr. Rumsfeld’s telling, Ms. Rice allowed the impasse to drag on.
The result was the long, damaging regency of Paul Bremer as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authorityâ€”which Mr. Rumsfeld believes helped inspire the initial Iraq insurgency. Mr. Bremer, who set up shop in one of Saddam’s opulent palaces, continued to postpone the creation of an Iraqi transitional government. He instead appointed a "governing council" of Iraqis but refused to give even them any responsibility. The result: delays in elections and in building post-Saddam institutions.
"You are always better having a president look at each option, at the pros and cons, and make a decision among them, than trying to merge them," says Mr. Rumsfeld, especially when positions are "contradictory to a certain extent."
While all of these things are true, the real issue is that he ignored the advice of Pentagon planners (note: some of the Pentagon generals have taken exception to this belief) and went in with far to few troops to occupy the country and when it did go bad, he could not conceptually change his thinking to fix his mistakes. His memoir shows some other problems (and I am sure that Riceâ€™s management style was frustrating to him) in the White House but at the end of the day, he pushed for a light weight invasion force that couldnâ€™t control the country (or even Baghdad) when the insurgency started.