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Donald Rumsfeld

Ducking Responsibility

Bob Woodward takes over Thomas Rick’s blog and talks about Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir.

Rumsfeld’s memoir is one big clean-up job, a brazen effort to shift blame to others — including President Bush — distort history, ignore the record or simply avoid discussing matters that cannot be airbrushed away. It is a travesty, and I think the rewrite job won’t wash.

The Iraq War is essential to the understanding of the Bush presidency and the Rumsfeld era at the Pentagon. In the book, Rumsfeld tries to push so much off on Bush. That is fair because Bush made the ultimate decisions. But the record shows that it was Rumsfeld stoking the Iraq fires — facts he has completely left out of his memoir.

Wow Bob, tell us what you really think.

As numerous accounts have documented, the post-war planning and organization was close to a disaster. Rumsfeld blames the lack of "effective interagency coordination" and "the way the United States government is organized." (p. 487)

As secretary of defense he was responsible. Under our system, he was next in the chain of command after the president, effectively making him the deputy president for war. But he sidestepped his responsibility time and time again.

Rumsfeld’s memoir

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"—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"—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 Authority—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 Rice’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 couldn’t control the country (or even Baghdad) when the insurgency started.

Cheney: Upset that Bush showed an independent streak

From the Washington Post

1164468525_2500Cheney’s disappointment with the former president surfaced recently in one of the informal conversations he is holding to discuss the book with authors, diplomats, policy experts and past colleagues. By habit, he listens more than he talks, but Cheney broke form when asked about his regrets.

"In the second term, he felt Bush was moving away from him," said a participant in the recent gathering, describing Cheney’s reply. "He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took. Bush was more malleable to that. The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney’s advice. He’d showed an independence that Cheney didn’t see coming. It was clear that Cheney’s doctrine was cast-iron strength at all times — never apologize, never explain — and Bush moved toward the conciliatory."

I have always felt that George W. Bush would have been a better president if he had a different vice president.  I would what a White House dominated by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice would have been like vs the White House dominated by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks

Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks While in Chapters in Regina, I picked up a copy of Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks.  It is a mesmerizing read if for just the amount of incompetence within the White House, the Pentagon, and the provisional government in Iraq (Paul Bremer comes across as an incompetent idiot).  Basically it tells the story of intelligence that was discredited within the CIA even before Colin Powell tried to sell it at the United Nations and about how despite a chorus of concerned experts both inside and outside the Pentagon that the occupation could go very bad, very quickly, the office of the Secretary of Defense ignored it.

Those warnings existed in the war plans since 1991 and were made not only by senior military leadership but from a wide variety of partisan and non-partisan think tanks.  Republicans and Democrats saw that the invasion of Iraq could go bad without enough troops and the office of the Secretary of Defense just ignored them.  Senior military leaders were told to expect a plan on the occupation of Iraq but then in one instance were told to produce one themselves in just 24 hours.  It would read like a comedy of errors if not so many lives were being lost.

While Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks were right that you could win a military battle with speed and airpower, winning a war and keeping order takes a lot of troops.  On top of that the early plans all relied on the Iraqi military to help rebuild until Bremer surprised everyone by dissolving the Iraqi military which made 400,000 skilled troops suddenly unemployed and gave them an axe to grind.  He followed that up by dissolving the Ministry of the Interior which put all of the police out of work.  "De-Ba’thification" worked just about as well.  While the military was relying on the Iraqi’s themselves to do this (they would kill the partisan Ba’th member themselves), Bremer put most of Iraq’s skilled workforce out of jobs on the basis that they may be Ba’th members despite strong reservations from the military and his own advisors.

The book does leave one question unanswered.  Why senior military and political leaders refused to listen to those around them?  Leaders become isolated but in this case a lot of people were able to make their case to them.  It almost seems as if they were overwhelmed by the task at hand and chose to ignore it which forced them into defaulting back to their original assumptions as if they couldn’t handle the complexity on hand.  This happens in many organizations but generally near the top, you have people who can focus both on the task at hand and on the larger picture.  Within the Pentagon and the White House, they seemed to be focused on too small of a picture (winning the war) and too large of a picture (transforming the middle east in to a pro-American democracy) which was the wrong thing to be focusing on.

As the U.S. Army War College study pointed out, the war “was not integral” to the global war on terrorism but was a costly “detour from it.”

For me the question that the book kept bringing back to me was how do leaders who rise to senior leadership positions in politics and the military manage to ignore their advisors at such a key time.   This isn’t just a military question either.  I have seen church leaders tune everyone else out and Wall Street is littered with companies that made moves everyone else saw as a probable train wreck (Corel going into competition against Microsoft and Adobe at the same time comes to mind).  Just recently Stephane Dion campaigned on a Green Shift even those closest to him thought was a horrible idea.  Ignoring those around you isn’t new but what amazes me is that those that can’t or won’t are weeded out more effectively by complex systems like the Pentagon.  As for how it happened in the White House, that’s Bob Woodward’s specialty.

The book is a good one and is a required read at the Army War College.  You can find it in hardcover, paperback or Google Books.  The New York Times has a good review of the book here.