by Mike Whitney
Donald Rumsfeld never really understood the war he was fighting in Iraq. That’s why the results have been so terrible. He liked to say that “the war in Iraq is a test of wills”, but that just showsthat he had no idea what he was doing and was in way over his head.
War shouldn’t be personalized; that just makes it a battle of egoswhich inevitably clouds one’s judgment. War is a means of using organized violence to achieve political objectives. Period. Rumsfeld never really grasped that point, so it was impossible for him to prevail. His statement just shows the shortsightedness of a man who is incapable of thinking politically and therefore wasn't able to appreciate the larger strategic goals.
For people like Rumsfeld, violence and deception are the natural corollaries of their distorted views; they become an end in themselves. That is not only tragic, but it also ensures failure. According to the recently released Lancet report, over 650,000 Iraqis have been killed in the conflict so far. This proves that Rumsfeld didn’t know what he was doing so he simply ratcheted up the violence to conceal his ignorance. He had no plan for occupation, reconstruction, security, or victory. The whole thing was a sham predicated on his unflagging belief in over-whelming force. The outcome was not only predictable; it was predicted! Now, the country in a shambles, the society is irretrievably ripped apart, and the entire project is in ruins.
In his parting statement, Rumsfeld reiterated his belief that we are facing a “new kind of enemy” in a “new kind of war”. But this is just more buck-passing from a guy who wouldn’t listen to his subordinates and was thoroughly convinced of his own genius. Anyone who has seen the pictures from Abu Ghraib and Falluja are already familiar with Rumsfeld’s genius and his insatiable appetite for violence. They also know that, to great extent, he is fully responsible for the unspeakable tragedy that is currently unfolding in Iraq.
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Besides, Rumsfeld is mistaken; we are not fighting a “new kind of enemy or a new kind of war”. The fundamentals of 4-G guerilla warfare are well known as are the strategies for combating them. Rumsfeld’s problem is that, rather than follow the advice of his generals who understand the nature of asymmetrical warfare; he chose to implement his own untested theories which consistently ended in disaster.
To his credit, he had a fairly decent plan for controlling the flow of information coming from the front (“embedded” journalists) and for quashing unflattering news-coverage. In fact, the DOD’s media-management strategy has been the most successful part of the war-effort. The American people have been effectively blocked from seeing the same kind of bloody-footage that flooded their TV screens a generation earlier during the Vietnam War. We haven’t seen the carnage, the body-bags, the flag-draped coffins; the wounded, maimed or killed civilians who are, of course, the greatest victims of the present policy.
In other words, the Iraq War has been a huge triumph for perception-management and censorship.
Score 1 for Rummy.
The media has played no role in undermining support for the war. Rather it has been the steady deterioration of the security situation, the up-tick in sectarian violence, and the absence of any tangible “benchmarks” for progress which left the American people believing that we were hopelessly trapped in another quagmire. At this point, no amount of media cheerleading will convince the public that the war is anything more than a dead-loss.
Rumsfeld saw himself as a master technician, singularly capable of tip-toeing through the abstruse details of his “new type of war” while developing entirely original tactics. Naturally, he favored blitzkrieg-type military maneuvers and massive, destabilizing counterinsurgency operations, both of which have had a catastrophic effect on Iraqi society thrusting the country into “ungovernable” anarchy.
Was that the point?
Rumsfeld seemed to believe that if he spread chaos throughout Iraq (“creative destruction”) US occupation forces would eventually come out on top. The policy is a reworking of the covert operations (The Contras) which were used in Central America during the Reagan administration. The basic concept is to use extreme violence (El Salvador option) against enemy suspects in a way that discourages others from joining the fight. That’s shorthand for “terrorism” which, of course, the US does not officially support.
Some critics suggested that the strategies which worked in Central America would not succeed in Iraq for various cultural and historic reasons. They turned out to be right; "one size does not fit all".The Iraqis are fiercely independent, proud, nationalistic, and hostile to all manifestations of imperial rule. Although Iraqi society has begun to splinter, the violence has only intensified as more and more people find refuge in tribal groups and well-armed militias. This has caused a steady rise in the number of attacks on American forces. It has also made the country completely unmanageable. Iraqis are not cowed by imperial violence. They are not the submissive, compliant sheeple that Rumsfeld imagined. This is another tragic misreading of history.
There is no antidote for the continuing crisis in Iraq. The inevitable American withdrawal will only hasten the looming battle between the competing political forces. It’s better to get out now and allow that process to begin.
Political pundits and historians will undoubtedly be harsh on Rumsfeld for his iron-fisted methods of trying to establish order, but occupying Iraq would have been difficult, if not impossible, under the best of circumstances. Rumsfeld’s poor decision-making sped up the process but, ultimately, the project was doomed from the beginning.
Ironically, Rumsfeld still refuses to accept any responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of casualties or the completebreakdown of Iraqi society. Instead, he has brushed aside any blame saying that Iraq is too “complicated” for normal people to understand.
Even after being forced to resign in utter disgrace, he still shows no sign of doubting his abilities as a military genius. His ego remains as impervious to criticism as tempered steel.
But the facts don’t lie. Rumsfeld was given the best-equipped, best-trained, high-tech, military machine the world has ever seen. He was given unlimited political and financial support and a ringing endorsement by the American media. All that was expected of him was to establish security and execute the smooth transferal of power from a "widely-despised" tyrant to a provisional government. At the same time, he was supposed to put down an “insurgency”, which (by the Pentagon’s own estimates) included no more than 5 or 6,000 “Islamic extremists and dead-enders”.
He failed completely.
Towards the end of his tenure, he became so desperate that he began to blame leftist web sites and “bloggers” for the escalating violence in Iraq.
If there isan “up-side” to the Rumsfeld saga, it is this. If it wasn’t for Rumsfeld’ssheer incompetence in every area of supervising the occupation, the Bush administration would have pressed on with their plans for toppling the regimes in Tehran and Damascus.
Rumsfeld’s ineptitude, along with the tenacity and steadfastness of the Iraqi resistance, has made that prospect seem far less likely.
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