Last week, Donald Rumsfeld brushed off questions about Iran war-planning by saying that it’s “just not useful to get into fantasyland.” But as I note in this column for MotherJones.com, it’s Rumsfeld who dwells in a fantasyland, based on what happened in the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here’s how he likely imagined the New York Times would write up his successes by now:
Three years later, Iraq’s success confounds critics, wins praise.
Stable, prosperous Iraq affirms new DOD strategy.
By Michael Gordon
WASHINGTON, April 19, 2006 – A little more than three years after the invasion of Iraq, which went forward amid a chorus of criticism, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is riding a new wave of respect and praise from both inside and outside the Pentagon. As the retired Mideast commander, Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command, said on Meet the Press recently, “You’ve got to admire him for sticking to his guns. Rumsfeld ignored the nay-sayers who said it couldn’t be done his way, and he turned out to be right.”
In Baghdad, Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi presides over a national unity government where the once-fractious Sunni, Shia and Kurdish religious groups are working together in a prosperous post-Saddam Iraq, with oil production soaring more than 300% over pre-war levels. In fact, the war and reconstruction effort, which the then-White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsay famously speculated might cost as much as an astounding $200 billion, has largely been self-financed through Iraqi oil revenues since the bulk of U.S troops left in September, 2003. “There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money,” Mr. Rumsfeld’s then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank president who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his work promoting democracy in the Mideast, presciently told Congress in 2003. And to the surprise of some Congressional critics who direly forecasted a Vietnam-style “quagmire,” under Mr. Rumsfeld’s direction the departing U.S. military left behind only a token force to offer support and technical assistance to a well-regarded 400,000-man Iraqi Army.
You can read more here, but Rumsfeld’s failures are, surprisingly, still not given the full scrutiny they deserve as he and his retired military supporters go on the counter-attack against the six retired generals calling for his resignation. Unfortunately, the pro-Rumsfeld claqe is still promoting the myth, often unchallenged, that Rumsfeld treated military leaders fairly and heard their concerns in an open-minded way. Here’s the claim made this past week-end by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Meyers on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos program:
Myers bristled at the suggestion that top military leaders were not given an opportunity to express their opinion prior to the invasion, asserting, “We gave [Rumsfeld] our best military advice. … If we don’t do that, we should be shot.” He added:
Myers repeatedly contested the recollections of the six generals who have spoken out against Rumsfeld. In press accounts, Newbold maintained that his pre-war criticism made Myers and others “uncomfortable.” But on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Myers rebutted, “That’s not my memory of it; I never felt uncomfortable about anything Gen. [Gregory] Newbold said.”
Adding that those in power were given ample opportunity to speak out, Myers challenged those still in uniform who have disagreements with potential policy to speak before the decision is final.
“If there are people … who have not spoken out,” Myers said, “shame on them.”
When asked by Stephanopoulos whether such dissention in the ranks would likely lead to dismissal, Myers scoffed, “No, no. … The senior military officers are not in it for promotion. They’re in it to serve.”
But Stephanopolus didn’t press him on the numerous reports that Rumsfeld fought against recommendations for higher troop levels and barely laid a glove on him regarding Rumsfeld’s dismissive treatment of Gen. Eric Shinseki for saying we needed “several hundred thousand” troops to occupy Iraq. Here’s one exchange:
GENERAL RICHARD MEYERS:… But in the plan going in there, the best military judgment, the judgment we got from academia, from anybody that wanted to make inputs to include the National Security Council was that we had the right number of troops. And so you can always look back and say, should we had something different? I personally don’t believe – we didn’t want to turn Iraq into a police state. There’s always this issue between liberation and occupation. And it’s a very serious issue in that country and if you listen to General Abizaid even today he’ll talk very seriously about that that issue. But this – let me just go back to General Shinseki for a minute. People – have misplayed his comments over and over. And it’s just absolutely incorrect in context. He was forced to – say a number. He said a number. He was inappropriately criticized I believe for speaking out. But then he never in our meetings…
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS): [Off-camera] “So you don’t think he still believes it would’ve taken several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq?”
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS (FORMER CHAIRMAN JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF): “I don’t know – I don’t know what he believes today.”
What we do know is that on so many fronts, Rumsfeld ignored sound advice, an issue that a compliant media has permitted to go virtually unchallenged until very recently, while Rumsfeld allowed his fantasyland vision of the war to bring Iraq, the lives of our troops and any hopes for a stable Mideast to ruin.