11/18/2005

Wrestling With History - Rummy rebates critics

Says he was not a blind optimist and that on October 15 2002 Rummy showed Bush a list with 29 bullet points of what could go wrong in Iraq.... But the war vote was already done and Bush was already on war track.. Which makes you wonder: Why did Rumsfeld write that memo, at that moment (CYA ?), and why is he flagging it now? (CYA!!) -- law

As the Wapo reporter says:

If the point of the memo was to .. halt the train of events at the last moment, then it was too little too late.. And if his purpose was to spur adequate thinking and preparation for the complexity of the Iraq mission, he failed... there is broad agreement now that if the United States salvages a victory in Iraq, it will come in spite of the initial war planning, not because of it..

Maybe Rumsfeld's memo was written not just for its moment, but also for the future, as proof that he remained sober even in an atmosphere of neoconservative enthusiasm for the war...

This subtle distancing explains why the memo has joined other actions and inactions, statements and omissions as evidence, for some of the Iraq war's strongest supporters, that the man atop the Pentagon, despite his bravura, may not have had his whole heart in this war. [I knew it - CYA!!! -- law]


Wrestling With History
Sometimes you have to fight the war you have, not the war you wish you had

By David Von Drehle - Wapo

Sunday, November 13, 2005; Page W12

If only he could show us the memo.

"It's still classified, I suppose?" says Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, looking toward his assistant.

"It's still classified," Lawrence

"It's still classified," Lawrence DiRita replies, "along with a lot of the underlying planning."

Rumsfeld nods, apparently disappointed. He is interested in sharing the memo because the memo, as he outlines it, demonstrates that his critics are utterly mistaken. He did not dash heedless and underprepared into Iraq. Rumsfeld foresaw the things that could go wrong -- and not just foresaw them, but wrote them up in a classically Rumsfeldian list, one brisk bullet point after another, 29 potential pitfalls in all. Then he distributed the memo at the highest levels, fed it into the super-secret planning process and personally walked the president through the warnings.

"It would have been probably October of '02, and the war was March, I think," of the following year, Rumsfeld explains. "I sat down, and I said, 'What are all the things that one has to anticipate could be a problem?' And circulated it and read it to the president -- sent it to the president. Gave it to the people in the department, and they planned against those things. And all of the likely and unlikely things that one could imagine are listed there. It was just on the off-chance we'd end up having a conflict. We didn't know at that stage."

Some might quibble with Rumsfeld's description of the historical moment. At the time he wrote the memo, dated October 15, 2002, Congress had recently voted to give President Bush complete authority to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. A White House spokesman had just confirmed that invasion plans were on Bush's desk -- detailed plans, we now know, which Rumsfeld had been shaping and hammering and editing for much of the previous year.

In other words, there was far more than an "off-chance" of conflict. All that remained to be done was for the president to reach his official decision. The train was loaded, its doors were shut, and it was ready to leave the station.

Rumsfeld never pretended there was anything off-chancy about the timing of the memo when he discussed it with Bob Woodward, who wrote about the document in his authoritative history of Iraq war preparations, Plan of Attack. In that account, Rumsfeld portrayed the memo as a warning blast, an attempt to do "everything humanly possible to prepare" Bush for the awful responsibility that had settled onto his presidential shoulders -- and his shoulders alone. For there comes a point when even the secretary of defense must realize that "it's not your decision or even your recommendation," Rumsfeld reflected with Woodward. By which he meant the Iraq war wasn't Don Rumsfeld's decision or recommendation.

As if to underline the point, Rumsfeld also told Woodward that he couldn't recall a moment, in all the months of planning for the war, when Bush asked whether his defense secretary favored the invasion. Nor did Rumsfeld ever volunteer his opinion. ("There's no question in anyone's mind but I agreed with the president's approach," he added.) So what was in the memo? Dire scenarios ranging from disasters that did not happen, such as chemical warfare and house-to-house combat with Saddam's troops in Baghdad, to bad things that have indeed come to pass, such as ethnic strife among Iraq's religious factions and the successful exploitation of the war as a public relations vehicle for the enemies of the United States.

Rumsfeld raises the subject of this memo near the end of an interview in his spacious Pentagon office. Outside the tinted blast-proof windows and across the Potomac, a brutal summer sun bakes the domes and cornices of Washington, but Rumsfeld is wearing a fleece vest over his shirtsleeves. He often finds his office chilly. Rumsfeld appears relaxed, charming, expansive. It seems awfully helpful of him to want to share a classified memo written expressly for the president of the United States, who was wrestling with his awesome power to wage war.

But then you wonder: Why did Rumsfeld write that memo, at that moment, and why is he flagging it now?

And if his purpose was to spur adequate thinking and preparation for the complexity of the Iraq mission, he failed. Military experts and strategic thinkers differ over whether the insurgency in Iraq can be quelled and a legitimate government stabilized on a timeline and a budget that the American people will support. Will it turn out to be "the greatest strategic disaster in our history," as retired Army Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, the Army's chief of intelligence and director of the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration, recently asserted? Or will it someday be seen as "a hard struggle" toward an eventual victory, albeit a struggle through "the crucible with the blood and the dust and the gore," as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers said in his final congressional testimony in September before retiring? Myers acknowledged that "we've made lots of mistakes along the way." But, he said, that was because "we are trying to do in Iraq what has never been done before."

But there is broad agreement now that if the United States salvages a victory in Iraq, it will come in spite of the initial war planning, not because of it. Rumsfeld's own advisory think tank, the Defense Science Board, took a long look at this issue last year and concluded that the architects of the Iraq war -- led by Rumsfeld -- lacked necessary knowledge of Iraq and its people, and that they failed to factor in well-known lessons of history.

"It is clear that Americans who waged the war and who have attempted to mold the aftermath have had no clear idea of the framework that has molded the personalities and attitudes of Iraqis," the board declared in a report bearing the official seal of the Department of Defense. "It might help if Americans and their leaders were to show less arrogance and more understanding of themselves and their place in history. Perhaps more than any other people, Americans display a consistent amnesia concerning their own past, as well as the history of those around them."

Maybe Rumsfeld's memo was written not just for its moment, but also for the future, as proof that he remained sober even in an atmosphere of neoconservative enthusiasm for the war. Although classified, the memo keeps surfacing in this context, always putting a little distance between Rumsfeld and the audacious gamble in Iraq. Five weeks before the invasion, as others were promising a cakewalk, Rumsfeld and his memo surfaced in the New York Times. It surfaced again with Woodward. And now here it is again.

This subtle distancing explains why the memo has joined other actions and inactions, statements and omissions as evidence, for some of the Iraq war's strongest supporters, that the man atop the Pentagon, despite his bravura, may not have had his whole heart in this war....

Wrestling With History

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