His Own Private Pentagon
It’s not that often you’ll see me blast the Obama administration and cut the Bush administration some slack, especially in the same weekend. Yet this is what Robert Draper’s 10 page article in the new issue of GQ is forcing me to do.
The progressive perception of George W. Bush will be, I believe, bourn out by posterity. We had made much of the fact that “electing” to the presidency a man with no national much less international political experience came at a high price- Namely, by allowing his father, George HW Bush, to suggest or otherwise insinuate into his Inner Circle older hands such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
It’s only natural and reasonable to assume that when you let wily old schemers into your Cabinet when you lack the skills and experience in policy-making and in delegating responsibilities (The same could’ve been said of Bill Clinton but Clinton, at least, was a master of delegating responsibilities to the right people for the right jobs. James Lee Witt, the former head of FEMA, springs to mind.), some serious skullduggery will be afoot. We saw much the same thing with Cheney and Rumsfeld during the Ford administration. But Bush’s official biographer wrote an article that’s an eye-opener in not only what it said about Rumsfeld but also Bush himself.
This vignette is especially revealing, one regarding Rummy’s extreme reluctance to committing troops to New Orleans even five days after Katrina made landfall:
Having only recently come to grips with the roiling disaster, Bush convened a meeting in the Situation Room on Friday morning. According to several who were present, the president was agitated. Turning to the man seated at his immediate left, Bush barked, “Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what’s on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I’m watching? What the hell are you doing?”
If Draper’s account is to be believed, then it more than strongly hints that the WH was being factual when they said that Bush really was “engaged” as they’d said. If George W. Bush did indeed refer to post Katrina NOLA as being a Third World country, then he was echoing the sentiments of many Americans who watched in horror as the news reports began rolling in of human corpses rotting in the sun, bloated bodies floating down the streets of New Orleans and of thousands packed inside the Superdome and Convention Center with virtually no humanitarian aid and supplies. Draper’s account would also suggest that Chertoff, then the head of Homeland Security, was also more apprised of the situation at ground level than had hitherto been believed.
Rumsfeld was the stumbling block that would hamper much of the rescue and recovery efforts, someone who would laughably raise concerns about the Insurrection Act and posse comitatus. But Rumsfeld is revealed in Draper’s piece to be an obstructing influence in other areas even after his “retirement.” What’s remarkable was that Rumsfeld insisted on being a road block in some of the few instances when the Bush administration actually tried to do the right thing, such as opening up a constructive dialog with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. According to Draper:
But what’s been less discussed is Rumsfeld’s effect on the relationship between Bush and Vladimir Putin. Bush began his presidency determined to forge a new, post–Cold War relationship with Putin, and a year after their June 2001 “sense of his soul” meeting, the two leaders released a statement pledging dialogue on matters ranging from bilateral investment to missile-defense systems. But Rumsfeld, who had also served as Gerald Ford’s secretary of defense during the Cold War, wasn’t on board. According to an administration official closely involved in U.S.-Russia policy, “From the get-go, it was clear that the Pentagon had no interest in anything that was in that document. Rumsfeld wanted to do the minimum and move on.”
Rumsfeld’s office cut against Bush’s pledge of cooperation and transparency with Russia on “a whole host of things,” says this official: the proposed Russian-American Observation Satellite, the Joint Data Exchange Center, plutonium disposition. By 2005 the Bush-Putin partnership had soured for a variety of reasons, including Russia’s growing economic swagger and America’s Iraq-induced decline in global prestige. But, the official observes, Rumsfeld “did not help the relationship; that’s clear.” Russia came to believe that the U.S. wasn’t interested in cooperating, and Rumsfeld’s actions “devalued what the president had originally said. It made the Russians believe he lacked credibility.”
In short, Rumsfeld hampered what could have been fruitful negotiations between Bush and Putin by superimposing, as with John McCain, an antiquated, Old Guard Republican, anti-Communist mindset over a post Cold War environment.
From helping to deny, even years after his retirement, the gravely ill Ted Kennedy the Presidential Medal of Freedom (based on Kennedy’s involvement in Chappaquiddick 40 years ago), to inconveniencing our pilots to shortchanging our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to delaying the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina to souring vital negotiations with a newly-empowered Russia, to crafting Worldwide Intelligence Updates with Biblical quotes, Donald Rumsfeld in his disastrous second go-round as Defense Secretary looked upon the Pentagon as his own massive fiefdom. Not wanting absolute control as much as the appearance of being control, Rumsfeld did only what was expected and demanded of him except when it came to the outsourcing orgy that he’d announced in the Pentagon briefing room the day before 9/11.
Rumsfeld is not totally to blame for the federal response to Katrina or Iraq or of a host of other scandals any more than is Bush or Cheney. Yet Rumsfeld, says Draper, was more deeply involved, or not involved as deeply, as public perception had him all these years. He was a deeply paranoid and suspicious man who viewed the very creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security as a threat to his little fiefdom. And Bush’s single greatest sin could very well prove to be hanging on to Rumsfeld as long as he had despite the protestations of senior aides.