Rumsfeld: An American disaster

Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Cockburn remarks in this critical biography, is “one of history’s greatest courtiers.” Rumsfeld’s sly performance at the courts of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and the Searle family (who helped him make his financial fortune) prepared him for his final role in George Bush Jr’s White House.
Rumsfeld’s flaws emerged early in life. He cooked the books to prove that the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal dwarfed America’s a fabrication intended to force the Ford administration to fund the useless $30 billion MX missile. An old Soviet rocket test-site emerged in Rumsfeld’s report as a “nuclear death ray test facility.” That precedent should have alerted Washington to his subsequent claims regarding Saddam Hussein’s weaponry.

Rumsfeld’s manipulation of the press (leaking against his own benefactors as often as he concealed facts from media and Congress) and his masters, however, seemed to immunise him from scrutiny. Cockburn’s fascinating study of a man that even Richard Nixon called “a ruthless little bastard” provides one of the best histories of Washington in-fighting from the Nixon to the Bush years.

It is the tale of a mediocre intellect and social climber from Chicago, who pushed himself forward to unelected office and launched his country into a war whose consequences he had little concern for. Cockburn demolishes the notion that Vice-president Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Don Rumsfeld were united. Cheney had come to Washington originally as Rumsfeld’s gofer, but ended up his superior.

Their rivalry helped push forward the invasion of Iraq, as the Vice-president’s office and Rumsfeld loyalists in the Pentagon outbid one another to make the case for war and to control its operation. The friendship had already faltered when Rumsfeld demanded his former acolyte’s support for his 1988 presidential bid and Cheney instead backed George Bush, Sr. Bush Sr. already disliked Rumsfeld. When Rumsfeld wrote a letter asking the newly elected Bush for a job, the president-elect wrote in the margin, “NO! THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN!”

“It finally happened, when Bush’s son – who distrusted most of his father’s brain trust – took office in 2001.

Rumsfeld brought to the Pentagon many like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle who supported Israel’s most extreme policies, excessive military spending and egregious interference in the Third World. It’s a terrible tale, well told.

Verso Books £17.99