[DEBATE] : More political buffoon than military hardman
grinker at mweb.co.za
Sat Nov 11 05:32:17 GMT 2006
Friday 10 November 2006
More political buffoon than military hardman
Donald Rumsfeld has a lot to answer for. So do the neocons and commentators
currently cheering his demise.
'Mark my words, this is a day in modern political history.. He was the
architect and agent of almost everything that has crashed in America's Iraq
policy. I can't tell if he has been sacked or resigned, but this place has
So wrote a hyper Jon Snow on Donald Rumsfeld's resignation in Wednesday's
'Snowmail', his daily bulletin of what's coming up in Channel 4 News which
doubles up as a kind of psychological profile of Britain's bicycle-riding,
Guardian-reading 'pinko liberals' (how Snow once described himself). Snow's
latest missive suggests that some pinko liberals think - or rather
fantasise - that the hanging-out-to-dry of Rumsfeld post-mid-terms is a
political earthquake (or a 'political coup', in Snow's words) after which
nothing will be the same again. Get a grip.
Rumsfeld has been turned into a scapegoat for Iraq - by President Bush, by
various neocons who supported the war but then changed their minds, and by
anti-war commentators like Snow who seriously imagine that the war and
occupation came about by Rumsfeld's own volition or sense of vengeance. All
of this underestimates the powerful political malaise among the American
elite that makes it turn to the international arena in search of a moral
boost, and lets off the hook the various thinkers, officials and statesmen -
both American and British - who cheer-led and devised the disastrous
Rumsfeld certainly has a lot to answer for. He was often talked about as the
hardman of the Bush administration, the unflinching, cocksure defence
secretary who wouldn't let anyone stand in the way of his grand war plans.
In fact, he summed up the bumbling idiocy of the Bush-led Republicans, and
the extent to which they were a lame-duck party, bereft of vision or
resolve, long before they lost control of both Houses of Congress this week.
Looking back at Rummy's plans for Iraq, there's little evidence that he was,
as one American commentator argued after his resignation, 'the grandmaster
of American expansionism', a kind of contemporary Alexander. In fact, he
planned a risk-free, quickfire, media-orientated invasion of Iraq that he
hoped would make America look cool and purposeful in the eyes of the world
without requiring too much hard graft. It was the political equivalent of
boys playing with toy soldiers.
Rumsfeld's 'grandmaster plan' for Iraq included launching a massive 72-hour
bombardment - 'shock and awe', or a 'blitzkrieg' as one US military official
described it - which he hoped would literally shock and overawe the Ba'athists
into surrendering. As the LA Times reported, the US military was seeking to
'defeat Saddam Hussein with "effects" rather than the physical destruction
of enemy troops or their resources'. After these 'effects' had done the hard
task of making the enemy magically evaporate, Rumsfeld and Co planned to
send US troops over the border into Basra where they would apparently be
greeted by cheering crowds readying garlands to put around the soldiers'
thick necks. This was about creating the right media image of modern-day
America, as one newspaper reported in March 2003: 'Officials say they are
aiming for a rapid and benign occupation of Basra that results in
flag-waving crowds hugging British and American soldiers - all of which
would create an immediate positive image of American and British war aims
while undermining Iraqi resistance elsewhere in the country.' (1)
Rumsfeld's was not some secret and dastardly plan to take over the Middle
East whatever the cost to American soldiers or Iraqi civilians. Rather it
was a fantasy war of liberation designed for the front pages of the papers.
As I argued on spiked a week before the war began in March 2003: 'America is
hoping for a war without risk, using massive bombardments, special effects
and plain old wishful thinking to compensate for traditional military
engagement.' (See Military disengagement, by Brendan O'Neill.) Rumsfeld was
less a political hardman than a political fantasist - and everything that
has gone wrong in Iraq since is a consequence of that old devil called
reality getting in the way of the fantasy.
It should be remembered, however, that many of those now slating him and
cheering his demise shared in his fantasies - not only his military fantasy
of a quick and clean war, but also the bigger political fantasy that America
is a liberating force on a white charger with a right and responsibility to
topple tinpot tyrannies from Afghanistan to Iraq.
The leading military men in America who have turned against Rumsfeld went
along with his plans for a short, sharp 'war of liberation'. They especially
liked the idea of having images of Iraqis high-fiving US soldiers 'beamed to
a sceptical world'. As Major Chris Hughes of the US Marine Corps said in
2003: 'The first image of this war will define the conflict.' (2) Over the
past three years, this agreement over Iraq has descended into a spat between
leading military officials and Rumsfeld's department about the planning and
political ownership of the war, and now military officials are trying to pin
all the blame for Iraq on one man: Rumsfeld.
If Rumsfeld was initially physically backed by military men, he was also
morally cheered on by various neocon thinkers and politicians. Yet now, as
Vanity Fair revealed this month, in a feature titled 'Neo Culpa', these
'neoconservative boosters' of the war in Iraq are turning on President Bush
and Rumsfeld and arguing that 'their grand designs [for the Middle East]
have been undermined by White House incompetence' (3). In truth, the
incompetence was written into the neocons' designs. It is not that invading
Iraq was a good plan but Bush and Rumsfeld executed it badly; rather, the
'grand design' of hurling a few bombs to topple Saddam in the belief that
this would send a message to the world about American values was fatally
flawed from the outset and destined to end in disaster.
These neocon detractors have achieved the rather remarkable feat of making
Rumsfeld look almost principled. At least in resigning he is taking some
responsibility for Iraq, whereas they are shirking theirs. As for all those
British commentators 'going mad' over Rummy's fall: they might look a bit
closer to home for the origins of Rumsfeld's fantasy politics of war. It is
well known that he was inspired by Tony Blair's words and actions over
Kosovo in 1999. Rumsfeld's claim that America had the right to override Iraq's
national sovereignty 'because the people there are suffering' comes from
Blair's 'Chicago Doctrine'. In April 1999, Blair gave a speech at the
Chicago Economic Club, in which he called for a decisive move away from the
old UN emphasis on respecting nations' sovereign independence and towards
more pro-active forms of military intervention to topple 'regimes that are
undemocratic and engaged in barbarous acts' (4). This heavily influenced
both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration that followed.
Also, Rumsfeld's application of the precautionary principle to international
affairs - as summed up, or not summed up as the case may be, in his widely
ridiculed speech about fighting 'unknown unknowns' - comes straight from
Blair's own elevation of risk-avoidance as a key justification for military
action. Back in 2001, Blair said of foreign ventures: 'Whatever the dangers
of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are often far, far greater.'
(5) We can mock America's big dumb Donald, but we should at least admit that
some of his war fantasies are very British in origin.
The idea that politics might return to normality, and even that there might
be an end to war now that Rummy has gone, is also a fantasy. To argue that
the Bush administration has lost its moral authority as a result of Iraq
gets things the wrong way around; in fact, the Iraq war has its origins in
America's loss of moral authority, in a powerful sense of political
uncertainty and crisis. Rumsfeld may have been hung out to dry, but the
American elite remains high and dry.
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