Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rumsfeld on ABC News This Week

George Stephanopoulos today broadcast a live interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Their first topic was Representative John Murtha (D–PA), who this week called for the United States to redeploy our military out of Iraq: "Our military has done everything that has been asked of them. The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily; it's time to bring the troops home."

Rummy replies, "Well you know, if you think back, we had similar debates during World War II, during Korea, during Vietnam. It's always been so, because these are important subjects. They ought to be discussed and debated."

I'll certainly grant that we had similar debates during the Vietnam War, and somewhat similar in the Korean War, but certainly not in World War II. Was anyone saying, after two and a half years of fighting the Nazis and Imperial Japan, that we could not accomplish anything more militarily? No, not by a long shot. In World War II, we faced real enemies who not only threatened us, but actually attacked us (Japan) or at least declared war on us (Germany and Italy). There were times in World War II that the war looked bleak, but there was never a suggestion that we should withdraw from Europe and the Pacific. After Pearl Harbor, it was indisputably vital to our national security that we see the war through to the finish.

Rummy goes on to say that "What [the insurgents in Iraq] see is that if they wait, they prevail, and they'll be able to turn that country into a haven for terrorists." It would send the wrong signal to our enemies if we stop bashing our foreheads against every brick wall in sight. What the insurgents see in Iraq is that the United States is incapable of admitting that it made an enormous mistake.

Stephanopoulos then hits Rumsfeld with a quote from the December issue of The Atlantic:

If the United States is serious about getting out of Iraq... It will need to spend money for interpreters. It will need to create large new training facilities for American troops... It will need to commit air, logistics, medical and intelligence services to Iraq — and understand that this is a commitment for years, not a temporary measure. It will need to decide that there are weapons systems it does not require and commitments it cannot afford if it is to support the ones that are crucial. And it will need to make these decisions in a matter of months, not years — before it's too late. — James Fallows [as abridged by ABC News]
George says, "We should either be ready to make this commitment of years, or be prepared to come home. Address the argument," to which The Donald replies:
DR: The argument is that the United States has a plan, they have a strategy, they are implementing that. They have trained over 212,000 Iraqi security forces. People who denigrate their competence and their capability are flat wrong. They're making a mistake. They either don't understand the situation or they're trying to confuse it, but the Iraqi security forces are well respected by the Iraqi people, they are doing a very good job. They're growing in numbers, they're growing in competence. [...]

GS: If you had known that no WMD's would be found, would you have advocated invasion?

DR: I didn't advocate invasion.

GS: You didn't?

DR: No. I wasn't asked. If you read all the books and the things —

GS: Why weren't you asked? That's very puzzling to me.

DR: I'm sure the President understood what my views were, but as a technical matter, did he ever look and say, What should we do? Should we go do this or not do that? This is something the President thought through very carefully.

GS: Are you trying to distance yourself from the war?

DR: Of course not. I agreed completely with the decision to go to war, and have said that a hundred times. [...]

GS: But would you have been for an invasion if we had known that?

DR: Probably yes. Our planes were being shot at every day, every week in the no-fly zones. Here was a man [Saddam] who was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide killers [in Israel], murderers. Zarqawi was in that country during that period [2002, 2003]. He's a person who had used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors, had invaded Kuwait [all 15+ years ago]. The world will be vastly better off with Saddam Hussein gone, and with a democratic system in that country. ... I think the rehashing and suggesting that there was anything manipulative about the intelligence is really a great disservice to the country.

GS: Let me turn now to the issue of torture and whether or not the United States has condoned torture.

DR: We haven't. It isn't any question as to whether we have or not, we haven't.

GS: Okay. That's good to hear, first of all.

DR: The President said there will be humane treatment of prisoners. All the instructions I issued required humane treatment. Anything that was done that was not humane has been prosecuted.

GS: Yet Senator John McCain (R–AZ) has added an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would make it clear that the United States does not condone torture and goes on to say, "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." This passed 90–9 in the Senate.

DR: The President has said that.

GS: But he has threatened to veto the bill over this provision. Why?

DR: I'm not sure you're correct.

GS: I'm pretty sure I'm correct, and there's been lots of negotiations going on. ... You're not involved in those negotiations?

DR: Not really. We are supporting the White House in what they're doing. We're the ones who have the Field Manual and have been issuing that, as soon as it's appropriate, but the history of the United States military is clear: torture doesn't work. The military knows that. We want our people treated humanely. We have required that our folks treat people humanely. The photographs that came out of the night shift at Abu Ghraib, the implication that that is a pattern or a standard or permitted in some way is just false and wrong and harmful to the country. It's most unfortunate. It leaves the totally inaccurate impression that that is something that was permitted. Those people have been prosecuted and put in jail.
First of all, yes, Secretary Rumsfeld, the President really did threaten to veto the defense appropriations bill if it included Senator McCain's amendment. Specifically, White House spokesman Scott McClellan warned on 2005-10-06: "We have put out a Statement of Administration Policy saying that his advisers would recommend that he vetoes it if it contains such language." The administration's stance hasn't changed much since then.

Secretary Rumsfeld closes with this exhortation to the American people: "The task is to constantly move our bureaucracies and our government and our thinking and the media's thinking and the public's thinking to understand that we're in a global war on terror. We're up against people who are determined to re-establish a caliphate in this world, who are determined to go out and kill innocent men, women, and children, and they're doing it almost every single day. They're raising money to do it, they're recruiting people to do it, and it's going to take a concerted effort for a sustained period of time, for free people to fully understand the nature of that threat and to fully deal with the nature of that threat."

But even Secretary Rumsfeld has said that we may be, in effect, recruiting new terrorists faster than we can kill them off. I would add that we may be spurring the inflow of money faster than we can choke it off. Neither of those is an element of any sane long-range strategy to stop terrorism. We don't stop terrorism by showing people who are "determined to go out and kill innocent men, women, and children" that we can be more brutal and more deadly and above all more determined than they are. We're never going to out-badass the terrorists, but we can outsmart them.

I want to close, though, by returning to a subtle point hidden in one of the Rumsfeld quotes I showed above. Donald Rumsfeld said, and reaffirmed when George Stephanopoulos expressed surprise, that the President of the United States did not even ask his own Secretary of Defense whether or not he should invade a sovereign nation. By extension, he therefore did not ask his Cabinet.

What sort of irresponsible, incompetent, dangerous idiot would take the United States of America to war without even asking his Cabinet?

In the roundtable segment, Fareed Zakaria picked up on a bit of that theme, pointing out that it isn't just a PR problem:
There's a real substantive policy issue: who is running the Iraq war? It's not clear. Rumsfeld was a potted plant on this show: he says he had nothing to do with troop levels, he didn't actually advocate the invasion, he doesn't have anything to do with the negotiations about the torture bill, so he's not doing it. Secretary of State Condi Rice —
I would add to that, if the Secretary of Defense isn't running the war, if the Cabinet isn't running the war, does anyone believe that George W. Bush is running it? Does anyone believe that George W. Bush is capable of making that sort of policy decision, on an ongoing basis for over two years, without even asking his own Secretary of Defense?

I would say that not only is it not clear who is running the Iraq war, it is not clear that anyone in the civilian government is running the Iraq war.