Lunch with Donald Rumsfeld

posted at 1:40 pm on February 10, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

I got away from CPAC for a little while this afternoon to have lunch with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  The surprisingly soft-spoken former Pentagon chief spoke on and off the record on politics, war, domestic politics, and more with a dozen members of the New Media in town for the convention.   The lunch was part of his promotion for his memoir, Known and Unknown.

Rumsfeld agreed that the democratization argument was not the main rationale behind the Iraq War, as Douglas Feith wrote.  On troop levels, Philip Klein asked Rumsfeld to walk us through his thinking on them.  Rumsfeld told us about how the war plan was a collaborative effort at the Pentagon on a complex plan, with “off ramps” to keep additional troops out if not needed.  Tommy Franks decided that additional troops weren’t necessary, which is why they didn’t get used earlier in the war.  By 2006, the US had a “relatively large” Iraqi security force for additional support.  Also in 2006, the Anbar Awakening began to gain momentum, while the Iraqi government began maturing and Moqtada al-Sadr decided to fade from the scene.

“The surge was the right thing to do at the right time,” Rumsfeld said, giving Bush “a whale of a lot of credit” for pulling the trigger on it.  “He galvanized opinion in Iraq” as well as in the US, Rumsfeld says, which was important to bolster the new Iraqi government and the connections between the US and Iraqi forces.  The intelligence hadn’t indicated that a broad-based insurgency would take place, and by 2006 it became clear that the US needed to recast its strategy.

On McCain, Rumsfeld said, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”  McCain “got it into his mind” that troop levels had been the problem the entire time, and never let it go.

Rumsfeld wrote in his book that in retrospect, he should have left the Bush administration after Abu Ghraib to keep from being a lightning rod for antiwar sentiment.  “I believe in accountability,” Rumsfeld said, but declined to criticize his former boss for refusing his two resignations.  The Army had announced the “perverted” behavior weeks before it became a media storm, but says that those responsible were already being prosecuted and disciplined.  When asked whether he would have accepted the resignation if Rumsfeld had been President, he first said “yes,” and then said, “How would I know?  I wasn’t President … I wasn’t in his shoes.”

Rumsfeld says “I would stack Guantanamo Bay against any facility in the world — it is one of the best prisons anywhere.”  He expressed his astonishment over the “mythology” that has erupted in the US over Gitmo.  No one was waterboarded at Gitmo, Rumsfeld pointed out, nor by the military at all — and only three people were ever waterboarded by the CIA, none at Gitmo.  Both Obama and McCain ran against Gitmo and indefinite detention, but both are still around — and that’s no accident.  Gitmo fills a specific need better than anything else proposed.

There are “significant differences” in how we’re approaching Egypt, but that we may be making the same mistake of raising expectations to unrealistic levels as we have made in the past.  “People expect that we can create a modern, liberal democracy in Afghanistan,” Rumsfeld explains, but that ignores the realities of a landlocked country with a history and culture of its own.  “A liberated people have been given a chance” to install a representative government that fits with their own culture, but we have a limited ability to impose any lasting outcomes otherwise.

What does the military look like in 20-25 years?  “The Iron Triangle — the permanent bureaucracy in this town” — make change difficult, Rumsfeld says.  “Today we have massively increased our special forces,” and that doesn’t make the Army especially happy.  The change Rumsfeld pushed to make to transform the ground-forces military into smaller, lighter, more rapid forces had made the US “modular,” as their support now is embedded at the brigade level rather than divisional level.  We could not fight the war we have now if that change had not been made.

“Weakness is provocative,” Rumsfeld told us, and attempting to cut defense to address the deficit is a fool’s errand.  First, the mathematics show it’s not the Pentagon that’s driving the deficits, it’s entitlements.  Secondly, cuts today mean regrets tomorrow — and spending to catch up, as the US was forced to do in the 1980s and in the early 2000s.

I asked Rumseld whether we had reversed the lesson we taught the world in the 1980s and 1990s that America would not effectively fight terrorism with the years-long efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Rumsfeld thought about that and said, “Time will tell,” but that he thinks it has been a “wake-up call” to the Arab world.  Non-state actors want to damage the nation-state concept, helped in no small part by the efforts to miseducate Arab citizens on the nature of the West.  The lessons of earlier times have been reversed, but are the new lessons durable?  Given the current administration’s reluctance on pursuing those wars, Rumsfeld didn’t sound optimistic.

Personally, I enjoyed the interaction with Rumsfeld, who was open and friendly with the group.  He seemed to enjoy it as much as we did, and the 90 minutes spent with him may wind up being some of the best-spent time at CPAC.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Awesome Ed, I am totally jealous! One of the few people I would love to meet.

upinak on February 10, 2011 at 1:45 PM

A man’s man. Don Rumsfeld’s career is the American dream. I am about 1/3 of the way through his book and it’s damn good.

I will always remember seeing him carry away the wounded on a stretcher at the Pentagon on 9/11.

Great American man.

jake-the-goose on February 10, 2011 at 1:47 PM

He is a real man, one of the few left, at that level.

Schadenfreude on February 10, 2011 at 1:48 PM

Also, Franks was expecting the Army’s 3rd ID to be used either out of Turkey at the start of the war or out of the Persian Gulf as reinforcements if Turkey didn’t let them in. When Turkey didn’t let then in (and Bagdad fell before the division could be repositioned), Rumsfeld reneged on his agreement with Franks and insisted that troops be pulled out before the 3rd ID was allowed to participate.

blink on February 10, 2011 at 1:48 PM

And Colin Powell didn’t firm up that commitment from Turkey ahead of time. Waiting until the last minute ended up with Turkey vetoing the 3d ID.

Wethal on February 10, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Wow. Just wow.

Did he demonstrate any Rum-fu?

cthulhu on February 10, 2011 at 1:54 PM

Excellent job, Cap’n.

AH_C on February 10, 2011 at 2:01 PM

Arrest the war criminal!
/Code Pink

steebo77 on February 10, 2011 at 2:06 PM

remember how much the left/media/hollywood complex mocked the known/unknown stuff?

in Pysch there something called the Johari Window

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johari_window

which systematizes this. The lefty mind-numbed drones leaped onto the story per instructions. If Obama had said something like that they would have said he is the most profoundly guru-type president we’ve ever had.

r keller on February 10, 2011 at 2:14 PM

He was a truly awful defense secretary and almost single handily destroyed the Bush administration.

therightwinger on February 10, 2011 at 2:22 PM

He was a truly awful defense secretary and almost single handily destroyed the Bush administration.

therightwinger on February 10, 2011 at 2:22 PM

Wow!!11!! how-so? Especially since there were more than a handful that had the ear of POTUS.

AH_C on February 10, 2011 at 2:38 PM

He was a truly awful defense secretary and almost single handily destroyed the Bush administration.

therightwinger on February 10, 2011 at 2:22 PM

I disagree. Mistakes are always made in war and I think he minimized the number of mistakes. Someone with less experience could have resulted in a far, far worse situation. Just think if Powell had been SecDef. Much worse.

I think the events of Iraq had to play themselves out in order for us to end up where we are now. The Iraqi’s who originally supported the terrorist had to live under the extremist rule in order to come to the realization that US liberation was the way to go. If they had not been allowed to live with the bad, they would have never yearned for the good. In other words, if things had not played out the way they did, we would probably still be fighting and would not have had the progress we have had thus far.

It is always darkest before the dawn, but you have to let the darkness prevail so the sun can shine.

I am out of idioms, so I’ll stop with that. =)

ramrants on February 10, 2011 at 2:42 PM

He was a truly awful defense secretary and almost single handily destroyed the Bush administration.

therightwinger on February 10, 2011 at 2:22 PM

As I recall, the Bush administration lasted for the maximum of eight years and then McCain destroyed himself. Also, it wasn’t Rumsfeld who told Bush to abandon free market principles to save the free market. And I don’t think Rumsfeld told him to sit there and smile meekly while the left trashed him relentlessly.

SKYFOX on February 10, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Thanks for the lunch report, Ed.

myrenovations on February 10, 2011 at 2:55 PM

Guys, before you go too far down the road of 3rd Infantry and 4th Infantry Divisions, and who was sent where, let me offer a small correction.

The 3rd Infantry Division (Rock of the Marne) conducted the invasion of Iraq alongside the 1st Marine Division. The 4th Infantry Division was on the ships in the Mediterranean when the war began, and landed in Kuwait to relieve the 3rd ID. The reserve for the invasion was the 101st Air Assault Division.

You guys are talking about the 3rd ID being sent to Turkey. It was the 4th ID. Just a small technical correction.

You may now proceed with the remainder of the bloodletting……

Subsunk

Subsunk on February 10, 2011 at 3:00 PM

blink, Wethal, and SKYFOX restored the record having a memory of those details as events occurred, and not being star struck at the lunch date.

As loath as Rumsfeld is to have the post-9/11 Afghan and Iraqi wars compared to the Korean and Vietnamese interventionist war experiences, when the dust settles it will be interesting to draw comparisons between Rumsfeld and McNamara Secretaries of Defense.

maverick muse on February 10, 2011 at 3:22 PM

Ed!, You lucky SOB. I would love to sit down with Rummy for lunch to pick his History brain…..Hope you had a good meal with the great conversation…

hawkman on February 10, 2011 at 3:34 PM

He’s on my top 10 list of people I’d love to have lunch with. You lucky dog. I’m jealous to the bone.

TheBigOldDog on February 10, 2011 at 3:38 PM

Subsunk @ 3:00

Uncle Jimbo

Thanks for the 4th ID correction.

Enjoyed your link to Blackfive respecting videos from our troops.

I also visited your comments @ Big Peace, and wondered what response you might make to this criticism.

Bill Kristol is an imbecile.

Three thousand [approx] years ago the educated class of Athens could tell you that Democracy does not work.
Socrates and Plato knew that Democracy does not work.
The Romans, before the Empire, knew that Democracy does not work.
The English yeomen and nobles that forged the Magna Carta knew that Democracy does not work.
The American founding fathers knew that Democracy does not work. [Hence our representative republic]
The French revolutionaries found out that Democracy does not work. [Hence the "Emperor" Napoleon]
Karl Marx knew that Democracy does not work. [except as a first step towards socialism, in which case it works just fine]

Ergo: Bill Kristol is an imbecile.
Or perhaps he is just an unreconstructed Trotskyite talking out of both sides of his smirking mouth at the same time, knowing all along, just as Marx did, that Democracy is the perfect first step towards Communism.

maverick muse on February 10, 2011 at 4:03 PM

Rumsfeld agreed that the democratization argument was not the main rationale behind the Iraq War, as Douglas Feith wrote.

“People expect that we can create a modern, liberal democracy in Afghanistan,” Rumsfeld explains, but that ignores the realities of a landlocked country with a history and culture of its own. “A liberated people have been given a chance” to install a representative government that fits with their own culture, but we have a limited ability to impose any lasting outcomes otherwise.

No one else finds this a disturbing revision of the Rumsfeld/Bush neoconservative nation building war propaganda? Providing backwards peoples “democracy” is proven a false pretext, and/or a failure. So now the admission. Nation building wasn’t really the Rumsfeld/Bush main objective for invading and toppling the status quo for Afghans and Iraqis, and still perpetuating the never ending war. Evidently, al Qaeda wasn’t mentioned either, having also gone out of fashion to recall already as a “reason” for our wars.

maverick muse on February 10, 2011 at 4:19 PM

He was a truly awful defense secretary and almost single handily destroyed the Bush administration.

therightwinger on February 10, 2011 at 2:22 PM

Hi, Colin!

Del Dolemonte on February 10, 2011 at 4:42 PM

Donald Rumsfeld makes Colin Powell look like the traitor and pretend general he always has been. I’m glad he’s willing to expose him for the closet liberal he is. Powell has only ever been interested in covering his own a$$ for his own purposes.
.
Thanks for sharing Rumsfeld’s personal insight. He was a no-nonsense Defense Secretary who will go down as one of the very best…

stacman on February 10, 2011 at 5:31 PM

He was a truly awful defense secretary and almost single handily destroyed the Bush administration.

therightwinger on February 10, 2011 at 2:22 PM

I disagree. Mistakes are always made in war and I think he minimized the number of mistakes. Someone with less experience could have resulted in a far, far worse situation. Just think if Powell had been SecDef. Much worse.

I’m afraid your sarcasm will may fly over people’s heads. It’s clear that Powell’s strategy of overwhelming force lead to a much better military outcome in the previous Iraq war. Rumsfeld’s dream to prove his brilliant vision of conquering and controlling a large population with a small force almost lead to complete disaster. It’s a mistake on future general is likely to repeat.

If not for the Sunni backlash against al Qaeda, which changed the equation and the ground and allowed the ‘surge’ strategy to succeed, the war most certainly would have been lost. Up to that point in time, the general staff had reached a consensus that the US was losing the war. And the blame would have fallen squarely on the extraordinary incompetence of Rumsfeld’s wartime leadership, if you even dare to call it that.

bayam on February 10, 2011 at 5:44 PM

On McCain, Rumsfeld said, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” McCain “got it into his mind” that troop levels had been the problem the entire time, and never let it go.

This should have been obvious, but it’s amazing how many people miss it. The surge worked because of a change in strategy, and because Iraq had a thorough introduction to Al Quaeda, and wanted no more of it. The strategy change did require more troops, but not a lot more.

McCain has been claiming credit for the surge as if all Iraq ever needed was more troops.

tom on February 10, 2011 at 5:51 PM

This should have been obvious, but it’s amazing how many people miss it. The surge worked because of a change in strategy, and because Iraq had a thorough introduction to Al Quaeda, and wanted no more of it. The strategy change did require more troops, but not a lot more.

McCain has been claiming credit for the surge as if all Iraq ever needed was more troops.

tom on February 10, 2011 at 5:51 PM

I think you make a great point, but I don’t agree with your conclusion. Yes, the war did turn on the ‘surge’. This reality underscores the point that US wartime strategy up to then was a disastrous failure. The owner of that strategy was Rumsfeld.

bayam on February 10, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Heh, nice to see Rummy say pretty much what I said in the last thread.

Subsunk on February 10, 2011 at 3:00 PM

Beat me to it, but hey hey, 3rd ID, 4th ID, at least they had the ID right.

tom on February 10, 2011 at 5:51 PM

I agree, I wrote a longish comment on it in the last Rummy thread, may as well copy it here ad well:

You need to read Kimberly Strassels interview with Rumsfeld since he deals with that criticism. In effect, as I always thought, the problem wasn’t troop levels (seriously, going from 150k to 170k is what saved Iraq?) but the strategy being used on the ground. American forces were kept on massive fortified bases and only sent out to do quick patrols or take out major terrorist nests, the newly trained Iraqi forces were being sent out alone and melting away as green troops do at first contact, and the Sunnis weren’t being worked with.

The surge was first and foremost a change in tactics, American forces would be sent out in smaller numbers for permanent presence, the Iraqis would be sent out with American forces to provide support until they were experienced and confident enough to stand alone, and the Sunni leaders would be worked with. Incidentally, those were the two methods the army and marines fought over in the Vietnam War with the army taking the former approach.

As Rummy notes, the 13% more soldiers did provide a psycological boost as it was a clear indicator that we were in this to win, end of story. The key to the success of the surge however was already being laid before his departure. 20k more soldiers alone wouldn’t have been enough under the former strategy, as the army found out in Vietnam, nor would 50k more, or 100k, heck even Shenseki’s entirely unrealistic and unfeasable force of 300k would have seen the same result.

That being said, why didn’t Rummy change tactics? He talks about that in the interview as well, its what the army wanted. The army was worried about high casualties causing a loss of support on the home front so soldeirs were kept on fortified bases as long as possible as Generals Abizaid and Casey wanted. Why didn’t Rumsfeld get rid of them? Hard to do when the entire national security structure is supporting them.

In the end, the main problem with Iraq is outlined by Rumsfeld in the Strassel interview, Powell and state were interfering, Condi was incompetent at her main job, people in Iraq acted like viceroys not members of the Pentagon, and above it all Bush did little to sort it out for 5 3 years.

Made a mistake counting from 2001 not 2003.

jarodea on February 10, 2011 at 6:05 PM

bayam on February 10, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Wrong. Rumsfeld had a surprisingly small say in the strategy after major combat operations ended.

jarodea on February 10, 2011 at 6:08 PM

Missed your comment before that bayam, I find it funny you cast blame on Rummy while lauding the general staff when it was the generals who insisted on the failed strategy. Given your comments about Powell’s strategy also you don’t understand much about the situation or military strategy (Powrell’s overwheming force idea is one of the most idiotic and limited I’ve come across)

jarodea on February 10, 2011 at 6:12 PM

r keller on February 10, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Thanks for mentioning Johari Window. I know it from Organizational Development, but … same thing really. I got immediately what Rumsfeld was saying, typical oh-so-smart liberals starting making fun of him immediately, but that’s a venerable concept that has gone by many names. But they’re too smart to know that, of course.

YehuditTX on February 10, 2011 at 7:35 PM

No one else finds this a disturbing revision of the Rumsfeld/Bush neoconservative nation building war propaganda? Providing backwards peoples “democracy” is proven a false pretext, and/or a failure. So now the admission. Nation building wasn’t really the Rumsfeld/Bush main objective for invading and toppling the status quo for Afghans and Iraqis, and still perpetuating the never ending war. Evidently, al Qaeda wasn’t mentioned either, having also gone out of fashion to recall already as a “reason” for our wars.

Getting al Qaeda was a main reason without needing to be said

if you are going to attack al Qaeda and it’s accomplice Taliban you must obviously have to fill the vacuum left

the goal was to have countries that had peaceful governments where terrorists didn’t thrive

a worthy strategy I feel considering the environment

Iraq was more strategic since it’s oil wealth creates more chaos when used for nefarious goals

a fact not lost on al Qaeda thus their effort to secure just that

As for lefty critics, shut your pieholes

your party would have been arrested if it were 1941

the rank treachory was a sight to behold and a dark stain on our history

Sonosam on February 10, 2011 at 7:54 PM

That there are only thirty some comments on this thread is a damn shame. Rummy is a national treasure.

pugwriter on February 11, 2011 at 3:45 PM