Skip to comments.Donald Rumsfeld on Obama: ‘I Begin with Incompetence as a Problem’
Posted on 10/04/2013 5:55:45 AM PDT by Sub-Driver
Donald Rumsfeld on Obama: I Begin with Incompetence as a Problem Talking to journalist David Samuels about his Kindle Singles interview with the former secretary of defense. Lee Smith October 4, 2013 7:31 AM
David Samuels deeply reported oddball narratives and profiles have appeared on the covers of Harpers, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and other magazines. Samuels has also contributed two long interviews for Amazons new Kindle Singles series: The first with Israeli President Simon Peres, and his most recent with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (available here, and Rumsfeld has also just published a new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life). Recently, I spoke with Samuels to find out what sort of insights this longtime American policymaker had into U.S. foreign policy, past and present.
Why did you want to speak to Donald Rumsfeld, or more specifically, why now and about what?
One reason is that I wanted to do a sort of autopsy on the Bush administrations war on terror, I wanted to see how those decisions made more than a decade ago have continued to shape American domestic politics and foreign policy even under Obama. My sense is that Bush pursued the Harvard business school model as an executive, insofar as the classic move any CEO would make taking on a bigger job would be to find the most experienced people he could and give them vertical areas of responsibility.
The problem was that each of the principals Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and the Bush-Rice tandem -- all wound up pulling in different directions. As Rumsfeld put it in our interview, Sometime choosing A over B is preferable when A+B doesnt make sense.
When I asked him how disputes between policymakers were resolved, he shrugged and said he really had no idea. He said there were actually very few meetings in which policy was openly debated between the principals. Instead, everyones opinions went into what he described as a a black box namely, the White House, where decisions were made by some unseen combination of Bush and Rice, and were often relayed by Rice, who clearly spoke for the President.
Rumsfeld struck me as the most interesting of those people to talk to right now because he is not speaking for a large section of the Republican party, as Cheney is, nor at the age of 81 does he imagine he has a political future. Hes got a well-earned reputation for blunt talk, and he has been held accountable for some very major failures, like force levels in Iraq and of course Abu Ghraib not all of which were his fault. And he is also obviously very smart. So I thought he would make for an interesting interview about whether the war on terror has been a success, where it is going and how he himself experienced the decision-making process in the Bush White House.
Now, I profiled Condoleezza Rice for the Atlantic when she was secretary of state, and I think you could make a fascinating movie or stage play about the relationship between Rice and Bush. Im hardly suggesting anything untoward -- just pointing out that two people of the same age and experience both felt themselves to a similar degree to be outsiders and found each others company useful and formed a very strong bond. No one besides the two of them knows how that happened, and what the content of that emotional relationship was, or what they talked about, and how it shaped policy. And neither one of them is talking about anything besides football.
By contrast, you can certainly see Dick Cheney on Fox opining about current events. But as a former vice president, he seems to feel that he has a responsibility to keep the confidences of the president largely to himself. Colin Powell seems not to feel the same sense of obligation. For the Rice profile, I also got to spend a little time with Powell and while Im not saying he polishes a shiny statue of Colin Powell that he keeps by his bedside every morning, he has jealously guarded his good name, sometimes at the expense of the men he served with an experience that he seems to feel besmirched by. So he is not necessarily the most interesting or reliable source about what actually happened, either.
Besides which, who doesnt want to hear Donald Rumsfeld trying to restrain himself as he talks about what it is was like to travel with Henry Kissinger to China, or what Richard Nixon was like as a boss?
This wasnt the first time youve taken Rumsfeld as your subject.
No, as with many people, my sense of Rumsfeld is largely tied to 9/11. I grew up in New York, I live here now, and I had spent a bunch of time in the Middle East, so with 9/11, I felt these two realities come crashing together. I wanted to understand how the U.S. government was going to respond, and the only real notes of clarity I could hear were in Donald Rumsfelds press briefings at the Pentagon. His manner was commanding and clear and had a slightly obnoxious Rat Pack-type edge. I think it was the last time that Americans saw a public official acting as an adult dealing on a regular basis with an experienced and well-informed press corps. This was sparring between intelligent people, which showed in the sharpness of the questions and in the sharpness of Rumsfelds retorts.
I had to see this for myself, partly as a reporter and partly for my psychological well-being, so I went down to Washington, for maybe 3 weeks, and attended maybe 5 or 6 of his briefings at the Pentagon. I then wrote a piece for Harpers that focused on one particular briefing, in which Rumsfeld explained to the press corps the nature of conflict, which he said in its scope, intensity and duration would be analogous to the Cold War. As someone who was secretary of defense during the heart of the Cold War, this was obviously something he had thought through. This statement led the nightly news in Germany, but no American news outlet picked it up. This struck me as dangerouswe were warned that this is what policymakers had in mind. If the popular meme became that the president lied us into war, like with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that led us into Vietnam, the reality is that I saw an outspoken cabinet official who was quite specific and blunt in his description of what was coming.
And yet Rumsfeld says in your interview that unlike the Cold War, the administration didnt have a very clear idea of the intellectual underpinnings of the war. The White House, he says, was very nervous about even talking about religion, for fear of being seen as being against a particular religion. And yet if you dont pin the tail on the donkey and say that the enemy is radical Islam and Islamism and people who go out and kill innocent men, women and children to try to impose their views on others, and who are fundamentally opposed to the nation-statewe werent willing to say that. I was. But as an administration we werent. So why didnt the administrations strategy match Rumsfelds clarity?
I think the process that Rumsfeld described of decision-making by a camarilla, meaning by the President and a tight inner circle of trusted aides, while the heads of major departments like State and Defense are largely kept in the dark has clearly persisted through the Obama administration. The policy results in both cases seem to be only half-baked.
What I think America wound up with policy-wise in Iraq was something like the Doctor Dolittle animal, the Pushmi-pullyu. There was Rumsfelds slimmed down, modernized strike force, which would sweep into Baghdad and decapitate Saddams regime, which fit with Cheneys inclination to replace Saddam with someone ostensibly friendly to the US and then get out. But the post-invasion policy was actually the opposite of that namely, the Bush-Rice construct that became known as the Freedom Agenda, and which foresaw a longer-term military occupation that would provide the stability necessary to turn Iraq into a model democracy that the rest of the Arab Middle East would want to emulate. Powells emphasis was on putting more troops on the ground, and having more cooks in the mix in the form of regional governments. So you had something with the head of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the body of a cow that didnt give any milk.
If you look at Iraq today, the result is a mess of a country that cost America at least $2 trillion, and is currently governed by a pro-Iranian leader who has granted himself nearly dictatorial powers. Meanwhile, the Kurds have established what amounts to an independent country of their own in the north, massive car bombs go off in Baghdad every week, and no one in the Middle East looks at Iraq as a model of anything except of how American good intentions can lead to ruin.
You have a very nice story from Rumsfeld about Clinton coming up to him at the World War II Memorial after Abu Ghraib when he says Don, there's no way in God's green earth that anyone with an ounce of sense could think you could know anything that was going on in Abu Ghraib halfway around the world on the midnight shift. You'll get through this, don't worry about it. Rumsfeld is really impressed by ClintonTrue, gracious, political, and brilliant, he saysbut much less so by Obama.
I think Rumsfeld was personally and publicly shamed by Abu Ghraib in a way that still haunts him, which is why he says such nice things about Bill Clinton.
On the other hand, I think he honestly believes that Obama is incompetent, when it comes to geopolitics and also to making decisions that affect the American economy. I begin with incompetence as a problem, he told me in the interview. I think his behavior reflects a lack of experience and a lack of a strategic concept, or some principles or values that he tests things against. Accordingly, says Rumsfeld, We are contributing to a vacuum in the world thats going to be filled by people who dont have our values and dont have our interests and our beliefs, and that means its going to be a more dangerous world for us and for others.
What seems to bother Rumsfeld most is his sense that America is a country in steep decline which is a word that he used more than once. While he thinks that Obamas Syria policy is a fig leaf for a disaster, he actually seemed less focused on specific policy choices than on his sense that the socio-economic foundation of American power is disintegrating. Without sustained American economic strength, neither American threats nor American offers of friendship are likely to carry much weight with the rest of the world.
How much Rumsfelds own policy choices, and the wars he helped to oversee, have contributed to that decline, is hard to quantify right now but its also hard to argue that they helped. On the other hand, I think the country is definitely ripe for an argument about whether America wants to sustain its role as the worlds pre-eminent military and economic power, and what the alternatives will actually look like.
Personally, I really miss Secretary Rumsfeld.
“I also got to spend a little time with Powell and while Im not saying he polishes a shiny statue of Colin Powell that he keeps by his bedside every morning, he has jealously guarded his good name”
He was also remarkably candid regarding his children's drug abuse.
Rummy was the best
The W in GWB is WIMP
Obama is an extremely competent destroyer of America and divider of the country. He is single-handedly destroying the nation's economy, killing the entrepreneurial spirits of small business owners, destroying the dreams of young and old citizens for an independent future, fanning racial strife to never- before-experienced highs, causing inner city violent to skyrocket, forcing kids to attend failing schools wherein they lose any semblance of civility, reducing the military to something akin to the Keystone Kops...
I could go on, and on, and on...but you know the story.
He seems intent on destroying American culture and replacing it with something like that of Mogadishu.
Leftest denial is much worse than I could have imagined.
Abu Ghraib - panties on heads = shame for Bush Admin?
Benghazi - Americans abandoned by obama admin to die while the cretins all sat and watched in real time = what difference does it make!
There it is! Obummer knows exactly what he’s doing.
No. He is a distraction while the CZARS do their intended behind the scenes. More powerful forces are pulling the strings.
Yep. Obama is just a Shill. He’s working for The Grifters.
I love Rumsfeld and miss having him on the scene.
If only Reagan had picked Rummy for VP.
Rummy I think you can end it with incompetence also. :-)
Actually Obama is incompetent and was the perfect choice by the globalists to preside over Americas downfall.
1. As a black, he is untouchable.
2. As a Marxist he has the ideology down
3. As an Islamist he has the ideology down
4. His past has been erased from history.
5. He is a thug.
6. He is a functional idiot.
Just letting Obama be Obama is enough. He has 22 Marxist czars who look after the country and direct policy. Valerie Jarrett is his baby sitter. Joe Biden is there to make Obama look like the smartest person in the room. And the media is there to clean up his mess and flush it down the memory hole.
Obama is the perfect Manchurian candidate.
Thank you...for later.