Rumsfeld, Again

Donald Rumsfeld

By Jeffrey Page
Is there no escaping this man? As Donald Rumsfeld makes the rounds to plug his new book it is useful to remember that he treated 300 million Americans as so many idiot nephews and moron nieces, all with stupid questions about the war that he, the belabored secretary of defense (and kindly uncle), was put upon to answer.

He’ll likely be best remembered for his comment in 2002 on the report of Baghdad’s selling weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. It was obfuscation defined: “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

The translation, for people who, unlike Donald Rumsfeld, did not happen to have graduated from the Al Kelly Academy of Doubletalk: Mind your own god damned business and leave this war to the professionals, like me.

If President George W. Bush had had much in the way of integrity – or at least some genuine connection with the people of this country – he would have fired Rumsfeld on the spot. But Rumsfeld survived and his contempt for those who would question him continues with his titling his book “Known and Unknown.”

For me, Rumsfeld’s worst insult was to the people who actually fight the nation’s wars. It came during his visit to U.S. troops in Kuwait in 2004.

He took questions. All was going swimmingly until a member of the Tennessee National Guard asked why infantry troops had to scrounge through Iraqi landfills in search of discarded metal that they then fastened to their light vehicles to protect themselves from roadside bombs.

Why, Specialist Thomas Wilson asked, didn’t the trucks come with this protection already attached and ready for use? The troops, assembled for what should have been a benign photo-op for Rumsfeld, cheered and applauded Wilson.

Rumsfeld answered as though he were a battle weary, seen-it-all lieutenant colonel (though he bought himself a little time by asking for the question to be repeated) and proceeded to dismiss Wilson as some unsophisticated dimwit.

“You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have,” Rumsfeld lectured. And in an instant, America understood that the idiot in the room was not Specialist Wilson but Secretary Rumsfeld.

In fact, you’d go to war without the army you wish if the war involved enemy troops invading, say, Nyack or Hoboken or Newburgh. But if Rumsfeld was suggesting that he faced such a dangerous emergency in Iraq that he couldn’t wait for the proper protective shields to be shipped to the troops, how then could he ever explain the fact that it took him 18 months after 9/11 to get his military ready to fight in Iraq? He could not, of course.

Rumsfeld would not have sent troops into battle without ammunition, and he should not have sent them into battle with improperly equipped vehicles. Didn’t he read the casualty reports about his soldiers being killed and maimed by roadside bombs? Everyone else did.

But Rumsfeld supposedly was smarter than everyone else, so if the people of the United States, including those whose sons and daughters were fighting this war, didn’t get it, well, that was too bad.

Rumsfeld smart? He was dumb as a post.

Such as during the 18-month stroll-up to the war – it could hardly be called a run-up – when Rumsfeld declared: “I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks, or five months, but it won’t last any longer than that.”

That was about eight years ago.

Asked about troops being held over in the war zone after their tours of duty were up, Rumsfeld responded: “Oh come on, people are fungible. You can have them here or there.” He must have forgotten that “fungible” is associated with the easy replacement of goods, not people.

Once, noting mounting U.S. casualties, Rumsfeld had the gall to declare: “Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.”

I wonder if he ever mentioned that observation in his letters of condolence – the letters he signed not with his hand but with a mechanical device – to the fathers and mothers, the husbands and wives, and the kids of the soldiers killed in the futile search for Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld told us those weapons would be easy to find. Ten days before the first U.S. troops invaded Iraq he said, “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad.”

That was eight years ago, too.

Jeffrey can be reached at

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3 Responses to “Rumsfeld, Again”

  1. Tom Bisky Says:

    Jeff —

    I do recall that, at the time, “fungible” really struck me as odd — and completely condescending — when Rumsfeld used the word to describe human beings.

    I think the most telling fact about the entire eight-year Reign of Error of the self-proclaimed “War President” is that, ADDED TOGETHER, the following people’s experience in military uniform (much less in warfare) was, apparently, zero: Bush himself (who was either AWOL or an outright deserter, during his supposed Texas Guard service); Cheney (he of the famous five deferments); Wolfowitz; Perle; Feith; and, for that matter, Tenet, Freeh and Hadley. I believe Rumsfeld had a brief period in the military — but then, so did Jules Feiffer, who spent his free time drawing anti-military cartoons and writing something called MUNRO, about a four-year-old boy who gets drafted by mistake. (Feiffer is one of my cultural heroes.)

    Thanks for the usual thoughtful column,

  2. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Thanks Tom, The level of hypocrisy among the Chicken Hawks was breathtaking. Wasn’t it Cheney who said something to the effect that he had “other priorities” when it was time to come to terms with Selective Service?

  3. Emily Cannizzaro Says:

    WOW! You know, I don’t think there’s ever been…and save Sarah Palin getting elected in 2012…or ever will be such an incompetent, and dangerously foolish government as was the Bush (jr) administration.

    There were so many times that Rhea and I would, after seeing one of these newscasts with so much bullshit double-talk, look at each other and remark that my daughter (who was 4 when he took office and 12 when he left!) was smarter than the president of the United States!

    Hard to believe!


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