Sidney Blumenthal / The Guardian (UK) – 2004-05-14 09:17:31
(May 13, 2004) — Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, told George Bush in February about torture at Abu Ghraib prison. From the limited detail Rumsfeld recalled of that meeting, it can be deduced that Bush gave no orders, insisted on no responsibility, did not ask to see the already commissioned Taguba report. If there are exculpatory facts, Rumsfeld has failed to mention them.
For decades, Rumsfeld has had a reputation as a great white shark of the bureaucratic seas: sleek, fast-moving and voracious. As counsellor to Richard Nixon during the impeachment crisis, his deputy was the young Dick Cheney, and together they helped to right the ship of state under Gerald Ford.
Here they were given a misleading gloss as moderates; competence at handling power was confused with pragmatism. Cheney became the most hardline of congressmen, and Rumsfeld informed acquaintances that he was always more conservative than they imagined.
More Ruthless than Nixon
One lesson they seem to have learned from the Nixon debacle was ruthlessness. His collapse confirmed in them a belief in the imperial presidency based on executive secrecy. One gets the impression that, unlike Nixon, they would have burned the White House tapes.
Under Bush, the team of Cheney and Rumsfeld spread across the top rungs of government, drawing staff from the neoconservative cabal and infusing their rightwing temperaments with ideological imperatives. The unvarnished will to power took on a veneer of ideas and idealism. Iraq was not a case of vengeance or power, but the cause of democracy and human rights.
The fate of the neoconservative project depends on Rumsfeld’s job. If he were to go, so would his deputy, the neoconservative Robespierre, Paul Wolfowitz. Also threatened would be the cadres who stovepiped the disinformation that neoconservative darling Ahmed Chalabi used to manipulate public opinion before the war. In his Senate testimony last week, Rumsfeld explained that the government asking the press not to report Abu Ghraib “is not against our principles. It is not suppression of the news.” War is peace.
A Playpen of Pornographic Torture
Six National Guard soldiers from a West Virginia unit who treated Abu Ghraib as a playpen of pornographic torture have been designated as scapegoats. Will the show trials of these working-class antiheroes put an end to any inquiries about the chain of command?
In an extraordinary editorial, the Army Times, which had not previously ventured into such controversy, declared that “the folks in the Pentagon are talking about the wrong morons … This was not just a failure of leadership at the local command level. This was a failure that ran straight to the top. Accountabilty here is essential – even if that means relieving leaders from duty in a time of war.”
Rationale for Iraq War Was ‘Phoney’
William Odom, a retired general and former member of the National Security Council who is now at the Hudson Institute, a conservative thinktank, reflects a wide swath of opinion in the upper ranks of the military. “It was never in our interest to go into Iraq,” he told me. It is a “diversion” from the war on terrorism; the rationale for the Iraq war (finding WMD) is “phoney”; the US army is overstretched and being driven “into the ground”; and the prospect of building a democracy is “zero”.
In Iraqi politics, he says, “legitimacy is going to be tied to expelling us. Wisdom in military affairs dictates withdrawal in this situation. We can’t afford to fail, that’s mindless. The issue is how we stop failing more. I am arguing a strategic decision.”
‘Support Our Troops, Impeach Rumsfeld’
One high-level military strategist told me that Rumsfeld is “detested”, and that “if there’s a sentiment in the army it is: Support Our Troops, Impeach Rumsfeld”.
The Council on Foreign Relations has been showing old movies with renewed relevance to its members. The Battle of Algiers, depicting the nature and costs of a struggle with terrorism, is the latest feature. The seething in the military against Bush and Rumsfeld might prompt a showing of Seven Days in May, about a coup staged by a rightwing general against a weak liberal president, an artifact of the conservative hatred directed at President Kennedy in the early 60s.
In 1992, General Colin Powell, chairman of the joint chiefs, awarded the prize for his strategy essay competition at the National Defence University to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dunlap for The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012. His cautionary tale imagined an incapable civilian government creating a vacuum that drew a competent military into a coup disastrous for democracy.
The military, of course, is bound to uphold the Constitution. But Dunlap wrote: “The catastrophe that occurred on our watch took place because we failed to speak out against policies we knew were wrong. It’s too late for me to do any more. But it’s not for you.”
The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012 is today circulating among top US military strategists.
Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is Washington bureau chief of Salon.com