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In Praise of Donald Rumsfeld
Last uploaded : Wednesday 20th Feb 2008 at 01:06
Contributed by : Srillatha Venkatesh


I do not know how you feel regarding the recent goings-on with John McCain getting the nomination and his incessant harping and vitriol of Rummy. It does not sit well with me (and that is a severe understatement). McCain wants to get all the glory for anything good and blame Rummy for anything which did not go well.

I am presenting a point of view which I would like you to read and comment. I sent it out to Mark Levin and Hugh Hewitt over the weekend. I want to see if this will gain traction, but I don't know if anyone will even see it.

I want to point out that the seeds for the current good fortune in Iraq and the decline in violence actually began on Rummy's watch. Only one could not see it clearly at the time and it has become more apparent only with hind-sight. I am forwarding you both my email. Please feel free to comment.


Violence in Iraq is down and that is good news. But what are the reasons for it?

I am a devoted fan of Sec. Rumsfeld and remain in awe of his intellect, brilliance and enormous leadership abilities. I rightfully consider him to be one of America's greatest heroes. His exemplary behavior on 9/11 and conduct during Afghanistan and Iraqi operations was tremendously inspiring. Indeed his actions and resolve in the 3+ years after the fall of Saddam Hussein has also been very revealing of his character, his mettle, his judgement and yes, his wisdom.

The violence in Iraq has ebbed and flowed over the years. In 2003, US was basically on a liberation footing (and not one of occupation). Had the violence not persisted, Sec Rumsfeld would have pulled out most US troops out of Iraq. 2004 saw a rise in bombs and explosions. 2005 was a year of hope and cheer with the Iraqi elections.

2006 showed an escalation in violence. After the bombing of the mosque in Samarra in February 2006, over the months that followed, different parts of Iraq seemed to get engulfed in sectarian battles and people were pushed out of their homes. The situation worsened.

Sec Rumsfeld has been well aware of all the difficulties. He has also kept in mind the end goal .. that of leaving behind an Iraq where the Iraqi people take charge of their security and their governance. He has always seen the task of the US as strengthening the Iraqi people to look after themselves. He has not seen the task of the US as sitting in Iraq to look after the Iraqi people and essentially govern their country.

He has also not wanted to increase the footprint more than necessary, as this would increase the number of targets for the insurgency. He did not want the Iraqis to become dependant on US forces. All of his goals are highly commendable.

Regarding the insurgency, Sec Rumsfeld has always believed that the Iraqis were in the best position to fight it, since they were locals, know the culture and the language, knew who the enemy were (something which was not clear to the US forces and who could not always distinguish friend from foe). Sec Rumsfeld has also looked at other insurgencies and knew these could last years (He once mentioned insurgencies could go on 5, 10, 12, 13 years). Knowing that the american people would not support a US operation on this scale for this long, he set about the task of training an Iraqi force which could deal with the insurgency by itself.

In November 2006, Sec Rumsfeld stepped down and I see this as one of the biggest tragedies of the Iraq war. I also blame Pres Bush for scapegoating a man who has always stood upfront and taken the bullets for month after month after month, from the media, from democrats and erstwhile republicans like Sen McCain. Indeed, he has silently taken the bullets even for mistakes not from his department, but for actions taken by the President and the national security council, some of whom remain in office today. More than a year after retiring to private life, Sec Rumsfeld has not spoken up as he wanted to give, as he put it, a decent interval from a predecessor. Sec Rumsfeld is one of the most loyal, dedicated and brilliant men to have served in government.

Pres Bush then instituted a '"surge" of American forces in a last-ditch effort to halt violence in 2007. He announced it in January and the first batch went in, in february. He brought in a new general, Gen Petraeus who had authored the counter-insurgency manual and made him the new face of the Iraq war in an effort to improve his credibility.

Then followed a period of bloody months in Iraq, US casualties soared. All this time, the president insisted that the full flow of forces had not even taken effect. Shortly after the forces were in effect, the casualties declined and the violence seemed to ebb. Of course, this ebb could be temporary and might well go up again.

Was the drop in violence due to the increase in forces and the change in strategy?
Pres Bush took political heat from the democrats for this decision and he would sure like to think so. He has a vested interest in defending it The republicans in congress backed this strategy and have a vested interest in making this case. The democrats wanted to start withdrawing troops and are basically silent today. In other words, not too many people want to delve more closely into the reasons for the decline in violence, at least not publicly.

Something happened in Iraq a few short months before the surge was thought of. A seminal event. There was a sunni rebellion against Al-Qaida in Anbar province, a place which has seen a lot of US casualties over the years. The sunni insurgency essentially split into two, one group came up to the US and requested assistance in fighting the other group. The latter group being AQI and related affiliates. This happened in september 2006 when Gen Casey was in office. Indeed, when Sec Rumsfeld was in office. This rebellion took place as the sunnis got disenfranchised with AQI and no longer wanted to provide it safe haven and wanted to run AQI out of town.

The sectarian cleaning in Iraq essentially came down by the end of Jan 2007 itself. The sunni rebellion spread to other parts of Iraq over the next few months. All this was happening as the new general was putting in place his new strategy.

Would the surge has succeeded without this rebellion? Hard to say. Certainly this was not tested. If the rebellion had not occured, we could today be seeing a huge increase in US casualties with the surge.

Would the violence have receded without the surge, simply because the conditions on the ground had changed so dramatically? i.e. Would just stay-the-course have worked? Would Sec Rumsfeld's strategy have worked? In all possibility it would have done so. When your enemies stop fighting you but split up and fight amongst themselves, you have the greatest chance of success. This, in essence, is what did happen. The other problem with the Mahdi army also got resolved in a political manner, when Sadr called for a unilateral cease-fire so he could control the movement.

Last but not the least, the surge has placed tremendous strain on the army (witness Gen Casey's statements). This truly was a last ditch effort, as there are simply no more troops. Is this last-ditch effort something Sec Rumsfeld should have employed in 2004, when Sen McCain claims it should have been done? What would we have had to show for it? The security situation at that time was much better than early 2007. The surge is scheduled to end in July just to alleviate the strain on the troops.

The decline in violence has been caused by the sunni rebellion that started on Sec Rumsfeld's watch. Would Sen McCain call that a failed strategy?

I am aghast that there is no one prepared to defend this great man. Sen McCain is shaping the narrative and this will be taken up by the GOP. Will Pres Bush now explicitly target Sec Rumsfeld as well and blame him, to extend a hand to Sen McCain? Would he trample on his loyal soldier? I am sad to say that I would not be surprised.

Thanks for reading. I would appreciate any feedback.

Best Regards,
A Rumsfeld Admirer


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