In Defense of Rummy

A reader remonstrates:

You've been hammering away at Rumsfeld for quite a while now, and I completely agree with you that he is awful and should have been fired 2 years ago. However, when you write that:

"the evidence is simply overwhelming that this (in my view) noble, important and necessary war was ruined almost single-handedly by one arrogant, overweening de facto saboteur. That man is Donald Rumsfeld. It's actually hard to fathom how one single man could have done so much irreparable damage to his country's cause and standing; and how no one was able to stop him."

I think you go too far - the problem isn't only Rumsfeld, but the war itself.  Pinning all the blame on one person is simply a way for people who supported the invasion from the beginning to get themselves off the hook for not anticipating the wars failures.  I haven't read "Cobra II," but I have read George Packer's "The Assassin's Gate," which clearly describes how incredibly broken Iraqi civil society was at the time of the invasion.

Sure, if someone competent had been running the Pentagon, the Iraqi Army might not have been dissolved, the initial looting might have been prevented, etc..  But this would not have resolved the problematic fact that Iraq was an extremely troubled society--that the psychic wounds of Saddam's dictatorship had poisoned the populace in untold ways.

We can blame the captain of the Titanic for many things, but we cannot blame him for the iceberg.

Some good points. Iraq was always going to be extremely tough. We under-estimated the appalling damage Saddam had already wrought on Iraqi civil society (which makes removing him even more morally defensible). However brilliantly we conducted the war and occupation, the deep ethnic divisions would have emerged, and the psychic wounds of the past revived. A patient in a fever doesn't always mean he's nearing death; it may even be a symptom of recovery. (I might add that Rummy is someone I have known personally for years, and always liked immensely. But such personal attachments have to be set aside in assessing national policy.)

But what I cannot forgive, as Cobra II elaborates, is how many mistakes were predicted by the military, and many alternatives to failure offered, only to be continuously, almost pathologically, rejected out of hand by Rumsfeld. On the question of troop levels, Rumsfeld was criminally reckless, as he was in arrogantly dismissing the rioting and looting and terror such inadequate policing unleashed. He was warned; he had plenty of opportunities to reverse course; but his own fanatical attachment to his own transformational theories overwhelmed all reason, all empirical evidence, all advice from the ground, and so many in the CIA, State Department and military. To persist in deliberate error out of pride and zeal, as he has done, is to prefer dogma to reality. When lives are at stake, and the whole future of democracy in the Middle East, that's unforgivable. But for me at least, Rumsfeld's deep involvement in the new military detention policies supercedes everything else. He has not just failed; he has dishonored his country's reputation. He has offered to resign twice. What more does Bush need?