Donald Rumsfeld's Dance with the Nazis
By Frank Rich
The New York
Posted by Bulatlat
President Bush came
to Washington vowing to be a uniter, not a divider. Well, you win some and
you lose some. But there is one member of his administration who has not
broken that promise: Donald Rumsfeld. With indefatigable brio, he has long
since united Democrats, Republicans, generals and civilians alike in
calling for his scalp.
Last week the man who
gave us "stuff happens" and "you go to war with the Army you have" outdid
himself. In an instantly infamous address to the American Legion, he
likened critics of the Iraq debacle to those who "ridiculed or ignored"
the rise of the Nazis in the 1930's and tried to appease Hitler. Such
Americans, he said, suffer from a "moral or intellectual confusion" and
fail to recognize the "new type of fascism" represented by terrorists.
Presumably he was not only describing the usual array of "Defeatocrats"
but also the first President Bush, who had already been implicitly tarred
as an appeaser by Tony Snow last month for failing to knock out Saddam in
What made Mr.
Rumsfeld's speech noteworthy wasn't its toxic effort to impugn the
patriotism of administration critics by conflating dissent on Iraq with
cut-and-run surrender and incipient treason. That's old news. No, what
made Mr. Rumsfeld's performance special was the preview it offered of the
ambitious propaganda campaign planned between now and Election Day. An
on-the-ropes White House plans to stop at nothing when rewriting its
record of defeat (not to be confused with defeatism) in a war that has now
lasted longer than America's fight against the actual Nazis in World War
Here's how brazen Mr.
Rumsfeld was when he invoked Hitler's appeasers to score his cheap points:
Since Hitler was photographed warmly shaking Neville Chamberlain's hand at
Munich in 1938, the only image that comes close to matching it in epochal
obsequiousness is the December 1983 photograph of Mr. Rumsfeld himself in
Baghdad, warmly shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein in full fascist
regalia. Is the defense secretary so self-deluded that he thought no one
would remember a picture so easily Googled on the Web? Or worse, is he
just too shameless to care?
Mr. Rumsfeld didn't
go to Baghdad in 1983 to tour the museum. Then a private citizen, he had
been dispatched as an emissary by the Reagan administration, which sought
to align itself with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam was already a
notorious thug. Well before Mr. Rumsfeld's trip, Amnesty International had
reported the dictator's use of torture - "beating, burning, sexual abuse
and the infliction of electric shocks" - on hundreds of political
prisoners. Dozens more had been summarily executed or had "disappeared."
American intelligence agencies knew that Saddam had used chemical weapons
to gas both Iraqi Kurds and Iranians.
declassified State Department memos detailing Mr. Rumsfeld's Baghdad
meetings, the American visitor never raised the subject of these crimes
with his host. (Mr. Rumsfeld has since claimed otherwise, but that is not
supported by the documents, which can be viewed online at George
Washington University's National Security Archive.) Within a year of his
visit, the American mission was accomplished: Iraq and the United States
resumed diplomatic relations for the first time since Iraq had severed
them in 1967 in protest of American backing of Israel in the Six-Day War.
In his speech last
week, Mr. Rumsfeld paraphrased Winston Churchill: Appeasing tyrants is "a
bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last." He can quote
Churchill all he wants, but if he wants to self-righteously use that
argument to smear others, the record shows that Mr. Rumsfeld cozied up to
the crocodile of Baghdad as smarmily as anyone. To borrow the defense
secretary's own formulation, he suffers from moral confusion about Saddam.
Mr. Rumsfeld also
suffers from intellectual confusion about terrorism. He might not have
appeased Al Qaeda but he certainly enabled it. Like Chamberlain, he didn't
recognize the severity of the looming threat until it was too late. Had he
done so, maybe his boss would not have blown off intelligence about
imminent Qaeda attacks while on siesta in Crawford.
For further proof,
read the address Mr. Rumsfeld gave to Pentagon workers on Sept. 10, 2001 -
a policy manifesto he regarded as sufficiently important, James Bamford
reminds us in his book "A Pretext to War," that it was disseminated to the
press. "The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious
threat, to the security of the United States of America" is how the
defense secretary began. He then went on to explain that this adversary
"crushes new ideas" with "brutal consistency" and "disrupts the defense of
the United States." It is a foe "more subtle and implacable" than the
former Soviet Union, he continued, stronger and larger and "closer to
home" than "the last decrepit dictators of the world."
And who might this
ominous enemy be? Of that, Mr. Rumsfeld was as certain as he would later
be about troop strength in Iraq: "the Pentagon bureaucracy." In love with
the sound of his own voice, he blathered on for almost 4,000 words while
Mohamed Atta and the 18 other hijackers fanned out to American airports.
Three months later,
Mr. Rumsfeld would still be asleep at the switch, as his war command
refused to heed the urgent request by American officers on the ground for
the additional troops needed to capture Osama bin Laden when he was
cornered in Tora Bora. What would follow in Iraq was also more Chamberlain
than Churchill. By failing to secure and rebuild the country after the
invasion, he created a terrorist haven where none had been before.
That last story is
seeping out in ever more incriminating detail, thanks to well-sourced
chronicles like "Fiasco," "Cobra II" and "Blood Money," T. Christian
Miller's new account of the billions of dollars squandered and stolen in
Iraq reconstruction. Still, Americans have notoriously short memories. The
White House hopes that by Election Day it can induce amnesia about its
failures in the Middle East as deftly as Mr. Rumsfeld (with an assist from
John Mark Karr) helped upstage first-anniversary remembrances of Katrina.
One obstacle is that
White House allies, not just Democrats, are sounding the alarm about Iraq.
In recent weeks, prominent conservatives, some still war supporters and
some not, have steadily broached the dread word Vietnam: Chuck Hagel,
William F. Buckley Jr. and the columnists Rich Lowry and Max Boot. A
George Will column critical of the war so rattled the White House that it
had a flunky release a public 2,400-word response notable for its
If even some
conservatives are making accurate analogies between Vietnam and Iraq, one
way for the administration to drown them out is to step up false
historical analogies of its own, like Mr. Rumsfeld's. In the past the
administration has been big on comparisons between Iraq and the American
Revolution - the defense secretary once likened "the snows of Valley
Forge" to "the sandstorms of central Iraq" - but lately the White House
vogue has been for "Islamo-fascism," which it sees as another rhetorical
means to retrofit Iraq to the more salable template of World War II.
certainly sounds more impressive than such tired buzzwords as "Plan for
Victory" or "Stay the Course." And it serves as a handy substitute for "As
the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down." That slogan had to be retired
abruptly last month after The New York Times reported that violence in
Baghdad has statistically increased rather than decreased as American
troops handed over responsibilities to Iraqis. Yet the term "Islamo-fascists,"
like the bygone "evildoers," is less telling as a description of the enemy
than as a window into the administration's continued confusion about
exactly who the enemy is. As the writer Katha Pollitt asks in The Nation,
"Who are the 'Islamo-fascists' in Saudi Arabia - the current regime or its
Next up is the parade
of presidential speeches culminating in what The Washington Post describes
as "a whirlwind tour of the Sept. 11 attack sites": All Fascism All the
Time. In his opening salvo, delivered on Thursday to the same American
Legion convention that cheered Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush worked in the Nazis
and Communists and compared battles in Iraq to Omaha Beach and
Guadalcanal. He once more interchanged the terrorists who struck the World
Trade Center with car bombers in Baghdad, calling them all part of the
same epic "ideological struggle of the 21st century." One more drop in the
polls, and he may yet rebrand this mess War of the Worlds.
"Iraq is not
overwhelmed by foreign terrorists," said the congressman John Murtha in
succinct rebuttal to the president's speech. "It is overwhelmed by Iraqis
fighting Iraqis." And with Americans caught in the middle. If we owe
anything to those who died on 9/11, it is that we not forget how the
administration diverted our blood and treasure from the battle against bin
Laden and other stateless Islamic terrorists, fascist or whatever, to this
quagmire in a country that did not attack us on 9/11. The number of
American dead in Iraq - now more than 2,600 - is inexorably approaching
the death toll of that Tuesday morning five years ago.
© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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