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Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld: Is there a lesson for India?

WebdeskJul 07, 2021, 10:45 AM IST

Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld: Is there a lesson for India?

New Delhi: Rumsfeld received criticism for his actions during the Iraq war.

It could be erroneous to forget the life and times of Donald Rumsfeld, the onetime US Secretary of State, as a passing phase.


It is imperative from strategic viewpoints, as Rumsfeld represented a typical mindset of those who rule and most of the time forget what adverse fallout they are leaving behind.


Rumsfeld's legacy is especially significant for a country like India, which has grown closer to the United States and vice versa since his period. Is it a worthy decision to trust Americans beyond a point?


Rumsfeld would be remembered in the realm of foreign policymaking and strategic studies for the Iraq war and his documented orders for unprecedented tortures, which later even left the Americans red-faced.


Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University says all obits on Rumsfeld, who died at 88, should begin with a reference, it was none other than Rumsfeld who gave the orders to torture US prisoners in US custody in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan.


It was also stated once that Rumsfeld himself was the real weapon of mass destruction in the Gulf.


In 2003, the then Bush administration had okayed bombing of Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was building the weapon of mass destruction, which later the Americans could not prove.


However, Rumsfeld was an unrepentant protagonist of history.


“... the road not traveled always looks smoother, the cold reality of a Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad most likely would mean the Middle East far more perilous than it is today.”


In his book ‘Known and Unknown: A Memoir’ published in 2011, Rumsfeld interestingly had a classic one-liner for the likes of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton–“You would not want to be in a foxhole with them.”


In 2020, in the run-up to the Presidential elections, Joe Biden, as the Democratic candidate, said that his vote for the Iraq War was a mistake. He further said the then Bush administration had “no concrete proof of what he was doing, and they still went to war.”


The Iraq War was admittedly a major blunder among American policies. Today if the US is forced to find a sheepish exit route from Afghanistan, all of it could be directly or indirectly linked to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.


The war had a price tag of 6.4 trillion dollars, on Washington and it claimed 8 lakh lives and displaced about 37 million people.


At a later stage, Rumsfeld said with his one-liner, “Some things work out, some things don’t.”


In retrospect, analysts now say, Rumsfeld and his President George W Bush are linked and responsible for creating a ‘defiant’ Iran and also giving the world a disastrous and ugly face of Islamic terror called ISIS.


The end of Saddam Hussein created a vacuum, and that propped up Shiite Islamist militia and led Iran to take advantage of the situation.


The worst was the torture order which affected the US image and credibility across the globe.


Unfortunately, however, the US still has around 2500 troops in the Iraq region fighting ISIS.


The torture memo signed by Rumsfeld on Feb 2, 2002, had said the US soldiers could torture those held for ’20-hour interrogations, removal of clothes and the use of phobias’.


But while analyzing all these more from New Delhi’s perspective, will it be in the fitness of things to say that while Rumsfeld was singularly bad, all that Americans did during that period and the US administration itself is all good?


In effect, Rumsfeld represented a mindset of the time. A Harris Poll in November 2001–of course before the 2003 Iraq invasion–had given him an approval rating of 78 percent.


And a little known fact is he was once a Presidential candidate also in the year 1996.


Closer analysis reveals that Operation Iraqi Freedom, the initial phase of US engagements in that region, was successful.


Had Rumsfeld retired around that time, he would be credited for all kinds of glories in military and strategic terms.


But he continued in office, and thus, the subsequent bad things caught up with him.


Once a date was fixed for US withdrawal from Iraq, President Bush was ‘advised’ against the move.


The ‘liberators’ soon became the American occupation force, and this marked the start of the insurgency.


‘Experts’ from the ousted Saddam Hussein regime were fired, resulting in further chaos in the affairs of Iraq.


The decline had begun. According to ‘USA Today,' the same Harris Poll gave Rumsfeld a 47 percent approval rating in 2003, and by November 2005, Rumsfeld's approval rating had dropped to a dismal 34 percent.


Is he that way a scapegoat of the rest of the Bush administration?


It is said, a nation should not go to war unless you are prepared to win it. Plunging into Afghanistan once the Americans had withdrawn will be a decisive turning point in India’s role on a global scale.


But we should be more careful as the Americans are known for making mistakes and leaving gory legacies behind as well.


The Vietnam War was a major self-inflicted injury by the US and so was Afghanistan to an extent and the Iraq War.


Tail piece:


Rumsfeld's one-liners would make delicious reading and also are thought-provoking.


Here are a few examples:


“...Stuff happens”–Rumsfeld had said after reports that US troops had looted the museum in Baghdad


“I made a few misstatements,’–on locations of Saddam Hussein’s alleged centers of ‘weapons of mass destructions’


“Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of the war”–on large-scale killings in Afghanistan


## Once he also tried to shut down critics saying–“If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.”


He did not surprise friends and foes and remarked: “If it were a fact, it would not be called intelligence.” 


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