Rumsfeld’s death won’t stop those who seek world domination
Empire builder: U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is photographed during sunrise at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 24, 2005. | Jim Young / AP

Don’t speak ill of the dead, they say, but if I were to choose candidates for an Evil Hall of Fame, I’d have to ignore such advice; the late Donald Rumsfeld would be close to the top of my list.

Starting off as just one more conservative congressman from a conservative Chicago district in 1962, he joined the gang in opposing anything social in the programs of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and in attacking the Cuban Revolution and its leader Fidel Castro—hot topics in those Cold War years.

But being clever, handsome, a good speaker, and a dependable right-winger, he moved on up the line and President Richard Nixon appointed him to be head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the federal antipoverty agency, where he had a far better chance to oppose anything good for the underprivileged.

Cold Warrior: Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in September 1976. At the time, he was peddling the claim that the Soviet Union was pushing ahead with an unprecedented missile program. He said it justified a boost in U.S. military spending. | Peter Bregg / AP

After Nixon was forced to quit as president, his successor, Gerald Ford, made Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense. In his two years at that job, his main accomplishment, in 1976, was to stymie a nearly agreed-upon arms control agreement with the Soviet Union and effectively kill any other disarmament negotiations.

With Democrat Jimmy Carter in office, Rumsfeld lost his Defense Dept. job and moved into private business, taking with him the many connections he’d made in government. He soon hit it rich as an executive, rotating between pharmaceutical, electronics, and biotechnology companies.

The rotating door

When Republican Ronald Reagan elbowed Carter out in 1980, Rumsfeld remained in the business world—by now for him the very big business world—raking in dizzy-digit dollar figures. But he took a six-month break when Reagan, recognizing his capabilities, sent him to the Middle East as a special envoy. His mission: to strengthen friendship with the president of Iraq, arranging American intelligence and military support in his war with Iran, which Washington had now decided was a major menace to world democracy.

Accomplice: Iraqi president Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad, Dec. 20, 1983. Rumsfeld oversaw the sale of chemical weapons to the Iraqi dictator. | Original footage from Iraqi television

Iraq’s use of chemical weapons failed to disturb Rumsfeld on that occasion. The name of Iraq’s president, Rumsfeld’s friendly new chum on this job, was none other than Saddam Hussein. But, as it later turned out, that friendship was not as solid as it might have seemed at the time.

After the defeat of the socialist bloc in 1989-92, Washington’s goal since 1917, major U.S. policymakers faced two big problems. Their main adversary was a mangled, helpless giant, no longer even an imagined menace, while Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic countries, and above all Poland, successfully turned upside down, had become their closest allies.

But the mighty arms manufacturers, led by Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin, all with immense power in policy-making, needed some justification for the tens of billions of public dollars unceasingly poured into their accounts and from there into their pockets—or landed estates, jet planes, fleets of superfast autos, and yachts – or private accounts in out-of-the-way hideouts. Where could they find a big new threat which demanded the “safety and security” afforded by their missiles?

The second problem was closely related: Some countries were recalcitrant about accepting U.S. control, now spreading down over the globe like a Sherwin-Williams paint logo. The leaders in some capitals, for whatever reasons, whether patriotic, selfish, altruistic, or a mix, did not want small handfuls of American companies in each field—fast food, pharma, seed and pesticide, tobacco, soft drink, news, and mass retailing—to rule their roosts. Nor did they want American billionaires grabbing the profits from their oil wells and mines while banks, insurance giants, and hedge funds moved in to run and ruin their economies.

For Washington and Wall Street, such recalcitrance was unacceptable. It had to be dealt with promptly, as it had been in the past in Guatemala, Congo, Chile, and a few dozen other countries, and most recently with helicopters against Somalia and bombers against Serbia. And those U.S. military setbacks and defeats in Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba also still had to be compensated.

Empire comeback

In 1997, a small circle of determined right-wing strongmen decided that a plan was necessary. The group included journalists William Kristol and Robert Kagan and politicians Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and, by no means last or least, Donald Rumsfeld. The aim of their “Project for the New American Century” (PNAC) was clear and sharp: maintain “global U.S. preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.”

In 2001, Texas Gov. George W. Bush became president—with a half-million popular vote minority compared to his opponent, Al Gore, but a one-man majority in the Supreme Court, which proved decisive. With him, Cheney became vice president (and a strong mentor for the somewhat limited president). Rumsfeld was back in his old job as Secretary of Defense with Wolfowitz his Deputy Secretary. The Clinton team had been martial enough; now the worst war hawks had taken over the whole nest.

In less than eight months, the spectacular destruction of the World Trade Towers and the crash into the Pentagon gave them just the chance they were looking for. A few months later, they had a war in Afghanistan—just this summer possibly ending after two bloody, ruinous, and useless decades. And in March 2003, despite anti-war marches and demonstrations by millions all over the world, and for no real reason, bombs fell on Iraqi cities. The war against Bush’s so-called “Axis of Evil” morphed into a worldwide “War Against Terror.” Washington and its media buddies were always good at finding rousing names. The Northrup and Raytheon crowd, meanwhile, was smiling again.

As Secretary of Defense—as in private business—Rumsfeld had the reputation among his staff of being nastily dictatorial. He was also known for sending out innumerable notes and memoranda, so often they came to be known as “snowflakes.”

One such snowflake, described years later, was part of a snowstorm, a catastrophic blizzard which is still defying all climate warming and causing countless deaths. It was General Wesley Clark, once Supreme NATO Commander in Europe, who reported the following event in a surprising television interview in 2007 with journalist Amy Goodman:

“About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and one of the generals called me in. He said, ‘We’ve made the decision; we’re going to war with Iraq.’ This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, ‘We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?’ He said, ‘I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments…. I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.’

“So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, ‘Are we still going to war with Iraq?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s worse than that.’ He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, ‘I just got this down from upstairs today’—meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office—and he said, ‘This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran…’ (Democracy Now, March 2, 2007.)

It was Rumsfeld who had claimed, perhaps louder than anyone else, that Iraq had a program involving active weapons of mass destruction; a Pentagon Inspector General report later described in the best literary style how Rumsfeld’s office “developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers.”

Occupier: Rumsfeld signs a Baghdad road sign in the Iraqi capital, April 30, 2003. | Luke Frazza / AP

In simpler words, it was all lies. No leftover chemical stockpiles were ever found, no atomic preparations, and no connections with al-Qaida. But Rumsfeld’s one-time chum Saddam Hussein was hanged anyway.

Rumsfeld never met the same fate—there was no punishment for the tragedy of Iraq, which is still torn, wrecked, and bullet-ridden. And the Pentagon and Washington openly defied a new but weak Iraqi government’s demands to move out.

No, Rumsfeld was never punished, neither for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq nor for torture, exposed in a prison in Abu Ghraib, which competed with the Spanish Inquisition in its almost indescribable cruelty. But the military failure—costing too many American limbs and lives (for many the only ones that counted), proved unpleasant enough—and in late 2006, Rumsfeld resigned and returned to private money-making and retirement.

To his last day, last Tuesday, he maintained that his policies had been correct and justified. In this, he stood almost alone. Bush administration colleague and former Secretary of State Colin Powell called his support for the Iraq weapons of mass destruction scam an awful “blot on his record.” Top Democrats who backed the war at the time, like then-Senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, now admit in fainter voices their one-time errors in believing and supporting Rumsfeld and Bush (and all other wars in those years).

Accomplices and apprentices

U.S. imperialism could not keep to the exact same “seven countries in five years” schedule that Rumsfeld laid out, but it has come close and his plan has decided the course of history ever since. In every country mentioned but the last one, Iran, the United States has moved in, shot off its own weapons, spread many other weapons around, organized coups and putsches, and left a total mess—a mess which cost huge numbers of human lives, men, women, very many children.

Torturer: An unidentified detainee stands on a box with a bag on his head and wires attached to him in late 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq. Rumsfeld dodged legal challenges that would have held him personally responsible for allegations of torture in U.S. military prisons. | AP

In Iraq alone the death toll is estimated to be between 300,000 and a million and the displacement of perhaps three million people within Iraq, to neighboring countries, and to Europe. As for others on the list such as Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia, all have suffered from the plans and actions of Rumsfeld and his accomplices.

Rumsfeld is gone. Others are still around though, unrepentant, and their apprentices and successors, some Republicans, some Democrats, are as active as ever in the Senate, in Congress, in the Pentagon.

As for the White House, it remains to be seen how much it will take up the mantle of Rumsfeld’s policies. Afghanistan may lose its American GIs, but how peaceful will it ever be? Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are all still in a terrible mess. And Iran? Will those turn-of-the-century planners once again have their way in the destruction of one country after another?

But times change, and George W. Bush’s slogan, “War Against Terror,” though still in use, has worn very thin, and for many in the world has become less convincing than ever.

While countries such as Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Palestine remain very much unsettled, and no one can predict whether negotiations with Iran will finally be renewed, new infusions of cash for Rumsfeld’s favorite industry will surely be needed. Those take-home pay packages for the big arms companies—in the $17-21 million annual range for the top bosses—must not be pared down because of any possible attacks by a Bernie Sanders, and AOC, or a Barbara Lee.

The lobbies are still full and world hegemony remains a shiny goal for all the many Rumsfeld types in and near Washington and other Western world capitals. But this goal now faces difficulties; indeed, it is being threatened. A revived Russia, though ringed by 800 or more American bases with a NATO military budget more than twelve times that of its own, nevertheless has the nerve to bring its tanks right up to its own borders, close to all those “defensive” U.S., German, French, and other tanks and planes maneuvering there every year. And its atlases, just like ours, show that Tallinn in Estonia is only 200 miles from St. Petersburg, Ukrainian Kharkov only 400 miles from Moscow, while Vitebsk in Belarus is less than 300 miles from Red Square. There are some who are almost audibly licking their chops.

Far more menacing now than Russia in the eyes of Washington is China, no longer a sleeping giant, but getting stronger than ever, economically and militarily—though still far, far behind the USA when it comes to the latter. But these two are becoming increasingly friendly—reason enough for Washington to spend even more on expensive versions of Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile scheme and other weapons system.

This adds up to people like German Defense Secretary Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer or the Green candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock, to push for more steel and electronic muscle and stronger tank-proof bridges and rail lines. Those are policies which offer genuine satisfaction to a wide array of businessmen, politicians, and generals on both sides of the Atlantic—all in the spirit of the late, lamented (at least by his family) Donald Rumsfeld.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled his U.S. Army post in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive, and became a freelance journalist and author. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, the tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, the reasons for the fall of socialism, and the importance of today's struggles.