Looking back at the career of US Republican Donald Rumsfeld, who has died aged 88

Lindsey German

“The evil that men do lives after them,” says Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

It is a fitting epitaph for Donald Rumsfeld, who has died in the US aged 88.

Rumsfeld was secretary of defence in George W Bush’s presidency from 2001-06.

In that period he was a cheerleader for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, presided over appalling methods of torture in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, in Guantanamo Bay, and in secret sites across the world, and was a neocon hawk whose insouciance at all of this cost many lives.

Rumsfeld had a long record in Republican politics and became president Gerald Ford’s secretary of defence in the 1970s during the cold war.

His contribution then was to help develop cruise missiles and the B1 bomber.

But that was nothing compared to his destructive powers once he began working for Bush.

Appointed in early 2001, he already wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and seized his chance following the events of September 11 2001.

Despite the fact that there was absolutely no evidence connecting Iraq to the attacks, Rumsfeld immediately started pushing for war with Saddam.

Throughout 2002 the US, loyally abetted by Tony Blair, tried to build a case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and therefore had to be attacked.

Rumsfeld was given an official report in autumn 2002 which contradicted this — but he ignored it and did not pass it to key leading government figures.

Instead he relied on “alternative intelligence sources” from Iraqi exiles like Ahmed Chalabi, who he wanted to be the US-backed leader of Iraq.

The huge movement of opposition to the Iraq war did not succeed in stopping the bombing and invasion.

The glib assertion by Bush and Blair — very much endorsed by Rumsfeld — was that the WMD would be found, that the war would be over in weeks and that everyone would be grateful for this overthrow of a dictator.

Wrong on all counts. Instead it is now generally acknowledged that the war was a disaster.

It has helped create, not eradicate, terrorism. Iraq remains war-torn with over a million dead and further millions displaced, made refugees, or suffering physical and mental injury.

And it, alongside the invasion of Afghanistan, opened up the era of “forever wars” which we are still living with.

Rumsfeld’s record became too much for even many supporters of US imperialism and he resigned in 2006.

The war which he had scornfully predicted would be over within five months was meeting massive resistance and taking US soldiers’ lives and the cost became too great.

Incredibly, none of the government figures who pushed so hard for war has ever been held to account.

There have been no trials, no prison sentences, no public disgrace. Rumsfeld continued to live the life of a rich businessman.

Yet his role was destructive of so much. Unfortunately the same wars continue — and with them the threat of further ones.

Joe Biden is now withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban is returning.

That war has achieved precisely nothing despite the huge human and financial cost. Iraq and the wider Middle East remain war-torn and unstable, again at terrible human cost.

Unfortunately few lessons have been learnt in government, either in the US or Britain.

Biden is ramping up threats of war with China. British navy ships, including its new aircraft carrier, are travelling to Japan via the South China Sea in a provocative series of exercises which have already seen a skirmish with Russia in the Black Sea.

Whereas Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour began to challenge the priorities of the Blair era and apologised for Labour’s role in the Iraq war, his successor has a very different take and we are seeing new justifications for supposed humanitarian interventions which are anything but.

The passing of Donald Rumsfeld should remind us of what the wars are really about and why we still need an anti-war movement.

03 Jul 2021 by Lindsey German

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