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I Don’t do Quagmires

March 24, 2014

“When you say, ‘How can you know?’ the answer is, you can’t. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could see around corners – have our imaginations anticipate every conceivable thing that could happen, and then, from that full array and spectrum, pick out the ones that will happen?”
– Donald Rumsfeld in an interview with Errol Morris

One wonders where this realization was in November 2002, when Rumsfeld assured the country that our military involvement in Iraq would be short-lived.

“The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.”

Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense in March 2003, when our troops entered Iraq to get rid of Sadaam Hussein. They didn’t leave for more than eight years later. According to the Department of Defense, thirty-two thousand were wounded in action and more than four thousand never came back home. Many more of the veterans have severe health problems caused by their military engagements, including for example, post-traumatic stress disorder and other brain injuries. Nine hundred thousand veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have sought medical treatment with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The lives of those who survived have been altered forever. Rumsfeld views these types of things as a cost of doing business.  “Stuff happens,” as he dismissively told us in April 2003, when violence and disorder was first rampant in the streets of Baghdad.

911 commission

One wishes there had been more zeal about Bin Laden during January 20 – September 10, 2001, when 40 Presidential Daily Briefs warned about his plans to attack the U.S. Shown here: The 911 Commission Report, which describes these threat warnings.

Lawrence Lindsey, the chief economic adviser to George W. Bush, was run out of the White House when he told reporters that the Iraq War could cost between $100 and $200 billion. His deviation with the highly disciplined White House communication process was giving any estimates whatsoever, but the figures themselves were also a sore point with his bosses. In December 2002, Lindsey’s estimates were quickly revised down by the White House in their pitch to get things going in Baghdad. Rumsfeld used a figure of $50 billion and promised that in any case, it would cost less than it did to recover from Osama Bin Ladin’s September 11, 2001 murders here in the U.S. To date, Congress has appropriated $815 billion. Some economists estimate that the total cost will far exceed these budgeted amounts. Early on, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Blimes put the figure at more than $3 trillion. More recent estimates from the Cost of War Project put the figure at $4 trillion.

All small stuff to a man who laughs at the thought of a prolonged war. In one of his regular exchanges with the press in July 2003, he shared his unnerving sense of humor when asked about such things.

Q: “Quagmire”?
Rumsfeld: Pardon me?
Q: “Quagmire”? (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: No. That’s someone else’s business. Quagmire is — I don’t do quagmires. (Laughter.)


The Crosses of Lafayette, California honor the U.S. service men and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This isn’t funny to me.

And now Rumsfeld is back to tell us that “U.S. weakness has shaken the world,” leading to the troubles in Ukraine. With Russia and the rest of the world convinced that we have left a “leadership vacuum,” troubles like this can be expected, he explains. Strength can only be regained if we are prepared to go to war, so his argument continues. It’s remarkable how someone with such a spectacularly poor record on war matters continues to offer us advice about geopolitics.

With the ongoing battle in the corporate media for the nation’s governing narrative, you will hear similar high-pitched criticism being leveled at the current administration from all the usual sources. It’s good to recall that these same folks were once cheerleaders for the last administration and took a hands-off approach in 2008, when Vladimir Putin advanced his army into the former Soviet state of Georgia. Let them swoon over Putin, admire his athleticism and resolute approach, and praise his political skills, but let us be careful before we follow their guidance about foreign affairs and war.

Here is the trailer from Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known, which includes his interview with Rumsfeld.

From → America, War

  1. I remember thinking at the beginning of the Iraq War Bush had better find his WMD’s. Otherwise the war was a lie and could only go one direction. The reasoning was similar to the Domino Theory with Vietnam. Facts had little to do with either war. –Curt


  2. I’m about as much a fan of Rumsfeld’s policies as I am Cheney’s. Which is to say I’m not…


  3. We will definitely see this as fog of war is one of MAD’s favorite movies, so much so, he owns it. We have watched it together many times, may we recommend ‘fair game’ about Valerie Plame Wilson? We loved it, loved the book more, but the movie is quicker and gets to the gist just as well. Thanks Bruce, LMA


  4. LMA – I too like ‘Fog of War.’ What an interesting history lesson. I have added ‘Fair Game’ to my list. Thanks for the tip.


  5. John K permalink

    The likes of Putin are truly scary, but the reckless and arrogant likes of Donald Rumsfeld and his NeoCon cronies is probably as big a peril to an ethical and balanced democracy. Lies and hubris can’t be allowed as smoke screen for his “ends justifies a means” attitude . Certainly worked for us in Iraq right?


  6. Right, John. The end is a bit of a messy outcome and of course the means were scandalous.


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