The Associated Press noted the departure of Donald Rumsfeld with a curious retrospective, quoting a biographer who suggests that he is a "tragic figure" because of his wasted "talent and promise." But Nixon, who called him a "ruthless little bastard," had Rummy's number from the start. His "talent" was as a political hit man, a vicious insider who would do whatever his bosses wanted. He was and is a nasty person of shrewd but limited intellect, a bully and a braggart and a bullshit artist. Nobody will miss him.
Do Rumsfeld and his friends regret his public disgrace, which will follow him into the grave? Too bad. They should have thought about that earlier, when he was slandering generals and political opponents alike (for being right), enriching war profiteers, and making one egregious error in judgement after another. No wonder he won praise today from Dick Cheney, a man whose predictions on Iraq have been as accurate as his shooting.
The only thing that could change the way Rumsfeld is remembered is if more is revealed about his complicity in torture and other war crimes.
What should Rumsfeld be remembered for, if not Iraq? For selling contraceptives and sweeteners as a drug executive? No. The GOP wanted this war, and Rumsfeld gave it to them. They wanted lying and deception, and Rummy delivered. They wanted to cut costs when it came to protecting our soldiers, and to jack them up when it came to making Halliburton rich. Again, Rumsfeld came through.
The only form of combat at which Rumsfeld ever excelled was bureaucratic infighting. That, and not expertise or brains, is why Nixon named him to a Cabinet post. "I need a man who will be in there fighting," Nixon said on the White House tapes. "He's a ruthless little bastard ... He's tough enough that if he knows what I want, he isn't going to come in and try to sell me something."
Rumsfeld knew how to get things done - particularly things that advanced Rumsfeld's career. He was appointed to direct the Office of Economic Opportunity so that the GOP could run it into the ground, but he proved an aggressive and adept advocate for some of its programs. That wasn't out of idealism, but rather as a way to expand his own turf.
As Secretary of Defense, he increased the military budget during a period of détente and reduced military need. Why? Because - again - he wanted more power.
His first private-sector job, as CEO of G. D. Searle, was well-suited to his talents. He cut underperforming divisions, per the corporate trends of the day. (Some business analysts believe this tactic, while good for short-term stock values, actually guts the long term worth of some companies while making employees suffer needlessly.)
His political skills came in especially handy at Searle's helm, since he was able to persuade the Reagan Administration to reverse government policy and permit the use of Searle's formerly-banned product, Aspartame.
(Rumsfeld continues to profit from the decisions of his political pals. During the bird-flu scare Bush allocated a billion dollars to purchase Tamiflu, which another Rumsfeld company developed. The result was a few more million dollars in value for Rummy's portfolio.)
But Iraq will remain the capstone of Rumsfeld's career. He treated the lives and welfare of our soldiers as cavalierly as he did the jobs of employees at those Searle divisions he closed down. His limitations, both intellectual and moral, made him the Republican Party's perfect instrument for the pursuit of this war. He was the creature of the Party that created and nurtured him, and an accurate reflection of it.
His most famous quote was not only flippant but dishonest, since it was used to conceal his own managerial incompetence, lack of proper planning, and indifference to the human cost of his actions. Let's not forget the question that prompted it, either, from a soldier serving in Iraq:
Army Spc. Thomas Wilson: Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles? And why don't we have those resources readily available to us?
Rumsfeld: It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, ah, you go to war with the army you have--not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.--You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up...
Rumsfeld's press conferences were widely noted for his bullying, confusing, and often incoherent comments. What was less obvious to most press observers was that his elliptically-phrased aggression was an intentional strategy. He kept reporters confused, intidimated, and off-balance while showering the public with his muddled thinking, cynical manipulations, and flat-out lies.
The content of the AP piece is generally fair and balanced, although they turned to a Cato Institute scholar rather than one of his many progressive detractors for the observation that he will be remembered with a "dark epitaph."
But the AP's lamentation for the fact that his career "ended in ignominy" is a curious one. He will be remembered, if at all, for these qualities: callousness, libelous comments about those who disagreed with him, a hallucinogenic detachment from reality, smug refusal to consider other people's opinions, mental shallowness, and a sociopathic inability to take responsibility for his own actions.
Most of all, he will be remembered for that most destructive and personally unappealing combination of personality traits: arrogance and incompetence.
Given that record, what could be a more appropriate end to his career than "ignominy"?
A Night Light