Did Rumsfeld Ruin Bush?
The 10 allegations in the GQ article making waves include ex-officials faulting the former Defense secretary for messing up Katrina, stiffing Kennedy of a medal—and putting out daily intelligence briefings adorned with quotes from the Bible.
Robert Draper’s new article for GQ leaves no stone unturned and no confidential memo unsealed in its examination of Donald Rumsfeld’s reign as Defense secretary. The Daily Beast presents Draper’s top 10 revelations:
The Crusades Cover Letters
Rumsfeld hand-delivered to the president a highly classified daily briefing on the war in Iraq called The Worldwide Intelligence Update. The cover letters were adorned with inspirational images like soldiers praying, Iraqi children gratefully embracing American soldiers, or tanks blasting through the desert. But the covers also contained inspirational passages from the Bible—a move that offended many Defense officials. A cover from March 2003 showed soldiers praying while holding automatic weapons. A passage from Isaiah surrounds the photo: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here I am Lord, Send Me!” Another Isaiah passage adorns a photo of tanks blasting into Baghdad from the same month: “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.”
The crusading cover letters made many uncomfortable, but sources say it was Rumsfeld’s way of cozying up to his religious boss—even if Rumsfeld himself was typically much more private about his religion.
Another Isaiah passage adorns a photo of tanks blasting into Baghdad: “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.”
The Katrina Debacle
Rumsfeld threw truck-size obstacles in the way of deploying troops to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Claiming that there’d be problems with “unity of command,” Rumsfeld was adamant that only the National Guard be sent out—but they were slow in arriving and did little to stem the chaos. Bush snapped at him for the disorder in a meeting about the situation: “Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what’s on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I’m watching? What the hell are you doing?” Five days after the hurricane hit, Bush told Rumsfeld he had to deploy troops. “If we had put those troops in on Thursday, the narrative of Katrina would be a very different one,” one senior official said.
The Cold War Mentality
Though Bush and Vladimir Putin pledged to discuss everything from missile-defense systems to bilateral investment after their “sense of his soul” meeting in 2001, Rumsfeld could not shake his distrust of the country from his days as Gerald Ford’s secretary of Defense during the Cold War. Rumsfeld’s office cut off Bush’s attempts to cooperate with Russia, nixing the proposed observation satellite and a joint data-exchange center.
Bush and his top advisers wanted to award the now-ailing Massachusetts senator a Presidential Medal of Freedom to reward the Democrat for his help passing the No Child Left Behind education initiative. The move would have come across as big-hearted and bipartisan, perhaps garnering Bush a few popularity points, but Rumsfeld shot down the idea. “They can’t give Kennedy a medal!” he said. “Not after he murdered that woman!” (He was referring to the Mary Jo Kopechne incident 40 years earlier on Chappaquiddick Island.)
Bush treated Rumsfeld formally and respected the older man for his alpha dog disdain of the media. But they had their problems: Bush was angry that the Abu Ghraib photos appeared on 60 Minutes before he saw them in 2004. Rumsfeld presented his resignation letter the next day, calling the amused president’s bluff. In 2005 and 2006, while conditions in Iraq worsened, Bush’s top advisers began advising him to replace Rumsfeld. When a group of retired generals voiced their desire for Rumsfeld to retire, though, Bush became stubborn and did not want to fire his old friend in what would look like political concession. Republicans wanted him gone so they had a better shot at winning midterm elections, but Bush dawdled another six months before removing him. “I think most Republicans believe that if Rumsfeld had been dismissed before the election, we would’ve hung on to the Senate,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said. “I think they’re probably right.”
An aide approached Rumsfeld about the king of Jordan’s decree that planes could not fly over Jordanian airspace after flying over Israel, a restriction that was costing American fighter pilots hours of time in detours. The aide said Condoleezza Rice could ask Jordan to repeal the law. “When I need your help,” Rumsfeld said, “I’ll ask.” He never asked.
Though Rumsfeld wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in November claiming he had always supported the "surge" strategy in Iraq, a former White House official says he never followed through on troop increases. “Whenever we asked for increases, there was a certain amount of tension with Rumsfeld: Why couldn’t we do with less?” the official said.
The Master of Inaction
Rumsfeld didn’t like to make new decisions or implement ones that had already been made. He stalled on implementing military commissions to try suspected terrorists, as well as opening up the Pentagon’s Internet system to our British allies. “Rumsfeld would say, ‘Golly, we haven’t had time to read all of these documents! I mean, this is radical change!’” a former senior White House official said. “And then, if you suggested that maybe he should’ve read all the documents when everyone first got them a week ago, he’d say: ‘Well! I’ve been all over the world since then! What have you been doing?’”
Rumsfeld was actively uncooperative with the Department of Homeland Security, which he saw as a threat to his territory. He also ignored the Iraq Stabilization Group, sending no envoy to its meetings. The deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism (an office Rumsfeld once claimed did not exist) also stepped on his toes. He ignored Frances Townsend, its third-ranking official, saying, “You think I’m going to talk to this broad?” When she complained to Chief of Staff Andrew Card, he said, “He treats Condi the same way. Me, too. He’s always telling me I’m the worst chief of staff ever.”
Rumsfeld’s eventual firing was celebrated with salutes and detonating cannons at a big Pentagon to-do celebrating his years of service. “I know him enough to know that he was both surprised and hugely disappointed,” one military commander said of his departure. Yet at the event. he joked with Bush and the vice president “almost to an inappropriate degree for the setting,” one colleague said. Rumsfeld explained his joking manner: “I wanted them to have fun.”