Rumsfeld's many points of non-knowledge

Thursday, October 05, 2006 at 11:30 AM

Rumsfeld has a unique way of using uncertainty--real or feigned, I'll never know--to avoid discussing important questions.  For example, check these excerpts from a July, 2006 Woodward-Rumsfeld interview, which the Dept. of Defense saw fit to post on its web site a few days ago.

Among the notable statements by Rumsfeld are that he can't remember:

  1. If he knew that Gen. Garner (the US's first leader of Iraq) intended to use 200,000 to 300,000 Iraqi tropps for border control and security.

  2. How it came about that the Iraqi Army was disbanded  (making it impossible to use those troops for border control and security)

  3. If Jerry Bremer was told by Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith to disband the Iraqi Army.

  4. Gen. Garner telling him, upon Garner's return to the U.S. after being replaced by Bremer, that three crucial mistakes had been made in Iraq: de-Baathification, disbanding the Iraqi Army, and  dismissing the interim Iraqi government group that Garner had set up.

I know I'm surprised that it ended up such a mess.

Also, he claims to have edited the Bush "Mission Accomplished" speech to take that phrase out of the speech, but that the people running the event failed to take down the huge sign that said it.


MR. WOODWARD: ... And you know, one thing -- just one quick thing not on the list but someone told me about the other day, which I found fascinating.  When the [president] gave that speech on the Lincoln with the "Mission Accomplished" on the back, somebody told me that the White House speechwriters had used MacArthur's surrender speech on the Missouri as a model.  And they literally had in that speech "the guns are silent," and you edited it out.

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I took "mission accomplished" out.  I was in Baghdad, and I was given a draft of that thing to look at.  And I just died, and I said my God, it's too conclusive.  And I fixed it and sent it back..

MR. WOODWARD: were you on the trip?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I was. And we got it back and they fixed the speech, but not the sign.
SEC. RUMSFELD: ...I always felt that foreign troops are an anomaly in a country, that eventually they're unnatural and not welcomed really.  I think I used the characterization of a broken bone.  If you don't set it, everything grows around the brake and you end up with that abnormality.  And I used the phrase of it's like teaching a youngster how to ride a bicycle.  You run behind them with your hand in the seat.  And at some point you've got to take some fingers off, and then you've got to let go, and they might fall.  You help pick them up and put them back on it.  But otherwise, if you don't take your hand off, you're going to end up with a 40-year-old who can't ride a bike.
MR. WOODWARD:  Yes, exactly.  Exactly.  He [General Jay Garner] was let's set up an interim governing council, let's, you know -- I mean, he briefed the president on we're going to use 200,000 to 300,000 Iraqi troops for border patrol and security and so forth.

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Is that right?  Well, I don't know that.
MR. WOODWARD:  One of the things -- and this is John Abizaid who said this to Garner early, before the war, a few months before the war -- January '03 -- we've got to provide an opportunity for the Iraqi army to emerge with some honor. Did you agree with that?


MR. WOODWARD:  Was that a message that was sent?

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I mean, I talked to Abizaid all the time, and he felt that way about the military; he felt that way about the Sunnis that they were losing control of the country, and constantly was looking to see that decisions being made in the CPA reflected what he believed to be, and I agreed with, a recognition of the fact that the goal was to have everyone feeling that the country is fair and representative of them.  And because of the significant loss on the part of the Sunnis in terms of their role in that country, he was constantly looking to me to try to see that the political side of the house in Iraq reflected that......the other problem was that it disbanded itself in large measure.

MR. WOODWARD:  But yes and no.  I mean, as you know, the current Iraqi army has all these officers back.  All the NCOs and officers in the Iraqi army served in Saddam's army.

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Certainly a lot did.

MR. WOODWARD:  As best I can tell, virtually all.  And so the question becomes -- again, looking at the chronology of this -- is that the goal is give them honor.  And then there's this disbanding of the army there.  Actually, at Garner's feet begging to be brought back.  They were sending Garner lists and so forth.  I've got the lists and they felt kicked in the face.  And the question was how did that happen?

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yeah. I don't know.  Do you know?

LT GEN RENUART:  This is when Bremer -- the first two CPA orders that he wanted to issue, CPA order one and two -- de-Ba'athification and dissolution of the entities -- were -- I think he said this in his book.  He wanted to make a statement that there was an authority in Iraq, he was the authority, and these were the two ways he was going to establish that authority.  But if you read both of those orders -- have you read them?

MR. WOODWARD:  Oh, yes.

LT GEN RENUART :  Very carefully -- they're not as draconian, especially on de-Ba'athification, that some people have made them out to be.  And on the army, there was a, I believe -- and I have to go back and check it -- and Gene (sp), you might be able to correct me -- but I believe it was allowed to come back colonel and below without question, if I remember correctly.  

MR. WOODWARD:  I mean, the whole army was just disbanded completely -- I mean, I've read the order and --

LT GEN RENUART:  But in building the new Iraqi army, there were provisions, I believe, in disestablishment to bring them back.

MR. WOODWARD:  Later on.

LT GEN RENUART::  Right, right.

MR. WOODWARD:  Later on, which is what happened.  The question -- again, when I've looked at the White House on this -- there was no interagency process on this critical decision.  And Bremer says it was, essentially, Wolfowitz and Feith who gave him that order, as you know, because you've read Bremer's book.  Where did it come from?

LT GEN RENUART:  (Laughs.)  No, I haven't read Bremer's book.


LT GEN RENUART:  I haven't read Bremer's book.

MR. WOODWARD:  Yeah, I have.

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I'd be surprised if that were the case.

MR. WOODWARD:  Yes, sir, that's what he says.

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I didn't say he didn't say it.  I'm not surprised at that.  I say I would -- that's just -- it would be a surprise to me if Wolfowitz and Feith gave him those orders.  I just don't know that.

MR. WOODWARD:  He carried those orders back, and there's some indication from e-mails and so forth that were drafted here in the Pentagon.  Isn't that true?

MR. LUTI:  Well, contrary to convention wisdom, there was an interagency process.  It was discussed at length in the interagency.  

MR. WOODWARD:  At what level?

MR. LUTI :  At the working level, at the PCC level, we call it, which is, you know, assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary.

MR. WOODWARD:  Never got to deputies or principals, best I can see.

MR. Luti:  That I don't know, either, okay.  But there was a lot of work going on in this area and a lot of communication going back and forth in the interagency.  So it would be inaccurate to say that it wasn't discussed in the interagency.

MR. WOODWARD:  Well, not at the principal or NSC level.  Mr. Secretary, did you know that this was going to happen?

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I can't say I did.  I simply don't recall it, and I don't recall an NSC meeting on the subject, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one.  That's just my best recollection today.

MR. WOODWARD:  Do you remember -- this is June of '03 -- I'm sorry to be so long on this -- when Garner had left, he had been replaced by Bremer.  He came back here and you gave him a medal.  And he says and he has notes telling you that three tragic mistakes had been made in the postwar period:  de-Ba'athification so deep, disbanding the military, and Bremer's decision to let an interim government group that Garner had set up go home.   Do you recall any of that?

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Vaguely.  I remember having a very good discussion with him.  I felt that he had not been properly recognized for what he'd done.  So we had him come back and had a visit and did give him a medal and expressed my appreciation to him.  I think he's a fine retired officer and a very talented guy who cares a lot about Iraq.

MR. WOODWARD:  Then you and he went and met with the president after that, and it was kind of lots of old stories.  And I've asked Garner about this, and I said did you not tell the president that you told Secretary Rumsfeld that three tragic mistakes had been made?  And he said he did not.  He felt he had reported to you.  And we had a long, very interesting discussion about the obligation of somebody to make sure the guy at the top knows --

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I think the president knew that there were big disagreements over de-Ba'athification and big disagreements over the military.

I can only assume that the DoD posted this interview in the expectation that the transcript would protect Rumsfeld from criticisms in Woodward's new book.  If so, I think they are as wrong about that as they were about Iraq.

I saw Woodward on the Charlie Rose show.  Among the Rumsfeld gems there was Woodward's description of a top CIA analyst returning from Iraq in November of 2003 and telling the NSC that an insurgency had arisen.  To which, Rumsfeld wanted to argue about the technical definition of "insurgency," and the president simply wanted to make sure he wasn't going to read that information in the NY Times.

From sea to shining sea.....