Donald Rumsfeld died last week in New Mexico at the age of 88. He was one of the most controversial characters of the last several decades when it comes to U.S. foreign and national security policymaking.
Although he had a long public career, after his death what many people remembered him for were his decisions and actions before and during the Iraq War.
In preparation for the war, Rumsfeld was not only part of a major interagency rivalry with several institutions of the U.S., but he also became one of the most important actors in the campaign for the invasion of Iraq.
He played a role in making many American people believe not only that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but that it also assisted al-Qaida.
When the Iraqi government denied these claims he famously said “and Lincoln was short.” He had also predicted that the war would be less than six months, which turned out to be terribly wrong.
In the meantime, in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan Rumsfeld also took a step that would lead to the torture and inhumane treatment of the detainees.
Under his watch there were numerous cases of torture and ill treatment, including in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prison.
America in quagmire
Following the Vietnam War, the Iraq War was the second most critical quagmire that the U.S. got itself into.
A decade after the Gulf War, which was believed to have ended the Vietnam syndrome for the U.S., the U.S. found itself experiencing another syndrome. This syndrome has presented a serious challenge for policymakers ever since.
The specter of the Iraqi war continues to haunt U.S. foreign policymakers to this day.
The war of course not only caused the emergence of a new syndrome in U.S. foreign policy – it cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died during the conflict in the country.
Following the mistaken decisions that he made while running the war, Iraq fell into a state of chaos and civil war. In the meantime, thousands of American servicepeople also lost their lives.
Although during his interview with American film director Errol Morris in the documentary film “The Unknown Known” he described himself as measured and nuanced when it came to Iraq, he was neither of these things.
The way that he approached the emerging crisis and chaos was emblematic of his lack of both qualities.
When he was asked about the looting and increasing public unrest in the country, the response of Rumsfeld was along the lines of “stuff happens.” For the disorder and anarchy in the country, he said “freedom is untidy.”
Hell for all
Unfortunately, that “stuff” continued to make the state of Iraq a living hell for millions of Iraqis for many years to come.
The humanitarian cost of the war became difficult to calculate.
For some, Rumsfeld was a similar character to Robert McNamara, one of the architects of the Vietnam War.
However, Rumsfeld barely accepted any mistakes regarding his actions as secretary of defense. He remained defiant about the criticisms in regards to his tenure.
In the Morris interview mentioned above, he never wavered from his defensive position about his statements and memos during his time as the secretary of defense.
He famously stated that “free people are free to make mistakes” when explaining the disorder in Iraq. So apparently as a free person during his tenure he was free to make terrible mistakes that would change the lives of the millions of Iraqis by turning their country into an arena of civil war and terrorism.
His mistakes also led to a serious transformation in U.S. foreign policy and the public perception of the U.S. government and foreign policy.
As the U.S. is planning to remove all of its troops in Afghanistan, his decisions and actions will continue to haunt U.S. foreign and national security policy and the lives of the millions.