Flashes of regret from Rumsfeld

By David Usborne

Donald Rumsfeld. Cartoon / Murray Webb
Donald Rumsfeld. Cartoon / Murray Webb

Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Defence Secretary who remained bullish even as his forces suffered serial setbacks in the early years of the Iraq War, allows himself flashes of regret in his memoir, noting he should have quit after the 2004 Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and admitting to occasional bouts of glibness.

In the book, Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld, who was replaced at the end of 2006, reveals that his then boss, the former President George W. Bush, had his eye on punishing Saddam Hussein within two weeks of the 9/11 attacks, even while in public the focus of military preparations was Afghanistan and the removal of the Taleban regime.

Bush told him at the time to "take a look at the shape of our military plans on Iraq", he writes in the book, due to be published on Tuesday.

"Two weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history, those of us in the Department of Defence were fully occupied," he says.

"[The President] wanted the options to be 'creative'."

Although self-reproach makes appearances in the 800-page tome, excerpts of which have been seen by the New York Times and the Washington Post, Rumsfeld suggests there was plenty of blame to go around. Dysfunction in decision-making arose partly because of the competing agendas of different agencies, his own included.

However, he implies that ultimately it was up to Bush to take firmer control.

"There were far too many hands on the steering wheel, which, in my view, was a formula for running the truck into a ditch," writes Rumsfeld.

Among those coming in for knocks in the book are Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, respectively Secretary of State and head of the National Security Council (NSC) in the White House at the war's onset.

"Key differences were never clearly or firmly resolved in the NSC," Rumsfeld asserts. "Only the President could do so."

Bush, he also writes, "did not always receive, and may not have insisted on, a timely consideration of his options before he made a decision, nor did he always receive effective implementation of the decisions he made."

Perhaps not surprisingly, Rumsfeld by no means suggests that the war itself was a mistake.

He holds to the theory that had the coalition forces not toppled Saddam, the whole region would be "far more perilous than it is today".

As for his own style of presentation, he was guilty of quips, he admits now, that would have been better unsaid, including "stuff happens" in reference to mass looting in Baghdad and "old Europe", a jibe at countries that were critical of the war, such as France and Germany.

He would also retract "we know where they are" regarding Iraq's supposed stash of weapons of mass destruction.

Early reaction included a riposte from Senator John McCain, who is reportedly described in the book's pages as having a "hair-trigger temper" and "a propensity to shift his positions to appeal to the media".

"I respect Secretary Rumsfeld. He and I had a very, very strong difference of opinion about the strategy that he was employing in Iraq, which I predicted was doomed to failure," McCain told ABC television.

"And thank God he was relieved of his duties and we put the surge in, otherwise we would have had a disastrous defeat in Iraq."

Rummy writes

On George Bush
"While the President and I had many discussions about the war preparations, I do not recall his ever asking me if I thought going to war with Iraq was the right decision."

On Colin Powell
"The media image" of Mr Powell "battling the forces of unilateralism and conservatism may have been beneficial to Powell in some circles, but it did not jibe with reality."

On the Iraq war
"Ridding the region of Saddam's brutal regime has created a more stable and secure world."

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