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   Rumsfeld Should Resign For the Good of Our Democracy


Rumsfeld Should Resign For the Good of Our Democracy

by William D. Hartung

The Iran/contra retreads [in the Bush administration]…still don’t seem to understand the primary lesson of that debacle: no security objective is important enough to justify secret foreign policy machinations that undermine the will of Congress and the public.

Richard Perle’s resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board highlights the “ethically challenged” environment that has mushroomed at the Pentagon under the leadership of Donald Rumsfeld. The fact that Rumsfeld accepted the resignation on Perle’s terms—stepping down as chair of the policy board, but remaining a member—underscores how tone deaf our defense secretary is when it comes to perceptions of conflict of interest.

If Rumsfeld were truly the hands-on manager he portrays himself to be, he would have shown Perle the door weeks ago, after Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker detailed efforts by Perle to solicit funding for his investment firm, Trireme, from a Saudi investor. Nothing came of the deal, but it smelled to high heaven. The meeting was brokered by Adnan Khashoggi, the arms dealer whose last fifteen minutes of fame came when he was a middleman in the Iran/contra arms deals of the mid-1980s. If Hersh’s account is accurate, it appears that Perle and Khashoggi used Perle’s status as the chair of the Defense Policy Board as the “bait” to get the potential Saudi investor to the meeting, which was ostensibly to discuss the Saudi’s “peace plan” for Iraq, which involved getting Saddam Hussein to go into exile. Apparently, having brought the Saudi to lunch on one premise, talk turned to a business proposition: could he recruit some Saudi friends to put $100 million into Perle’s investment firm?

Given the number of Iran/contra alumni that populate this administration, the choice of Khashoggi as an intermediary raises serious alarm bells. From Mideast envoy without portfolio Elliott Abrams, to John Poindexter (he of the discredited “Total Information Awareness” program) at the Pentagon, to Otto Reich at the State Department, the Bush administration is shot through with Iran/contra retreads who still don’t seem to understand the primary lesson of that debacle: no security objective is important enough to justify secret foreign policy machinations that undermine the will of Congress and the public.

Donald Rumsfeld is perhaps the most secretive, most power hungry member of the Bush inner circle. He has a lust for power that is every bit as strong as Madonna’s lust for publicity.

Under the guise of reform, Rumsfeld has populated the Pentagon with a motley crew of former arms industry executives and right-wing ideologues that is largely responsible for the rapid reversal in regard and affection for the United States among our traditional allies around the world. He has tangled with intelligence professionals over his strong desire for them to shade their analyses to demonstrate an operational connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. He has questioned the judgment of career military men like Gen. Eric Shinseki, who told a Senate committee that it could take “several hundred thousand” troops to stabilize Iraq in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow.

Rumsfeld has ruled the Pentagon’s information operations with an iron hand, making it clear that no one inside the building should speak to a reporter without clearance from Rumsfeld’s inner circle. He has become a bit of a media star with his one-liners and crafty evasions at his regular press briefings, but as one senior defense correspondent noted last year, Rumsfeld rarely provides actual information at these performances.

Rumsfeld is the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time. Despite pledges after the September 11th that the war on terrorism would be a “new kind of war” that integrates military, diplomatic, financial, and law enforcement elements, Rumsfeld’s approach has essentially been “all war, all the time.” In addition, his much touted “reform” of the Pentagon, designed to get rid of cumbersome Cold War weapons in favor of a leaner, meaner, more mobile force, has resulted in the cancellation of only one major weapons program, the Crusader artillery system. To his credit, Rumsfeld canceled the Crusader despite the fact that United Defense, the company that had the contract, is controlled by the Carlyle Group, which is chaired by his old college buddy and longstanding associate Frank Carlucci. But one tough decision does not a “reformer” make.

Critics like former Clinton administration official William Beeman and New York Times columnist Bill Keller have made persuasive arguments for the resignation of Rumsfeld’s nemesis, Colin Powell, arguing that his views don’t match the President’s agenda and that he is therefore bound to be ineffectual. But the case for Rumsfeld stepping down is even stronger: his views may be compatible with the President’s but they are incompatible with the demands of democracy. And he has done more than any other administration official to poison our relations with key allies.

As one major U.S. ally noted in the run-up to the recent debacle at the Security Council, where the Bush administration couldn’t beg, borrow, or steal a single additional vote in favor of using force against Saddam Hussein, our allies very much want “more Powell and less Rumsfeld” if they are going to be able to work in concert with the United States on key security issues, in Iraq and beyond.

If Rumsfeld wants to rescue his credibility and keep his job, he should do the following:

  1. Institute stricter accountability and greater transparency over the operations of advisory committees like the Defense Policy Board. Richard Perle isn’t the only member of the 30-person panel with a controversial consulting firm. Henry Kissinger, the token “liberal” on the panel, had to step back from running the government investigation of the handling of the 9/11 terror attacks because he didn’t want to disclose details about his many business clients, which include a number of controversial foreign governments.
  2. Demand that Richard Perle step down not just as chairman of the board, but as a member.
  3. Institute a more open information policy at the Pentagon.
  4. Show greater respect for the judgment of career intelligence and military analysts.
  5. Revisit the issue of military reform by cutting costly Cold War weapons systems and focusing on a more balanced approach to fighting terrorism that integrates diplomatic, economic, and law enforcement perspectives along side his penchant for force and the threat of force.
  6. Stop making off-hand comments that are contrary to longstanding U.S. policy. From his remark early in his term referring to the “so-called” occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza, to his quip about France and Germany being part of the “Old Europe,” when Rumsfeld speaks off the top of his head, people listen. And it usually costs us “big time,” as his protégé Dick Cheney might say.

For its part, Congress should do an investigation of conflicts of interest and potential war profiteering, centering on the Pentagon, the Army Corps of Engineers, USAID, and the White House—and the well-connected firms that are getting an inside track on war-related contracts. Just as Harry Truman made his reputation in World War II by exposing war profiteering in the mobilization for the war against fascism, some prominent Senator—could be John McCain, could be Bob Graham—should make it his or her business to investigate profiteering in the war on terrorism and the wars of “preemption” favored by Rumsfeld and his cronies at the Pentagon.

William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School and the author of The Hidden Costs of War. He can be reached at 212-229-5808, ext. 106, or at

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This story was published on April 4, 2003.
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