Roger Morris, a historian and investigative journalist who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, brings his wisdom to bear on the rise and fall of Donald Rumsfeld.
As it was, despite his business conquests, Rumsfeld missed an even greater prize. He had been on a short list to become Ronald Reagan’s running mate in the 1980 presidential campaign when the candidate unexpectedly reached for his defeated primary rival (and Rumsfeld nemesis) George H.W. Bush. While, over the next 12 years, Bush went on to the vice-presidency and presidency, and Jim Baker—equally detested by Rumsfeld—went along with his patron to White House staff and cabinet power, Rumsfeld would build his Searle fortune and bide his time.
The one exception to his involuntary Reagan-era exile from government would be a stint in 1983-1984 as special presidential envoy to the Middle East. He would be sent to arrange U.S. support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war with the hated Iranians of Ayatollah Khomeini, a role little noticed at the time which nonetheless produced the notorious photo of Rumsfeld shaking hands with the Iraqi dictator. The deeper story was far more embarrassing than any simple handshake.
Most of the relevant records on Rumsfeld’s several-month assignment are still classified, though it is clear that, as at the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), he took on his mission with a passion. He worked to shower on Saddam (in a manner as unnoticed as possible) an infamous flow of intelligence, financial credits, and sensitive materials and technology that would come to underpin Iraqi chemical and bacteriological warfare programs, leading to hideous gas attacks on Shia dissidents and Kurds as well as the Iranian forces. In general, Rumsfeld put his shoulder to the wheel to shore up the war-worn Ba’athist regime that had attacked Iran in 1980.