August 28, 2016
Reflecting on Rumsfeld
Posted on Oct 17, 2006
By Stan Goff
Regardless of their differences, bureaucrats all share an affinity for formulae. The Powell Doctrine read like the interrogative for a business plan:
—Is a vital U.S. interest at stake?
As important as any of these criteria, however, and central to the Powell Doctrine as an outgrowth of the U.S. defeat at the hands of the Vietnamese, is the emphasis on public perception management.
Powell sincerely believes that the U.S. was defeated in Vietnam by the combination of bad publicity and the failure to engage in more brutal tactics to subdue the population. For anyone who sentimentally thinks of Powell as the nice guy among Republicans, I apologize for the shock you are about to receive.
Square, Site wide
In 1963, well before the American public generally understood where Vietnam was located, a young Army captain led a South Vietnamese unit through the A Shau Valley to systematically burn villages to the ground. This was to deprive the so-called Viet Cong of any base of support, and was called “draining the sea,” a reference to Mao’s dictum that the guerrilla is the fish and the population is the sea.
That captain would later write, “I recall a phrase we used in the field, MAM, for military-age male. If a helo spotted a peasant in black pajamas who looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM, the pilot would circle and fire in front of him. If he moved, his movement was judged evidence of hostile intent, and the next burst was not in front, but at him. Brutal? Maybe so. But an able battalion commander with whom I had served ... was killed by enemy sniper fire while observing MAMs from a helicopter. And Pritchard [that commander] was only one of many. The kill-or-be-killed nature of combat tends to dull fine perceptions of right and wrong.”
On March 16, 1968, the U.S. Infantry of C Company, Task Force Barker, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, went into a Vietnamese hamlet designated My Lai 4 and killed 347 unarmed men, women and children, engaging in rape and torture along the way for four hours before a U.S. helicopter pilot who observed the massacre ordered his door gunners to open fire on the grunts if they didn’t desist. The chopper pilot, however, did not report the massacre.
Six months later, a young enlisted man, Spec. 4 Tom Glen, sent a letter to Gen. Creighton Abrams, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Without specifically mentioning My Lai, Glen said that murder had become a routine part of Americal operations. The letter was shunted over to Americal Division, and then to the office of the same officer who had been leading the South Vietnamese arson campaign five years earlier, since promoted to major. He was now the deputy assistant chief of staff of the division—a functionary who was directed to craft a response to this report of widespread atrocities against Vietnamese civilians.
“In direct refutation of this portrayal,” wrote the officer dismissively and with no investigation whatsoever, “is the fact that relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” Perhaps he believed that those killed were MAMs, and therefore outside the protection of the Geneva Conventions and international law.
That officer was Colin Powell.
The massacre at My Lai, for which it was his responsibility to conduct damage control for the Americal Division, was a turning point in the loss of American domestic support for the war. This did not lead Powell to question the legitimacy of the Vietnam occupation, or the brutality with which it was carried out. It led him to believe that control of public perceptions, ergo control of the press, is an integral part of any war effort; as an adjunct to the overwhelming application of lethal force.
The finest expressions of the Powell Doctrine were the bloody invasion of Panama and the 1991 destruction of Iraq. At the time of the latter, the Fourth Generation Warfare “theory” of William Lind was still written in wet ink. One of the people who was studying it, with the same intensity as those armchair warrior history buffs who play with toy soldiers, was Donald Rumsfeld, on hiatus from politics after having served as Gerald Ford’s defense secretary (when he was a vocal supporter of chemical warfare) and Ronald Reagan’s special envoy to Saddam Hussein (a role in which he assisted Saddam in acquiring chemical weapons). At the time, Rumsfeld was a vice president at Westmark Systems, a defense technology holding company, which further consolidated Rumsfeld’s fascination with Tom Mix Warfare—the reliance on highly technical, extremely expensive weapons systems.
Rumsfeld shared one key personality characteristic with Vietnam’s architect, Robert McNamara; he remains absolutely convinced that he can’t be wrong in the face of overwhelming evidence that he is.
Rumsfeld’s fascination with the 4GW theorists and his extreme technological optimism accompanied him into the Pentagon as George W. Bush’s SecDef, where he immediately began the grandiosely named Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). The doctrinal transformation was in a clumsy phase when 19 asymmetrical fighters hijacked four commercial aircraft and turned them into poor man’s cruise missiles to strike three strategic and highly symbolic targets.
Other notable Eagle Scouts were Charles Joseph Whitman, who shot 45 people from the Tower at the University of Texas in 1966, and Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. (Author’s disclaimer: Being an Eagle Scout in no way predisposes one to sociopathic behavior ... nor does it prevent it, obviously.)
Whitman can’t claim Don Rumsfeld’s body count, of course. He was a piker compared with Rumsfeld. But McNamara can. The matchless McNamara managed to facilitate the slaughter of around 3 million in Southeast Asia. There will be those who protest this comparison, and I agree in advance; there is no comparison. Rumsfeld and McNamara were bigger killers by orders of magnitude than other Eagle Scouts and the vast majority of the world’s serial killers.
Rumsfeld put off killing anyone until he could get his degree at Princeton, where he went to Naval ROTC and first met fellow alum and future Bush dynasty Svengali Frank Carlucci.
Rumsfeld managed to tuck his military service (1954-57) as a naval aviator into a time slot after Korea and before Vietnam, though he remained in the Reserves—before they were massively called into combat (by him in 2003) while he pursued his career with the Republican Party.
With the same systematic instrumentality that earned him his Eagle Scout status by racking up the right merit badges, he worked on two congressional staffs, then did a stint as an investment banker, before running for Congress himself— eventually serving four terms as the Illinois 13th District representative. As a committee member devoted to policy on military affairs, economics and aeronautics, his affinity for high technology, “metric” measurements, and mass destruction were further synthesized and developed.
As an intra-Republican coup-maker, he undermined Minority Leader Charles Halleck on behalf of his buddy and future presidential boss Gerald Ford. When this kind of walk-over-bodies opportunism set limits on his own rise within the House of Representatives, Rumsfeld went to work for the Nixon administration, where he worked first to de-fund the Office of Economic Opportunity (with the help of a new executive assistant, Dick Cheney), then as a special advisor to the president.
Interestingly, Rumsfeld publicly supported Richard Nixon on the continuation of the Vietnam occupation and Nixon’s murderous bombing campaigns, but behind the scenes he was considered an administration “dove.” Rumsfeld confided his misgivings to his congressional buddy Robert Ellsworth, who would later recount: “[Rumsfeld] could see that we were not figuring out a strategy to win in Vietnam…. Neither could we figure out a strategy to withdraw. And it was very frustrating.” The U.S. could not win, and it could not leave!
There is nothing quite as remarkable about Rumsfeld’s career—which would later include roles as chief executive of Searle when aspartame (NutraSweet) was under fire for its manifold health hazards, the nation’s youngest secretary of defense, ambassador to NATO, and defense contractor CEO—as the fact that he would be the nation’s next McNamara, presiding over the degradation of the military in another politico-military quagmire where the U.S. could neither win nor leave.
Appointed by George W. Bush at the behest of his neocon advisory core, Rumsfeld as secretary of defense was specifically to ensure that Secretary of State Colin Powell—who held the neocons in contempt for their military fantasies—did not use his powerful influence within the military to mobilize resistance to the Cheney-Wolfowitz agenda. Rumsfeld, however, saw his role in much more grandiose terms than being Colin’s counterweight. His conviction of his own genius, the transcendent power of technology to solve all problems, and his devotion to the fevered Lindian theory of strategy led him to see the armed forces of the United States as his personal tool to secure his place in history as a kind of latter-day Clausewitz.
Rumsfeld then combined his ideas in such a way that he oversaw a war that would come to be opposed by his mentor, William Lind; shatter the grand vision of the neocons in the streets of Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, Naja and Samara ; grind down and demoralize the armed forces to such a point that his own generals would lead a rebellion; lead to Powell’s departure as secretary of state; and secure himself a place in history alongside Robert McNamara for the same thing Rumsfeld himself had criticized about McNamara’s war.
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