As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, May 18, 2009

And A Child Shall Lead Them

Don Rumsfeld never struck me as the religious type, and the assumption being made about this GQ article and his use of Bible quotes in intelligence briefings prepared for George Bush is that he played upon his boss' evangelicism to present the war in Iraq in a language well-understood to the then-President, the way a father would appease a son by playing a game of peek-a-boo. In the article, Robert Draper assigns the impetus for these cover sheets as a Major General working in intelligence for Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Richard Myers, and according to him "my seniors ... appreciated the cover pages."

That clever bureaucrat, Rummy, always winning the battles inside the corridors of power, or at least making appearances to that end. Except this desire to work the system to his advantage crashed on the rocks of his own obstinacy during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

"In many ways," says one of Bush’s national-security advisers, "Rumsfeld was more interested in being perceived to be in charge than actually being in charge." When I repeated this quote to an administration official privy to Rumsfeld’s war efforts, this person’s eyes lit up. “One of the most fateful, knock-down-drag-outs was over postwar reconstruction,” says this official. “It was the question of who’d take charge, State or DoD. Rumsfeld made a presentation about chain of command. ‘If State takes over here, are you saying Tommy Franks is going to report to a State official? Mr. President, that’s not in the Constitution!’ ” [...]

A final story of Rumsfeld’s intransigence begins on Wednesday, August 31, 2005. Two days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans—and the same day that Bush viewed the damage on a flyover from his Crawford, Texas, retreat back to Washington—a White House advance team toured the devastation in an Air Force helicopter. Noticing that their chopper was outfitted with a search-and-rescue lift, one of the advance men said to the pilot, “We’re not taking you away from grabbing people off of rooftops, are we?”

“No, sir,” said the pilot. He explained that he was from Florida’s Hurlburt Field Air Force base—roughly 200 miles from New Orleans—which contained an entire fleet of search-and-rescue helicopters. “I’m just here because you’re here,” the pilot added. “My whole unit’s sitting back at Hurlburt, wondering why we’re not being used.”

The search-and-rescue helicopters were not being used because Donald Rumsfeld had not yet approved their deployment—even though, as Lieutenant General Russ Honoré, the cigar-chomping commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, would later tell me, “that Wednesday, we needed to evacuate people. The few helicopters we had in there were busy, and we were trying to deploy more.” [...]

The next day, three days after landfall, word of disorder in New Orleans had reached a fever pitch. According to sources familiar with the conversation, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff called Rumsfeld that morning and said, “You’re going to need several thousand troops.”

“Well, I disagree,” said the SecDef. “And I’m going to tell the president we don’t need any more than the National Guard.”

The problem was that the Guard deployment (which would eventually reach 15,000 troops) had not arrived—at least not in sufficient numbers, and not where it needed to be. And though much of the chaos was being overstated by the media, the very suggestion of a state of anarchy was enough to dissuade other relief workers from entering the city. Having only recently come to grips with the roiling disaster, Bush convened a meeting in the Situation Room on Friday morning. According to several who were present, the president was agitated. Turning to the man seated at his immediate left, Bush barked, “Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what’s on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I’m watching? What the hell are you doing?”

Rumsfeld replied by trotting out the ongoing National Guard deployments and suggesting that sending active-duty troops would create “unity of command” issues. Visibly impatient, Bush turned away from Rumsfeld and began to direct his inquiries at Lieutenant General Honoré on the video screen. “From then on, it was a Bush-Honoré dialogue,” remembers another participant. “The president cut Rumsfeld to pieces. I just wish it had happened earlier in the week.”

And through this we learn who was the ACTUAL child in the White House. Bush may have been the boy king but at least he had a spark of recognition, if only about his own legacy, that kicked in four days late every once in a while. Rumsfeld simply had an insatiable desire not to control everything, but to make it appear like he controlled everything. He wanted to strut around as the main gatekeeper in the White House, and such gatekeeping mattered far more than. This report almost makes the turf wars sound like a game, like a child protecting his blocks at playtime in kindergarten. And this need for control, this petty outmaneuvering without regard for the real-world implications of the actions, permeates the entire neocon thought process, the entire way they relate to the world.

Rumsfeld comes off like the most insecure bastard that ever lived. And I came away learning far more than I expected about the ideological project with which he associates himself.

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