On Saturday Vice President Dick Cheney said that “Don Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the United States ever had.” How modest Cheney is, considering that he himself was a secretary of defense under the original President Bush. If we take Cheney’s fawning words at face value (something I would rarely recommend), does that mean that Cheney was simply a more or less adequate secretary? And would this automatically make Rumsfeld a better one, or even “the best”?
Come to think of it, there is something distinctly incestuous about the job of defense secretary. Cheney had it, and now Rummy has it. It would seem that Rummy had sloppy seconds, but don’t forget that Rumsfeld was secretary of defense once before, way back under President Ford. Twenty years ago, Rumsfeld was in D.C., swaggering just as much as he does today.
It is a known known what Rumsfeld’s preoccupations are today, but what was he concerned about his first time around as secretary of defense?
Just take a look at this recently declassified memo, detailing a top-secret 1976 conversation between President Ford, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, NSA Director Brent Scowcroft, and Rumsfeld (See the larger image). The document is interesting not so much because of what is being said, but simply because it illustrates what a dinosaur Rumsfeld is. His Cold War mentality shines through, especially when he frets that militarily, America has “been slipping since the ’60s from superiority to equivalence, and if we don’t stop now, we’ll be behind.”
But back to Cheney’s statement from yesterday…
Cheney also said, “People ought to get off his case and let him do his job.” Cheney sounds a little too overprotective of his buddy, and more to the point, snidely unimpressed with the magnitude and ramifications of the Iraqi abuse scandal. Cheney demonstrates that his secure undisclosed location is as much metaphorical as literal–Cheney is out touch and not willing for a second to put himself in the place of Iraqi citizens who see these horrendous images of torture perpetrated by their so-called liberators.
The point, Mr. Cheney, is that Rumsfeld didn’t do his job. Had he done it, American forces overseas would be abiding by the rules of the Geneva Convention. These rules, to which the U.S. is a signatory, were broken, and they were broken routinely and systematically, and they continued to be broken long after Rumsfeld found out about the violations.
If this lack of leadership defines the “best” secretary of defense this nation can muster, then the ones that weren’t the best must have really been pitiful.