Rumsfeld's Iraq regret: Calling the war a "war on terror"

The outgoing defense secretary says he has no advice for his successor.

By Tim Grieve
Published December 12, 2006 3:09PM (EST)

Donald Rumsfeld allowed just one U.S. journalist to accompany him on his taxpayer-funded farewell tour to Iraq: Fox News' Sean Hannity. And when Rumsfeld sat down for an interview with Hannity, it seems that he didn't have much to say.

His thoughts after reading the Iraq Study Group report? "I skimmed it."

His explanation for his departure? "The outcome of the election" caused George W. Bush to believe that it would be better if he were gone -- a take-no-responsibility answer that's interesting, as Think Progress notes, only because it contradicts Bush's claim that Rumsfeld was going to be out no matter what happened in November.

Rumsfeld's advice for his successor? "I don't have any advice for him."

Maybe that's not such a bad thing. Before heading out for Iraq, Rumsfeld sat down for an interview with conservative columnist Cal Thomas, who asked him, among other things, "With what you know now, what might you have done differently in Iraq?"

Rumsfeld's response: "I don't think I would have called it the 'war on terror.' I don't mean to be critical of those who have. Certainly, I have used the phrase frequently. Why do I say that? Because the word 'war' conjures up World War II more than it does the Cold War. It creates a level of expectation of victory and an ending within 30 or 60 minutes of a soap opera. It isn't going to happen that way. Furthermore, it is not a 'war on terror.' Terror is a weapon of choice for extremists who are trying to destabilize regimes and, [through] a small group of clerics, impose their dark vision on all the people they can control. So 'war on terror' is a problem for me."

Rumsfeld then launched into a 700-word soliloquy on troop levels, but it didn't concern his failure to send enough troops to Iraq in the first place so much as the calls -- from John McCain and a handful others -- to send more troops now. And it wasn't exactly a "what I would have done differently" moment: "Do I know that the right number is there? No. Do I think it is? Yes. Is there anyone who is smart enough to prove it is or isn't? No."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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