Rumsfeld was even worse than you thought

A new report details the anger within the Bush administration toward the former secretary of defense, and shows how he hurt Katrina relief efforts.


Alex Koppelman
May 18, 2009 7:40PM (UTC)

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not a popular guy, and his tenure during the Bush administration isn't generally well-regarded. He even became the fall guy for Republicans' disastrous losses in the 2006 midterm elections, as then-President Bush very publicly accepted his resignation one day after the GOP lost control of both houses of Congress.

Now, though, a new article in GQ by Robert Draper is doing more damage to Rumsfeld's already-tarnished reputation. Veterans of the Bush administration, who'd apparently been waiting for the opportunity to unload on an old foe, dished plenty of dirt on the former defense secretary, and delivered some truly amazing images to go along with it.

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On its Web site, GQ has published a slide show of cover sheets that accompanied intelligence updates produced by Rumsfeld's DOD for Bush. They all feature images of American soldiers in the field, and biblical quotes. It was, apparently, at least partially an attempt to appeal to Bush's religious belief, but it also made other administration officials quite unhappy, in part because if they ever leaked, the images would bolster the perception, which the administration had been working to counter, that America was fighting a holy war against Islam.

That's the most visually stunning element of Draper's story, but the portrait he paints of Rumsfeld as bureaucratic player is astounding too. The story of his actions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is particularly damning. "It was commonly known in the West Wing that there was a battle with Rumsfeld regarding this," Draper quotes one unnamed former "top White House official" as saying. "I can't imagine another defense secretary throwing up the kinds of obstacles he did."

Draper writes:

Rumsfeld's aversion to using active-duty troops was evident: "There's no doubt in my mind," says one of Bush's close advisers today, "that Rumsfeld didn't like the concept."

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."

... 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.

Even after that meeting, when the president expressed his disapproval of what Rumsfeld was doing, the defense secretary still continued dragging his feet on sending in troops.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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