Updated: July 3, 2021 9:20:11 am
For better or worse — in fact, more worse than better — Donald Rumsfeld had a profound impact on global geopolitics and the state of the world as it is today. He had the distinction of being both the youngest and oldest US Secretary of Defence, the former in Gerald Ford’s cabinet in 1975 and the latter in 2001 under George W Bush. His abiding legacy — he died earlier this week at 88 — though, will be the mess of the Iraq War, as well as the erosion of the moral capital of the US and the West in the world, perhaps even to a greater degree than was seen during the Vietnam War.
Rumsfeld had the twin conceits of many successful businessmen who enter public life. On the one hand, he had disdain for the bureaucracy and structures at the Pentagon and on the other, he was almost militantly ideological and rigid when it came to military action and American exceptionalism. According to many accounts of the time, Rumsfeld and then US Vice President Dick Cheney were the most insistent on pursuing military action in Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11. That war eroded the US public’s appetite for military interventions abroad, destroyed the credibility of Western coalitions “bringing democracy” through violence, increased the US national debt manifold and set into motion abiding military instability in West Asia.
In the aftermath of the outrage over torture and other human rights violations by the US at Abu Ghraib, Rumsfeld was replaced by Bush. Yet, he continued to defend — both at a strategic level as well as ideologically — the US invasion of Iraq and the grounds for it. His now-infamous defence of the fact there were no weapons of mass destruction — “known unknowns” — is perhaps one of the great examples of modern sophistry. The lesson for world leaders from Rumsfeld’s controversial — but deeply significant — public life perhaps is that a quick trigger finger and a podium can be a weapon of mass destruction too.
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