March 9, 2011


Certainty Principle: Donald Rumsfeld was discredited when he left the Bush Administration in 2006, but the recent Middle East uprisings might be vindication for both Bush’s Freedom Agenda and the man who helped shape it. The former Defense secretary talks to Tablet Magazine. (Lee Smith, Mar 9, 2011, Tablet)

“George W. Bush believed deeply that people desire to be free,” Donald Rumsfeld tells me in his downtown Washington office, only a few blocks from the White House. “And that free people act more responsibly.” When I ask if events in the Middle East these last two months prove that Bush’s Freedom Agenda was smart, Rumsfeld pauses thoughtfully. “I wish I knew for sure,” he says. [....]

Rumsfeld’s worldview is a combination of a conservatism that springs from the experience of witnessing first-hand the limits of political activism and an optimism that is inevitable for any American who believes, in spite of human nature and the course it has charted throughout history, that sometimes the better angels of our nature gain the upper hand. His style is warm and personable, and it’s not difficult to see how he had the press corps eating out of his hands after Sept. 11—up until, that is, the Iraq war.

Overall, he says, he is disappointed in how the Obama Administration has handled the developing situation in the Middle East. “They should have been quicker off the mark with Libya,” Rumsfeld says. “You would be happy to encourage revolts and uprisings in Iran, Syria, and Libya. We almost can’t lose. It’s hard to think those circumstances could get much worse than they are. Qaddafi’s behavior has been harmful to us.”

Egypt is a different matter. “How you behave with an ally tells other allies how you behave,” Rumsfeld says of the White House’s marching orders to Mubarak. Rumsfeld explains how he had just seen a video [5] in which Niall Ferguson ripped into what the Scottish-born NYU professor believed was the administration’s lackluster response to the crises in Tunisia and Egypt. “I can’t help but agree with what Ferguson said, but it’s easier for him than someone who has been in those positions. I’m slow to judgment.”

Still, as Rumsfeld notes, “Mubarak was helpful in the region and created a period of stability that was helpful to everyone”—Arabs and the United States no less than Israel. “If you were an Israeli that benefited from the Egypt-Israel treaty, which provided a respite from decades of fighting, you just have to be deeply concerned,” he continued. “It’s not that they don’t want the Arabs to have opportunities. But if you were in that situation, you might opt for stability versus opportunity for your neighbors.”

I ask how he sees Israel’s strategic situation in the region and whether the Jewish state will continue to serve as an American asset or turn into a liability. “I don’t look at Israel as an asset for the U.S.,” he says. “Any country that is democratic is an asset to the world, a model. That’s despite all the criticism they get from the U.N., the pressure they get from Iran, and the not-so-latent anti-Semitism in our country and other countries.”

While Rumsfeld’s vision of a smaller, more mobile Army may have been partly responsible for the rocky early years of American occupation of Iraq, it may become even more significant now than when he was in office.

...would have allowed Mookie to settle Sunni hash quicker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 9, 2011 4:26 PM
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