Unapologetic war hawk Donald Rumsfeld went to his grave this week believing that the Iraq War was justified and that he was on the right side of history. We'll see about that.
The former secretary of defense died Tuesday at the age of 88 at his home in Taos, New Mexico, according to the New York Times and other sources. The cause was blood cancer, multiple myeloma.
Rumsfeld had the distinction of serving as defense secretary under two presidents separated by more than two decades — first under President Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977, and then under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006, guiding the U.S. strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks.
In the early days of his second tenure, Rumsfeld was known for his candid and often amusingly forthright press conferences — disarming reporters with a "straight-talking Midwestern" manner as U.S. News & World Report said in 2001, and "routinely [having] the press corps doubled over in fits of laughter." As Robert Wright wrote in a Times opinion piece at the time, "One consequence of Osama bin Laden's attack on America that was surely unintentional was turning Donald Rumsfeld into a folk hero."
But Rumsfeld's role in publicizing shoddy intelligence about Saddam Hussein's links to Al Qaeda and WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) has long since disgraced him in the minds of anyone paying attention. And despite a preponderance of evidence in the years following Bush 43's term that Congress, the United Nations, and the American public were misled in order to drum up support for Rumsfeld's and Dick Cheney's ravenous desire to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld remained stubbornly without contrition.
While Hussein was removed from power and ultimately executed, the war cost the country $700 billion and 4,400 American lives, not to mention countless Iraqi civilian casualties — estimated between 100,000 and 1 million.
As Rumsfeld wrote in his 2011 memoir, "Ridding the region of Saddam’s brutal regime has created a more stable and secure world."
Critics have also charged Rumsfeld and the gang with taking the eye off the ball in Afghanistan as they focused on Iraq, allowing the Taliban to resurge and draw the U.S. into what has been the longest war in American history. Indeed, troops are still in the process of pulling out of the country, meaning that the war outlived even Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld's family issued a statement following his death saying, "History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country."
Top image: Former U.S. President George W. Bush (L) and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, on September 11, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)