While his political career spanned decades, Donald Rumsfeld was most notorious for his role in fabricating the story of the existence of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and planning the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Donald Rumsfeld was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Following his graduation from university, He served a brief spell in the US Navy as a flight instructor before he entered into politics while still in his 20s as an administrative assistant to a Republican member of the US Congress, Robert P. Griffin.
Rumsfeld was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1962 and won several re-elections before resigning in 1969 to serve in the Nixon Administration under several portfolios. More notably, after Nixon’s resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Rumsfeld served as Secretary of Defense for the Ford Administration and oversaw the transition of the US military to an all-volunteer force.
Following Gerald Ford’s defeat in the presidential election, Rumsfeld returned to the private sector for the next few decades, and held several roles as Chief Executive Officer for global pharmaceutical companies and telecommunications companies among others.
The period in which Rumsfeld would gain his greatest level of notoriety and infamy began in 2001 when he was again named Secretary of Defense, this time by George W. Bush. Following the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on 9/11, Rumsfeld immediately floated the idea of acting against Iraq, despite the lack of evidence of the country’s involvement behind the attacks. He was reported to have argued “Why shouldn't we go against Iraq, not just al-Qaeda?” and that he viewed the Saddam Hussein-led government there as a “brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily.”
Instead, the US first directed its attention towards Afghanistan. Rumsfeld directed the planning for operations against the Taliban, which commenced on the 7th of October 2001. The invasion of Afghanistan was part of the United States’ new “Global War on Terror” which saw the US threaten adversaries and allies alike with dire consequences should they fail to meet their demands, as Bush’s chilling quote “You are either with us or against us” illustrates.
After the US successfully toppled the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration quickly returned its gaze to Iraq thanks to the efforts of Rumsfeld and fellow neo-conservatives Vice President Dick Cheney and Under Secretary of State John Bolton (who would later go on to serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration).
Beginning in 2002, Rumsfeld and others in the Bush Administration fabricated and repeated the now infamous lie that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein held a stockpile of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and was cooperating with Al Qaeda to harm the interests of the United States.
Rumsfeld in particular was a key architect in the US’ invasion of Iraq. One famous instance saw Rumsfeld botch his attempt at answering a question on the existence of WMDs by saying “As we know, there are known knowns… We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know”.
Despite this and similarly nonsensical claims, Rumsfeld’s planning for the US invasion of Iraq proceeded, with “Shock and Awe”, a tactic involving the use of swift and overwhelming force taking centre stage.
Upon the commencement of the US’ invasion (which, unlike its invasion of Afghanistan, was not approved by the United Nations), viewers were met with footage of US bombers devastating Baghdad city centre as US forces closed in on the Iraqi capital. The Oxford Research Group attributed over 6,500 civilian deaths to the three week long invasion, including the bombing of Baghdad.
Following Saddam Hussein’s fall from power, Rumsfeld hailed the supposed liberation of the Iraqi people from the former tyrant, even as riots and looting ensued in Baghdad and searches for WMDs turned up fruitless. The next three years saw a rising level of violence between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia populations to the point of civil war, and mounting casualties for US and British forces. More than 18 months after the invasion’s conclusion, US forces fought insurgents in the bloodiest battle for the US since the Vietnam War.
Facing mounting criticism over the rising violence in Iraq, the scandal over the existence of torture prison camps at Abu Ghraib and the revelation that the key reason behind the US’ invasion was based on a lie, Rumsfeld resigned from his position in November 2006. The devastating consequences of the US invasion of Iraq continue to haunt the wider Middle East to this day, including the rise of ISIS and the suffering they brought to Syria and Iraq.
Ultimately, Rumsfeld would not face any real accountability for his role in the invasion of Iraq and the instability that brought to the country and the wider Middle East. For the remainder of his life, Rumsfeld stayed largely out of the limelight, though he conducted several interviews over his role in the Bush Administration as well as offering his views on contemporary issues such as the US involvement in the Libyan Civil War and the 2016 presidential election (in which he said he would vote for Donald Trump). He died in New Mexico on Tuesday the 29th of June.