Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is Donald Rumsfeld the Worst Secretary of Defense Ever?

On the day that Rumsfeld resigns, I think it's time to answer the question, "Is Donald Rumsfeld the worst Secretary of Defense/Secretary of War ever?" I think the answer is yes.

I present two other possible candidates.

First, Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce. Davis worked almost entirely to promote sectional interests under the Pierce administration, particularly to have a transcontiental railroad built across the South. To promote this, he forced Mexico to sell a chunk of what is now southern New Mexico and Arizona to the US--the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. This helped push the US toward the Civil War that Davis played a not so small role in. Ultimately though, the importance of the Secretary of War was so much smaller than the modern Secretary of Defense that I have trouble saying Davis is worse than 3rd.

Second, Robert McNamara. Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, McNamara was the architect of the disaster known as the Vietnam War. He masterminded such terrible ideas as taking South Vietnamese peasants off their land, using Agent Orange and other defoliants, and the massive aerial bombing of both North and South Vietnam.

This is a more interesting comparison with Rumsfeld. The Vietnam War was a far more damaging and awful conflict than Iraq. More Vietnamese died and more Americans died. McNamara has also (sort of) admitted his mistakes, something that Rumsfeld will never do. McNamara also had a complete lack of morality in his judgments--it seems that he saw the Vietnamese as nothing but numbers. Rumsfeld, for as awful as he is, actually might believe in something and maybe that makes him less of a bastard than McNamara.

Given all this evidence, why do I argue that Rumsfeld is the worst Secretary of Defense in the nation's history? Because McNamara was very much a man of his time while Rumsfeld is an outlyer. Had McNamara not served in his position, history probably would have taken place in a similar way. We still would have gone into Vietnam and hundreds of thousands of people would have died. Did McNamara cause greater damage than another man in the office would have? Probably. But he, like everyone else, believed in the Domino Theory and thought that we had to stop communism everywhere.

Donald Rumsfeld never represented the majority of opinion in the American public, the military, or even the defense establishment. He and his neo-con buddies decided to engage on a war in Iraq, simply because they wanted to. He played a major role in turning the US away from the true war on terror and got us involved in an unnecessary war that has killed nearly 3000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. His ideas have plunged the nation into massive debt and severely damaged our credibility abroad. He didn't listen to the nation's military officers, preferring to will his ideas into effect rather than listen to reality. No one has done so much to damage the office of the Secretary of Defense as Rumsfeld. No Secretary of Defense has done so much to destroy American standing across the world. No previous Secretary of Defense has moved us from a necessary war (Afghanistan) into an unnecessary war simply to fulfill the political wishes of a faction of one party.

The fantasies of Donald Rumsfeld are different than the fantasies of Robert McNamara in one key aspect--whereas McNamara's fantasies and fears reflected those of both US political parties, the defense industry, and the military in 1965, Rumsfeld's fantasies are of his own making and were made active by his own will and the will of a few powerful friends who happen to control the current administration. For that, and all the unnecessary death, destruction, and decline of American standing in the world that has come from it, I name Donald Rumsfeld the worst Secretary of Defense in the history of the United States.