CRF Blog

Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now

by Bill Hayes

In Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now for the New York Review of Books, Mark Danner reviews three works on the former secretary of defense: The Unknown Known, a film directed by Errol Morris; Known and Unknown: A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld; and By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld by Bradley Graham

[T]wo years have passed since the last American soldier crossed the Iraq border into Kuwait, ending in quiet ignominy the American phase of a war that had begun in highly ballyhooed “shock and awe” more than eight years before. In Iraq, the sectarian guerrilla war set off by the invasion goes on, the suicide bombers continue their work, hundreds of Iraqis die in horrific violence every month. That most Americans would prefer to ignore this does not alter the reality that we live in a world the Iraq war has made. Before the war, Iraq had served the United States as a check on the revolutionary ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran — a “tilt” to Iraq that Donald Rumsfeld had personally set on course, during talks with Saddam in Baghdad in 1983 as President Reagan’s special envoy. It took the American invasion two decades later to make of Iraq an Iranian ally.

Under Saddam, Iraq had been devoid of Islamic jihadists; it took the American occupation to make of Iraq a breeding ground for jihadists and a laboratory for developing and honing their techniques of asymmetric warfare: the car bombs, kidnappings, improvised explosive devices, and other ruthless tactics in a cheap and effective “toolbox” that has been employed with considerable success from Afghanistan to Yemen to Mali. Iraqi jihadists, many of them former soldiers and officers in the Iraqi army that the American occupiers abruptly dissolved in the summer of 2003, have become the proud foot soldiers of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” a proclaimed zone of insurgency and Wild West lawlessness that stretches west from Fallujah through Anbar province and into the heart of Sunni Syria.

While the increasingly repressive Shia government that the Americans helped install in Baghdad collaborates with Tehran in its support of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, the Sunni insurgents that the Americans unleashed struggle to overthrow Assad in what is becoming the central battle of the three-continent-wide Salafi uprising that al-Qaeda, by its audacious September 11 attacks, had been determined to ignite and foster. Now the Sunnis are increasingly striking back at Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors in Lebanon.

The Sunni–Shia struggle set in motion by the American invasion of Iraq has become the vortex of a violent political struggle that stretches from South Asia to the Gulf. Meantime, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has grown fivefold. Bin Laden is dead, but in Pakistan and Somalia and Yemen the drones go on striking, killing by now several thousand, and more rise to take their place. The jihadists are not winning but they are not disappearing either. There is no end in sight. [more]