Fear-mongering, arrogance and bureaucratic bullying. By such tools, Donald Rumsfeld became one of the most powerful, most unpopular and ultimately most unsuccessful Pentagon chiefs in history. Any doubts about that judgement have been removed by the publication this week in The Washington Post of a selection of his "snow-flakes" – the short memos the former defence secretary was wont to fire off daily in scores to his staff. They pestered, they irritated, and on occasion they terrorised their recipients. Together, they give a depressing snapshot of the modus operandi of their boss, as he presided over the debacle in Iraq.
"Keep elevating the threat. Talk about Somalia and the Philippines," Mr Rumsfeld urged in April 2006 as Iraq fell apart and eminent former generals broke cover to demand his resignation. "Make the American people realise they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists." In the same vein, he suggested re-branding the war on terror a "worldwide insurgency". He seems to have had as much scorn for Arabs as for "Old Europe", noting in a May 2004 rumination that oil had made Muslims forget "the reality of work, effort and investment that leads to wealth for the rest of the world".
Not least the snowflakes underline the mendacity inherent in Mr Rumsfeld's style. Whenever pushed into a corner at a Pentagon briefing, he would wriggle free by claiming that he was not involved in a particular decision, that he had not had the time to read an embarrassing article, memo or leaked internal report. Any mistakes, he implied, were made by underlings. In fact, as the memos prove, he was an obsessive micromanager, who knew everything that was going on.
Most depressing, however, while the man himself has gone, his methods remain. Mr Rumsfeld was forced from his job in November 2006, after the Republican midterm election defeat for which his mismanagement of the war was largely responsible. His successor, Robert Gates, has a low-key, cautious and thoughtful style, far removed from the abrasive Rumsfeld. But the scare-mongering continues. Be it the use of torture or the threat posed by Iran, this White House (still featuring Mr Rumsfeld's ally Dick Cheney) trots out the same justification: America is in mortal peril, and all means are justified. In other words, as the departed, unlamented master would put it: "Keep elevating the threat."Reuse content