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Rumsfeld Confirms Archive Analysis

February 8, 2011

Donald Rumsfeld in February 2005.

In his new book Known and Unknown, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld provides yet more confirmation from the top level that President George W. Bush carried out a war against Iraq without ever deliberating on the consequences. The Bush administration made no considered decision for war and no effort to evaluate the costs and benefits of the invasion of Iraq which it carried out. Rumsfeld writes in his memoir, “while the president and I had many discussions about the war preparations, I do not recall his ever asking me if I thought going to war with Iraq was the right decision.” Rumsfeld’s statement directly confirms the National Security Archive’s analysis explicitly stated in a series of 2010 electronic briefing books from the Iraq Documentation Project. This archive series intended to reframe the origins of the Iraq war, included the September 2010 posting “The Iraq War, Part II: Was There Even a Decision?” by project co-director John Prados and guest analyst Christopher Ames. That briefing book presented declassified documents and quoted senior U.S. and British officials whose experiences were precisely the same as Rumsfeld’s.

President Bush’s knee-jerk reaction to the September 11 attacks—encouraged by Rumsfeld himself—was simply to initiate preparations for war with a  state that had had nothing to do with the Al Qaeda attack. In another segment of our presentation, Iraq project co-director Joyce Battle’s “The Iraq War, Part I: The U.S. Prepares for Conflict, 2001,” the Archive included the declassified contemporaneous notes by Rumsfeld assistant Stephen Cambone, compiled on September 11 itself, making the link from Al Qaeda attacks to war against Iraq. Battle’s posting also included Secretary Rumsfeld’s own notes on a November 27, 2001 talking points paper for briefing U.S. Central Command leader General Tommy Franks which demonstrates how quickly war plans were demanded. Previously, in 2004, the Archive presented declassified briefing slides of the August 2002 “Polo Step” war plan. Donald Rumsfeld’s new book adds additional detail to this record. The record shows that President Bush sought to capitalize on the horror of September 11 to overthrow Saddam Hussein without regard to any other consideration.

First page of Rumsfeld's November 27, 2001 talking points paper for briefing U.S. Central Command leader General Tommy Franks.

Among his other arguments, Rumfeld maintains in his book that an effort to engage in detailed planning for a post-Saddam Iraq would have been detrimental to the Bush administration’s main purposes. Actually the United States did carry out such planning—in great detail—under the State Department’s “Future of Iraq” project. The Archive sought those records as well, and Iraq project analyst presented them in 2006. The truth is that plans for a post-Saddam Iraq were suppressed by the Bush administration. In fact, as secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld seized control of post-conflict planning for his own department, playing a primary role in that suppression. Rumsfeld’s observations are not only misleading, they reveal a stunning attempt to subvert the record.

While it should not be surprising that players write memoirs to influence the ways they are seen in history, what is also disturbing in the documents Rumsfeld uses and has released to supplement his book is what they reveal about the secrecy system in the United States. Former senior officials like Mr. Rumsfeld benefit from one system, the rest of us have to rely upon another, more cumbersome, indeed fractured mechanism. The Archive, for example, filed years ago for access to Secretary Rumsfeld’s so-called “snowflakes,” short memos he used to needle subordinates and obtain action—many of them not even secret in the first place. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) we received a few of these documents, and we have others under appeal after denial. We are still waiting. Meanwhile, a considerable majority of the 345 Iraq documents Mr. Rumsfeld has posted on his website are precisely those same documents. So Donald Rumsfeld can make use of hundreds of highly classified secret documents and get them released outside the normal review process. Journalist Sharon Weinberger, reviewing FOIA logs from 2007 through 2009—when Rumsfeld began work on this book, has found no record he filed any requests. Weinberger is certainly correct to observe that a double-standard is in play. When former secretary of state Henry Kissinger wrote his own memoirs, which were also replete with excerpts of secret documents, he got them instantly reviewed by Carter-era national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Some of those materials have actually only been declassified in the last few years. Others remain secret to this day. The system is broken.

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