July 27, 2021

Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is dead

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”: Because something cannot be proven, it does not mean that it does not exist. The sentence sounds more elegant in English and Donald Rumsfeld used word constructions like this a lot. Statements like these in connection with Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction with which the USA justified the invasion of the country in 2003, but which they never found, became particularly well known.

As Secretary of Defense under the then President George W. Bush, Rumsfeld was the chief planner of the military operation that led to a rupture in the transatlantic relationship. Now the politician, described by critics as a warmonger, has died at the age of 88, as Rumsfeld’s family announced in a written statement on Wednesday (local time).

Rumsfeld faced resignation several times

Rumsfeld was born on July 9, 1932 in the state of Illinois in the American Midwest. His grandfather came from Bremen. After his years as a pilot and flight instructor in the US Navy, Rumsfeld came to Washington in 1957, where he worked for a congressman. At the age of 30, the Republican was himself elected to the House of Representatives. In 1969 he resigned from parliament to exercise various advisory functions under President Richard Nixon. After a year as ambassador to NATO in Brussels, he returned to Washington and became the youngest defense minister in US history from 1975 to 1977 under President Gerald Ford.


With George W. Bush in 2006: As his biggest mistake, Rumsfeld described in his memoir that he did not step down as head of the Pentagon in May 2004.
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Image: Reuters

Under George W. Bush he was then from 2001 the oldest Secretary of Defense at the time. Rumsfeld campaigned vehemently for the development of missile defense in space. It was also he who turned the heavily armored US armed forces of the Cold War into a highly mobile force with high-tech weapons.

However, the “falcon” in the Pentagon will be remembered best for the Iraq war that began with the march in 2003 and the overthrow of then President Saddam Hussein. As the chief planner of the military operation, Rumsfeld repeatedly came under heavy criticism and faced resignation several times.

In his memoirs, Rumsfeld described his biggest mistake as the fact that he did not resign as head of the Pentagon in May 2004. Shortly before, the US broadcaster CBS had published the first photos showing the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by US guards in the Abu Ghoreib prison near Baghdad. Symbols of the scandal are pictures in which a US soldier poses with a prisoner who is leashed like an animal. Another picture shows an inmate who is apparently being tortured with electric shocks. It also recorded how inmates were sexually abused and humiliated. Several US soldiers were later charged and convicted.

A defense minister in his element: Donald Rumsfeld at the Army versus Navy football game in December 2006.


A defense minister in his element: Donald Rumsfeld at the Army versus Navy football game in December 2006.
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Image: Reuters

In 2008, the US Senate made Rumsfeld, among others, jointly responsible for human rights violations in US detention camps such as in Abu Ghraib. The Bush administration had always denied any connection between its “war on terror” and the scandalous events. Rumsfeld was also accused of having contributed to subsequent ill-treatment in 2002 by authorizing “aggressive interrogation techniques” of suspected terrorists in the US Guantánamo prison camp in Cuba. In late 2006, Bush split from his Secretary of Defense after a devastating Republican defeat in the congressional election.

Among the European allies, Rumsfeld was notorious for his classification of Germany and France as “old Europe”. He saw the two countries that were decidedly against the Iraq war in contrast to Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which were among the 40 or so countries of the “coalition of the willing”.

A good four years after leaving office, Rumsfeld settled accounts with the former Iraqi war opponents Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac. In his memoirs he blamed the then German Chancellor and the former French President for having undermined the credibility of the American threat of military action with their opposition.

Rumsfeld said of himself that he was “moderate”. But he is said to have offended employees and officers because of his high-handed and often rude manner. Former US President George HW Bush has described Rumsfeld as an “arrogant guy” who ignores the views of others and “served his son poorly” as president. In a documentary by US director Errol Morris, Rumsfeld comes across as high-handed and arrogant. In the conversations with the director, Rumsfeld not only didn’t want to question anything, he also smiled away every doubt, every question with a broad grin.

In his long career – after which he switched to the private sector – Rumsfeld recorded many conversations and thoughts in writing. The title of the documentary “The Unknown Known” (2013) is based on one of his most famous sayings in a press conference, which also dealt with evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Errol described Rumsfeld as a person who deceived himself. With an obsession with words and definitions, Rumsfeld manipulated other people and himself, he said. “My interpretation is: Rumsfeld got lost in a sea of ​​words.”

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