Donald RumsfeldAs a Princeton University wrestler 50 years ago, Donald Rumsfeld was famous for using the fireman's carry as his finishing move. But these days, Rumsfeld is a hardcore hero, more than likely to grab a steel chair in his quest to lay the smackdown on Saddam Hussein.
The cantankerous Rumsfeld has charmed the Washington press corp with his microphone skills. But the former captain of industry will really test his ring skills in the big match with Iraq, coming soon to an arena near you.
A Chicago native, Rumsfeld had a middle class upbringing which mixed all-American athleticism with academic acumen sharp enough to win a scholarship to Princeton. He went to the same high school as Ann-Margaret, Rock Hudson, Charlton Heston and Christie Hefner.
After Princeton, Rumsfeld entered the Navy, where he was known as an aggressive pilot and a champion wrestler, until a shoulder injury put an end to his Olympic hopes. With a glamorous wrestling career now closed to him, Rumsfeld naturally turned to the next best thing, politics.
In 1962, Rumsfeld won a long-shot run for the House, where he distinguished himself as a liberal Republican with his support for civil rights. After Goldwater's defeat in 1964, Rumsfeld helped lead a block of moderate Republicans to install Gerald Ford as minority leader. He joined the Nixon administration in 1969, serving in a series of non-criminal positions including economic advisor and ambassador to NATO (although he did appear on a few tapes).
When Nixon went up in flames, Rumsfeld came in to help pick up the pieces, first as Ford's chief of staff and later in his first stint as Defense Secretary. In 1977, he was awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom for not fucking up too much while executing these important positions.
Rumsfeld might have been a moderate compared to Barry Goldwater, but over the years, his political profile moved to the right, whether as a function of relativity or driven by a actual change in attitude. Illustrative of this point, legend has it that Henry Kissinger describes Rumsfeld as the most ruthless man he ever met (and this is a guy who met Mao Tse-Tung and Augusto Pinochet, not to mention himself).
As the fabulous Ford years drew to a close, Donny R. chose to return to the private sector, focusing on super-lucrative jobs in pharmaceuticals and technology. Although he had no previous business experience, Rumsfeld beefed up his resume with implied political influence by simultaneously serving in a variety of government posts. He served in nearly a dozen special postings of one sort or another from 1982 to 2000.
Perhaps the most memorable of these roles came during the Reagan administration, when Rumsfeld was named special presidential envoy to the Middle East. According to the Washington Post and others, Rumsfeld was a major proponent of the Reagan administration's support of Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein.
As a conciliatory gesture, the U.S. removed Iraq from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1982, paving the way for Rumsfeld to visit Baghdad in 1983, about the midpoint of the decade-long Iran-Iraq war.
At the time, intelligence reports indicated the Iraqis were using illegal chemical weapons against Iran "almost daily." During several trips to Iraq, Rumsfeld told government officials that the U.S. would consider an Iraqi loss to Iran a major strategic defeat. In a personal meeting with Saddam Hussein in December 1983, Rumsfeld told the Butcher of Baghdad that the U.S. wanted to restore full diplomatic relations with Iraq.
In 2002, Rumsfeld tried to put a gloss on this meeting by claiming that he warned Hussein against using banned weapons, but that claim was unsupported by the State Department's notes on the meeting.
As a result of the openings created by Rumsfeld's diplomatic triumphs, U.S. companies were recruited and encouraged, both covertly and overtly, to ship poisonous chemicals and biological agents to Iraq, by the administrations of both Reagan and George Bush Sr.. Care packages to Saddam included sample strains of anthrax and bubonic plague, and components which would be used to develop nerve poisons like sarin gas and ricin.
Content with this service to his nation, Rumsfeld hoped to return to his game of hopscotch between the public and private sectors. He toyed with a 1988 presidential run, but bowed out in favor of Bob Dole. Dole got his his ass handed to him in the primaries by George Bush Sr., who subsequently snubbed Rumsfeld by cutting off his feed-trough of influence-peddling appointments.
In 1996, Rumsfeld once again bet on Dole, and once again found himself on the losing side. However, Bill Clinton was more magnanimous in victory than Bush had been. In 1999, Clinton tapped Rumsfeld to lead a commission looking into the feasibility of a national missile defense system, which the commission eventually supported.
George W Bush arrived in Washington, D.C., in 2000. He appointed Rumsfeld to revamp the army for the 21st Century. Seeing a world largely at peace, Rumsfeld made a name for himself as a reformer when he challenged basic assumptions about Defense spending, such as the premise that the Army should be prepared to fight two wars simultaneously in different parts of the world.
But on September 11, 2001, the world suddenly looked a lot more dangerous. Hell, maybe the ability to fight two wars simultaneously wasn't enough. After terrorists crashed two hijacked planes into the World Trade Center towers, Rumsfeld set up an emergency position near the Pentagon, which was subsequently hit by a third plane. Rumsfeld nixed a plan to evacuate the center, even as the air filled with smoke. According to the Defense Department, Rumsfeld rushed to the crash site against the urging of security personnel and helped evacuate the wounded.
September 11, and the resulting invasion of Afghanistan, made Rumsfeld into a star. His daily briefings were as popular as the Tonight Show monologue, and twice as entertaining. Striking a colorful balance between crude violence and clever wordplay, Rumsfeld made it clear that professional wrestling had lost a first-class superstar the day Donny threw his shoulder out.
Some Rumsfeld zingers compiled by a variety of sources include:
By all reports, Rumsfeld runs as tight a ship as one might infer from his odd combination of prissiness and crankiness. He gets up at the crack of dawn and goes to work, where he stands behind a small metal desk firing instructions off to all corners via dictaphone.
Rumsfeld generally gets good marks from the media, although the aforementioned charm may have something to do with that. Most reports indicate he played a major role in dictating broad strategy during the Afghan war while leaving battlefield tactics to the commanders. His Baywatch-style heroics during the Pentagon attack deservedly inspired deep loyalty among the men and women he commands. Even with a war on the ground, and another up and coming, he has doggedly continued pre-9/11 reforms designed to revamp the armed forces for the new millennium.
Shortly after 9/11, Rumsfeld was polling better than 80% in terms of public sentiment about his job performance, roughly charting alongside his commander-in-chief. His outlook for the future depends largely on how the war with Iraq plays in Peoria. Along with Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld has been one of the most strident advocates for bombing the shit out of his former dinner companion, Saddam Hussein.
As with the Afghan war, the Iraq scenario is once again following the "Rumsfeld strategem" — a stealthy pre-invasion invasion to soften up the target so that the official media sanctioned invasion looks better than anyone could have imagined. In Afghanistan, Rumsfeld moved air power and fighting troops into combat well before the U.S. ever admitted the war had begun. The result? A six-month war that looked like it only took two months.
By February 2003, U.S. special forces were already on the ground in Iraq, and air strikes by allied forces had more than tripled from the "frequent squabbling" engagement of the last dozen years. By the time the photo-op first strike is fired for the sake of the history books, the U.S. could have overrun half the country.
That's contingent on a win, of course. When reporters asked in early March whether he was worried about Iraq becoming a "quagmire" (a question frequently posed in relation to Afghanistan), Rumsfeld responded, "I can almost promise you that someone in this room will say it's a quagmire."
If Afghanistan was the "Royal Rumble" for this former wrestler, the Bush administration's intense focus has made Iraq into the main event at "Wrestlemania," with the championship belt on the line. Rumsfeld and Saddam even have the kind of history usually reserved for wrestling storylines — once buddies in mayhem, now they're on opposite sides.