Monday, July 06, 2009

McNamara and Rumsfeld

The second-worst SecDef has passed away, aged 93. After his Pentagon tour, he "devoted himself to helping the world's poorest nations" and at least quasi-acknowledged his errors in escalating and perpetuating the Vietnam War.

Of course, holding office while relatively young allows for regrets. Contrast the worst SecDef:
In an interview with biographer Bradley Graham, the former secretary of defense says he has regrets about the administration's controversial detainee policy.

The twist is that Rumsfeld doesn't regret the policy itself -- specifically the abandoning of the Geneva Conventions for detainees picked up in Afghanistan. Rather, he regrets how the policy was formulated.

"All of a sudden, it was just all happening, and the general counsel's office in the Pentagon had the lead," Rumsfeld told former Washington Post journalist Bradley Graham, as quoted in By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld. "It never registered in my mind in this particular instance--it did in almost every other case--that these issues ought to be in a policy development or management posture. Looking back at it now, I have a feeling that was a mistake. In retrospect, it would have been better to take all of those issues and put them in the hands of policy or management."
Of course, these "issues" could not be "put in the hands of policy or management," because every time they were exposed to anything like a normal policymaking process, opposition and concerns arose that were infuriating to Cheney, Addington, and, apparently, Rumsfeld. Pity that the article didn't solicit a quote from Alberto Mora, for instance.
Just a few months ago [before Feb. 2006], Mora attended a meeting in Rumsfeld’s private conference room at the Pentagon, called by Gordon England, the Deputy Defense Secretary, to discuss a proposed new directive defining the military’s detention policy. The civilian Secretaries of the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy were present, along with the highest-ranking officers of each service, and some half-dozen military lawyers. Matthew Waxman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, had proposed making it official Pentagon policy to treat detainees in accordance with Common Article Three of the Geneva conventions, which bars cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as well as outrages against human dignity.Going around the huge wooden conference table, where the officials sat in double rows, England asked for a consensus on whether the Pentagon should support Waxman’s proposal.

This standard had been in effect for fifty years, and all members of the U.S. armed services were trained to follow it. One by one, the military officers argued for returning the U.S. to what they called the high ground. But two people opposed it. One was Stephen Cambone, the under-secretary of defense for intelligence; the other was Haynes. They argued that the articulated standard would limit America’s “flexibility.” It also might expose Administration officials to charges of war crimes: if Common Article Three became the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it. Their opposition was enough to scuttle the proposal.

In exasperation, according to another participant, Mora said that whether the Pentagon enshrined it as official policy or not, the Geneva conventions were already written into both U.S. and international law. Any grave breach of them, at home or abroad, was classified as a war crime. To emphasize his position, he took out a copy of the text of U.S. Code 18.2441, the War Crimes Act, which forbids the violation of Common Article Three, and read from it. The point, Mora told me, was that “it’s a statute. It exists--we’re not free to disregard it. We’re bound by it. It’s been adopted by the Congress. And we’re not the only interpreters of it. Other nations could have U.S. officials arrested.”

Not long afterward, Waxman was summoned to a meeting at the White House with David Addington. Waxman declined to comment on the exchange, but, according to the Times, Addington berated him for arguing that the Geneva conventions should set the standard for detainee treatment. The U.S. needed maximum flexibility, Addington said. Since then, efforts to clarify U.S. detention policy have languished. In December, Waxman left the Pentagon for the State Department.
One wonders whether Mr. Graham's book will be any better. Or whether Rumsfeld will have accumulated any other "regrets" by 2010.

... Emptywheel notes that Rumsfeld implicitly blames Jim Haynes -- DOD general counsel, who appears in effect to've been Addington's man inside the Pentagon -- but keeps it implicit.

... Tyler Cowen points us to this World Bank bio of McNamara, which recounts the good he did at that institution. He probably saved more lives in that capacity than were lost in his Pentagon tenure (yes, I'm counting the Vietnamese).

... Some of the journalists who had to experience McNamara firsthand are not feeling any remorse at his passing. Joseph Galloway:
Back in 1990 I had a series of strange phone conversations with McMamara while doing research for my book We Were Soldiers Once And Young. McNamara prefaced every conversation with this: "I do not want to comment on the record for fear that I might distort history in the process." Then he would proceed to talk for an hour, doing precisely that with answers that were disingenuous in the extreme — when they were not bald-faced lies.

Upon hanging up I would call Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam and run McNamara's comments past them for deconstruction and the addition of the truth.

The only disagreement I ever had with Dave Halberstam was over the question of which of us hated him the most. In retrospect, it was Halberstam.
(Via Rauchway.)

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