Rumsfeld: An American Disaster
Verso, 2007, 224 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-84467-128-1 (pbk) 17.99 [pounds sterling]
Cockburn's biography of Rumsfeld is a slim volume, setting out a series of fierce attacks on the former US Secretary of Defense without ever lapsing into partisan invective. Its subtitle, 'An American Disaster', is as succinct as the book's ten chapters, which trace an uneven but calamitous are from Rumsfeld's stint as a young Chicago congressman to his unsurprising dismissal from office in at the end of 2006. Months later, he was being described in the New York Times as a 'universal figure of derision and contempt' (25 March 2007).
Cockburn seems to level four kinds of charges at Rumsfeld: those of sleaze, fantasy, relentless self-aggrandisement and an abiding myopia. His first major appointment was as a spoiler at the Office of Economic Opportunity, where Nixon sought to derail his predecessor's poverty initiatives by appointing the man he dubbed a 'ruthless little bastard' to lead a department he could not formally abolish. Having weeded out 'revolutionaries' and terrorised his subordinates there, Rumsfeld served a stint in Brussels and was then made Gerald Ford's secretary of defense. In that post, he fervently endorsed worst-case calculations of Soviet capabilities and intentions that were later shown to be absurdly inaccurate. Since he was quick to champion large-scale projects-the Condor missile and M-1 tank--that were technically fraught and militarily ineffective in the face of such hypothetical threats, Cockburn infers a 'willingness to bend before corporate requirements' (p. 49) rather than a sincere fear of the communist threat.
This awkward relationship with the truth was also evident in his next job at the G. D. Searle pharmaceutical company, whose key product, aspartame, was shown to have potentially dangerous effects. Rumsfeld sought to suppress news of these, partly by invoking old government contacts. (In an ironic gesture that Cockburn does not mention, in 1992 the US Air Force itself-part of Rumsfeld's past and future fiefdom-warned its pilots about consuming beverages containing aspartame before flying.) As defense secretary once again, Rumsfeld renewed his domination of the bureaucracy, obsession with missile defence, and fixation on 'transformation' of the military. Prior to 9/11, he dealt with the Chinese downing of an E-P3 spy plane by urging sanctions against 'the enemy', also referred to as...