Donald Rumsfeld, R.I.P.

Some conservatives are already ridiculing an Atlantic Monthly hit job on the late Donald Rumsfeld. Apparently, they don't realize that a magazine staff writer is an expert on war and management. (This guy brags about how astonished DOD aides were, when he outlined his critique of the Iraq War.)
Journalists are like doctors: They know everything, especially in fields they have no experience in.
I knew Rumsfeld a little--indeed, a very little--when he was on our board of directors. He had a razor-sharp mind, a mastery of details, and the ability to construct a big picture. He had a commanding presence, and I recall when he put the number one conservative movement executive in his place.
On the downside, he seemed to have little understanding of the real problems we face in the USA, still less of the challenge of Islam, and a business management theory of how to manage the American military that was disastrous to morale, at least among the officers I knew. He was a patriotic American with element of greatness, who unfortunately was the wrong man for the job.
His duplicity about American mistreatment of POWs--"We're Americans, we don't do that," was a symptom of his failure. (I hope he did not actually believe that any more than Cheney, a thoroughly evil man, believed the mobile chemical lab disinformation. He was an all American boyscout in a world that had left such people behind. He was the Quiet American with a sense of humor.
Men like Rumsfeld built America, but they also caused its downfall.  This country shall probably never recover from the Bushes and their unjust wars run by truly awful cronies like Dick Cheney.  I believe that Rumsfeld, in his intentions, was a far better man than Cheney, but all his good qualities were enlisted in the service of wickedness.
Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

3 Responses

  1. Roger McGrath says:

    Rumsfeld “put the number one conservative movement executive in his place.” Are you at liberty to tell us all about this, Tom?

    I think most people would be surprised to learn that as a young Congressman Rumsfeld expressed serious reservations about the Vietnam War, especially how it was being conducted and the worth of our South Vietnamese allies. He tired to get a Congressional investigation into all this. The cynic would say that was only because LBJ and the Democrats were running things but I’d like to think Rumsfeld’s one trip to Vietnam enlightened him and he saw through the carefully constructed briefings from Westmoreland.

  2. Jacob Johnson says:

    When I first began discovering less or non-mainstream sources of right wing or conservative news and writing, like Howard Phillips and Tom Woods, the criticisms of the Bush administration’s foreign policy ,at first, were a challenge to my knee-jerk approval of anything the American Armed Forces did. Much of what one reads about Rumsfeld from the Right, over the last twenty years or so, is that he was an evil man who lied to us and got American boys killed and maimed. The fact that my grandfather worked with Rumsfeld in the 70’s and had an exceptionally high opinion of him – for him, a very anomalous thing concerning characters at the Pentagon- contributed to my hesitance and confusion regarding arguments over foreign policy. I developed the tentative view that he must have been a very talentedly duplicitous man with the ability to deceive good people and hide the darker aspects of his character from them, so it is very intriguing to read a corroboration of Rumsfeld’s merits from a trustworthy source. I suppose one can never really know too much about a person he has never met and to what extent his worse qualities were mistakes or treachery.

  3. Allen Wilson says:

    Dr Fleming, I am one of those who always thought the worst of Donald Rumsfeld until I read a comment you made about him several years ago. It stood to reason that if you didn’t have anything bad to say about him, then perhaps there was something good about him after all. Your recent piece concerning his passing has shed light on his true character. May he rest in peace.