Before The Flames Had Even Cooled

Donald Rumsfeld was a war criminal responsible for the deaths of unfathomable numbers of innocent human beings and America's descent into fascism

I loathed Donald Rumsfeld.

In my life I have worked hard to develop radical empathy. Empathy for people who have hurt me, the people I love, and society as a whole. To gain a fuller understanding of the world and its mechanics this is necessary, this digging and sorting. With most, there is a discovery of a wound, a trauma, something that caused a scar that later weighed on them in a moment of truth.

Rumsfeld was an opportunist. A cruel elitist who saw other human beings as obstacles to what he wanted, which was power. Unvarnished, soulless, steel-gray power. It was never about glory or fame or any of the narcissistic tendencies that tend to tempt politicians. It was the ability to move living, breathing people as pawns on a chess board. It was about the right to control them.

Throughout his career, Rumsfeld found himself near the epicenter of many of the most consequential events in modern American history. Richard Nixon lauded him as a “ruthless little bastard” as he operated a criminal presidency. Under Gerald Ford, Rumsfeld and accomplice Dick Cheney helped popularize “trickle-down economics,” a total scam that redistributed wealth from the poor to the wealthy, paralyzed progress, ensured widespread suffering, and laid the foundation for our current dystopia, where corporations and the wealthy have come to outgrow and dominate nation-states. Serving Ronald Reagan, Rumsfeld worked with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in brutalizing his own people for U.S. interests, and, with George W. Bush, he played a key role in warring against his former ally.

Rumsfeld was repellent. And any examination of our current crisis, of the rise of fascism and anti-democratic fervor, has to include a long, honest look at his role.


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Though many will tell you there was no means of expecting the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the Bush Administration was well-aware and exhaustively briefed. Intelligence agencies had been “blinking red” for months, warning President George W. Bush that a small terrorist group called Al-Qaeda would strike within America. The administration paid little attention to the warnings and, through their malfeasance and incompetence, did little to stop the attack.

Rumsfeld, as Secretary of Defense, knew that Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden were responsible. But even as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon still smoldered, he made a note to himself: best info fast. Judge whether good enough to hit [Saddam Hussein]…Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.

Americans were still drowning in panic and sorrow while Rumsfeld and his associates planned an illegal tragic war that would mean the lives of masses of people. It was an opportunity too good to pass up, a weeping wound and national tragedy that could, if used and captured by men of talent like Rumsfeld, might mean the makings of a larger crusade.


Rumsfeld, Cheney, and those who surrounded them were part of a movement called neoconservatism, a political philosophy predicated on the work of philosopher Leo Strauss. Strauss’s worldview was positively Platonian. The concept of the Noble Lie, a mythology of inherent national greatness, marked by natural and everpresent hierarchies, held sway for Strauss and inspired a classical philosophy that placed a learned, talented elite at the top of the human chain of being.

Because some men were naturally better than others, it reasoned that they should guide society. This was not just in their interest, but the interest of all. Through their genius, ambition, and will, the elite would pilot the ship of state and the unfolding of history, relying on mythologies and religious-tinged stories to inspire and unite the masses. These stories were false, of course, but Strauss believed they held power, particularly in their ability to convince the feeble, lesser people to take the direction of their greater leaders.

It’s likely that George W. Bush did not understand this. For Bush the crusade was real, a drive to make the world “safe for democracy” and do battle with “evil-doers.” The men around him, including Rumsfeld and Cheney, were more sophisticated and immersed in Straussian politics. When Bush looked at Ground Zero he saw holy war. For Rumsfeld and Cheney, it was opportunity.


War has always been a means to an end. Though personal rivalries and cultural clashes largely animate our understanding, it has always been about land, leverage, and resources. The Iraq War, in all of its headshaking, weeping awfulness, was a matter of reforming the Middle East to America’s favor while stripping it for everything it was worth.

Rumsfeld’s handling of the war was notable not just for his inability to grasp basic facts that countered his expectations, but for his failure to even pretend like he cared about the human element. The atrocities committed against the Iraqi people didnt matter to him and neither did the safety of America’s own troops. Again, pawns on a chessboard.

And when you view humans as disposable it isn’t hard to accept their needless sacrifice or the usage of torture. The people strapped to chairs, beaten, psychologically terrorized, sexually abused, waterboarded weren’t people. They were targets redacted with the stroke of a bureaucratic marker.

Iraq represented the absolute worst in America. Our swaggering chauvinism. Our cruelty. Our tireless, ceaseless need to control everyone and everything and to bend the world to our will. And to think that hundreds of thousands have been killed for something that had no purpose beyond accumulation of resources and political strategic goals - not to mention that even these goals weren’t achieved - is to compound a human tragedy of a scale that is almost impossible to fully comprehend.


The long-term effects of the so-called “War On Terror” are still unfurling. Cruelty abroad always leads to cruelty at home. By compromising every imaginable principle in prosecuting this war, we have made every possible fascistic outcome possible here. Militarism cannot be quarantined, it cannot be limited. It is a poison that spreads through the whole body at lightning speed.

Straussian elitism still infects us. The wealthy and powerful still believe themselves superior to the people and democracy as a needless impediment. The violence that is necessary to hold that believe and hold sway over the population is the same violence that was unleashed on the rest of the world. It’s no surprise that fascistic militancy in America carries the same markers and iconography as the efforts in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the resources used in these wars meant continued austerity, an America where healthcare, housing, infrastructure, and education were sidelined for pursuit of wealth elsewhere. Materials conditions have worsened, by design, and the militarism and radicalization combine to form something new and terrifying. The human cost, in terms of suffering, death, and lost opportunities, is impossible to calculate.

I loathed Donald Rumsfeld because none of this mattered to him. It never even figured into his thinking. The world was a chessboard and even as he lost the game he still looked at the landscape and believed himself a master. His delusion, his ambition, his lack of character and humanity helped set this world afire. His only redeeming quality was that his wretched career can serve as a cautionary tale.