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I, Rumsfeld

by Jim Lobe

The emperor within the Empire
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- "Who - died and left Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of State?" asked an August column by David Corn of The Nation, a prominent left-wing U.S. newsweekly.

Corn, who was referring to recent warnings by the Pentagon chief on the inability of UN arms inspectors to track Baghdad's alleged weapons of mass destruction, could have posed the same question about Rumsfeld becoming the director of central intelligence (DCI) or even national security adviser.

Of all the heavyweights in President George W. Bush's cabinet, Rumsfeld has emerged as by far the most aggressive. During his tenure, the Pentagon has been systematically encroaching on the turf of other major national-security bureaucracies.

In some ways, Rumsfeld's power is not surprising. At almost $400 billion, the Pentagon's budget is almost 20 times greater than the State Department's. Washington's three biggest intelligence agencies -- the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) - are also essentially controlled by the Pentagon.

In addition, Rumsfeld, a master bureaucratic operator whom former secretary of state Henry Kissinger once called Óthe most ruthless" man he ever confronted, appears to enjoy the unconditional backing of Dick Cheney, who is himself widely considered to be the most powerful vice president in U.S. history. Their mutual admiration dates almost 40 years, when they worked for presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

As important, the two men's national-security and foreign policy views appear to mesh perfectly. Both hail from the Republican Right that sought strategic superiority over the Soviet Union and strongly supported the "Reagan Doctrine" of using proxy forces, such as the contras in Nicaragua and the mujahadin in Afghanistan, to "roll back" Moscow's influence in the Third World.

Their "Peace Through Strength" mantra found fellow-enthusiasts among mainly Jewish neo-conservatives, former liberals who fell out with the Democratic Party over the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s and moved ever rightwards.

It is no accident that their top advisers -- for Rumsfeld, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, and Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle; for Cheney, chief of staff I. Lewis Libby and his number two, Eric Edelman -- are all neo-conservatives with close ties to the right-wing Likud Party in Israel.

But unlike Cheney, who prefers to work behind the scenes, Rumsfeld has been especially bold, both in his public pronouncements and in his bureaucratic manoeuvring.

In his public declarations, Rumsfeld has repeatedly undermined Secretary of State Colin Powell, especially on the Middle East.

Last December, just four months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Rumsfeld was denouncing Palestinian Authority (PA) chief Yasser Arafat as a "terrorist" on national television and defending Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's incursions into the West Bank even as the hapless Powell was trying to negotiate an end to the violence. Seven months later, Bush adopted Rumsfeld's position.

At the height of the violence between Israelis and Palestinians last April, Rumsfeld contradicted Powell by publicly ruling out sending U.S. forces to help enforce a cease-fire. He went on to accuse Iran, Iraq, and Syria of "inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing" in Israel while Powell was trying to sustain a dialogue with Damascus.

In similar fashion, Rumsfeld last spring abruptly dismissed the State Department's interpreter when he met at the Pentagon with Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, and substituted his own, a well-known anti-Beijing hard-liner, Michael Pillsbury. The highly unusual move was taken as evidence that Rumsfeld wanted to deliver a different message from that conveyed by Powell.

Even as Powell was trying to normalize ties with China after the April 2001 crisis over the collision of a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter, Rumsfeld dragged his feet for months on resuming military-to-military relations with Beijing. The Pentagon has even refused to directly exchange al-Qaeda related intelligence information with the Chinese.

On Iraq, the Pentagon has waged a quiet war against the State Department and the CIA for months over the role of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an opposition group long championed by Perle and the neo-cons, in any effort to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Despite the two agencies' long-standing view that the INC is corrupt, incoherent and unreliable, Rumsfeld managed to pry loose millions of dollars from the State Department for the group, even as the two other agencies work with other rival dissident groups.

This week, Perle's think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) (where Cheney's wife, Lynne, is based) hosted a major conference, 'Planning for a Post-Saddam Iraq', with the INC the only opposition group represented. Some wags say that under Rumsfeld, AEI has become an annex of the Pentagon. (Others say that the Pentagon has become an annex of AEI.)

Iraq has probably been the most important point of contention between Rumsfeld and the other national-security agencies. Within days of Sept. 11, Perle's DPB, a quasi-official body of mostly retired military and national-security officials, was convened by Perle to discuss whether and how the new "war on terrorism" could be used to oust Saddam Hussein, despite the lack of evidence -- either then or since -- tying the Iraqi leader to the attacks.

Under Rumsfeld's authority, Perle sent DPB member and former CIA chief James Woolsey to Europe to investigate links between Hussein and al-Qaeda.

In just the past week, Rumsfeld has insisted that Washington has "bullet-proof evidence" of links between Baghdad and al-Qaeda extending back several years, "solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in BaghdadÓ, and testimony -- admittedly from only one source -- that Iraq provided "possible chemical and biological-agent training" to al-Qaeda.

Lawmakers who have been given closed briefings on the subject said they were unimpressed, and the issue remains a serious source of tension between the Pentagon and the CIA, in particular.

It is also part of a much broader clash between Rumsfeld and the CIA over control of intelligence.

Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, chaired by his father's national security adviser, ret. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, has called for the Pentagon to surrender control of its three big intelligence agencies -- which together consume about 80 percent of the total intelligence budget -- to the DCI (who doubles as CIA director) who can better set priorities for intelligence collection.

That view was bolstered after Sept. 11. If the agencies had given higher priority to al-Qaeda than to foreign militaries, some prominent critics argued, the attacks might have been foiled.

But Rumsfeld has publicly denounced these recommendations and privately vowed to fight them tooth and nail. He has even proposed creating a new Pentagon position to co-ordinate the work of the three agencies, a move that experts say is designed to enhance and cement the Pentagon's control.

Rumsfeld has also moved to greatly expand the role of the military's Special Operations Forces (SOF) in covert operations that have traditionally been conducted under the CIA's authority. He has reportedly proposed that SOF units be permitted to operate independently of the CIA, particularly against alleged terrorists abroad.

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Albion Monitor October 4 2002 (

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