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Iraq War architect Donald Rumsfeld dead at 88

Rumsfeld died on Tuesday, surrounded by relatives in Taos, New Mexico. 

“History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country,” his family said in a statement.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – himself a notorious foreign policy hawk – once described Rumsfeld as “the most ruthless man” he knew and “a skilled full-time politician-bureaucrat in whom ambition, ability and substance fuse seamlessly.”

Anti-war protesters wear masks of US President George Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Istanbul on April 4, 2003. ©  REUTERS/Fatih Saribas

Rumsfeld was both the youngest and second-oldest US defense secretary, and held the post twice – first during the Ford administration (1975-1977) and then under George W. Bush (2001-2006). In that capacity he championed the Global War on Terror following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq – which was falsely presented to the American public as related, along with the since-debunked claim that Baghdad had “weapons of mass destruction.”

His most famous quote came in response to the lack of evidence for Iraqi WMDs. When confronted by a reporter in February 2002, he said:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.”

Outgoing US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visits Balad Air Base in Iraq on December 9, 2006. ©  REUTERS/Cherie Thurlby/Defense Department/Handout

He also served as the White House chief of staff (1974-75), the US envoy to NATO (1973-74), and a four-term congressman from Illinois (1963-69), among other public posts. He also mentored Dick Cheney, who went on to become defense secretary in the George H.W. Bush administration and vice-president under Bush the younger.

Rumsfeld resigned in 2006, amid the mounting public uproar over the quagmire in Iraq, Abu Ghraib torture revelations, protests from retired generals, and a Republican defeat in the midterm congressional elections. 

Rumsfeld later appeared to have recanted some of his previous beliefs, arguing in a 2015 interview that trying to impose democracy in Iraq was “unrealistic,” that UN and NATO were obsolete, and that Islamic State that arose in Iraq and Syria – partly due to the years of US occupation – would take a Cold War-style coalition to defeat and take “decades.”

He ended up being wrong about that too, as the last bit of territory claimed by the ‘caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria was liberated in March 2019.

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