The Spectacle Blog

Rumsfeld Says He Wasn’t on Board With the Democracy Agenda

By on 2.9.11 | 9:44AM

As conservatives continue to debate democratization given the ongoing events in Egypt, Donald Rumsfeld has just released his new memoir in which he writes that he was a skeptic of the Bush administration's attempt to bring democracy to Iraq. He also suggests that the administration's democratization rationale was tacked on once WMD were not found, which "seemed to some as a way to change the subject" in the run up to the 2004 presidential election.

Specifically, in the book Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld recalls taking issue with Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, specifically the line in which the president said, "The transition from dictatorship will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done."

Rumsfeld reacted: "That was not the way I understood our plan. A nation that had suffered under decades of dictatorial rule was unlikely to quickly recognize itself into a stable, modern, democratic state. Deep sectarian and ethnic divisions, concealed by a culture of repression and forced submission to Saddam, lurked just below the surface of Iraqi society."

He continues, "I hoped Iraq would turn toward some form of representative government, but I thought we needed to be clear-eyed about democracy's prospects in the country. Even the United States, though it had been the heir if hundreds of years of British democratic development, did not evolve smoothly or quickly into the liberal democracy that we benefit from today."

Rumsfeld recalls suggesting to Bush and Condoleezza Rice that "the administration soften the democracy rhetoric. I proposed that we talk more about freedom and less about democracy, lest the Iraqis and other countries in the region think we intended to impose our own political system on them, rather than their developing one better suited to their history and culture."

He writes, "I wondered as well how we would define democracy if that became our goal. If Iraq never created an American-style system of government, would that mean that our mission had been a failure or that the troops would have to stay indefinitely?"

Also, Rumsfeld's book will give fuel to critics who charged that the democratization talk was something that emerged after WMD did not turn up in Iraq.

"It was hard to know exactly where the President's far-reaching language about democracy originated," Rumsfeld writes. "It was not a large part of his original calculus in toppling Saddam's regime, at least from what I gleaned in private conversations and NSC meetings. I didn't hear rhetoric about democracy from Colin Powell or State Department officials. I know it did not come from the Department of Defense. Condoleezza Rice seemed to be the one top adviser who spoke that way, but it was not clear to me whether she was encouraging the President to use rhetoric about democracy or whether it was originating with the President."

He later adds, "As the unsuccessful search for WMD stockpiles dragged on, the administration's communications strategy seemed to shift further toward democracy as a reason for America's presence in Iraq. This intensified during the 2004 presidential campaign. Instead of explaining the WMD failure within the context of imperfect intellegence, and emphasizing Saddam's intent and ability to restart his WMD programs if given the chance, as the Iraq Survey Group, led by former UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, had definitely concluded, the shift to democracy seemed to some as a way to change the subject."

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