Donald Rumsfeld, Monstrous War Criminal,
Loyal Functionary of U.S. Imperialism, Dead at 88



On June 29, Donald Rumsfeld died. For decades, Rumsfeld was a key figure in the U.S. ruling class. He held high positions in the “defense” establishment under four different presidents. including as Secretary of Defense at the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Throughout his career, Rumsfeld was a pitiless architect of oppression, torture, and death on a worldwide scale, and has the blood of millions on his hands. But for the empire’s “commanders in chief,” Rumsfeld’s crimes were his résumé.

Under Nixon, Ford, and Reagan

He started as a right-wing Republican congressman in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, he caught the eye of then-president Nixon, who admired him as “a ruthless little bastard” and made him part of his inner circle.

Not long after, Nixon was driven from office, and many of his top aides went to jail, but Rumsfeld did not. Instead, he was made Secretary of Defense under Nixon’s successor, President Gerald Ford. Rumsfeld was known for his aggressive posture towards U.S. imperialism’s main rival at that time, the Soviet Union. Even as billions on the planet lived under the fearsome threat of all-out war between the two nuclear superpowers, Rumsfeld fought to escalate the arms race, even sabotaging arms reduction negotiations that the Ford administration was conducting.

Later Rumsfeld served under Ronald Reagan, a vicious reactionary who thought nothing of backing the most sadistic and savage dictators around the world in order to advance U.S. interests1. At Reagan’s direction, Rumsfeld traveled to Iraq several times for friendly meetings with Iraqi dictator—and then-U.S. ally—Saddam Hussein. At that time, Iraq was locked in a bloody war with Iran, and was using nerve gas to massacre Iranian troops, as well as thousands of rebellious Kurdish people in Iraq. Afterwards, the U.S. summed up that the meetings went well and would “prove to be of wider benefit to U.S. posture in the region.”2

Leading Role in Criminal U.S. Wars in the Middle East

But where Rumsfeld really “made a difference” was after the September 11, 2001 attack by al-Qaeda (Islamic fundamentalists) on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Rumsfeld was again Secretary of Defense, this time under George W. Bush. The Bush regime—with Rumsfeld as a driving force—immediately began unfolding a series of wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. The aim of these wars was partly to show the world that any force that struck the U.S. would be paid back a thousand-fold in blood and destruction. But from the start, and increasingly, they were about enforcing U.S. domination in the strategically crucial, oil-rich region, as part of establishing the U.S. as the single, dominant imperialist power in the world.

As Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld played a leading role in these criminal wars, which were conducted in a criminal manner. Starting in Afghanistan, the U.S. quickly drove out the government of the Taliban (Islamic fundamentalists who had allowed al-Qaeda to use the country as a base of operations). This was sold (and far too often accepted) as a “just war,” but it was never about fighting “terrorism,” or opposing the fanaticism, ignorance, and oppression of women that the Taliban imposed. In fact, the U.S. replaced the Taliban with a series of governments that were basically lackeys of the U.S. with little or no popular support, and which relied on other Islamic fundamentalist warlords and militias to hold onto power.3

Led in Creating Network of Torture Centers

And as part of countering anti-American fundamentalists, Rumsfeld led in creating a network of torture centers around the world. One was the U.S. military base in Guantánamo, Cuba, where some people have been held under barbaric conditions for 20 years without trial.

Then there were the so-called “black sites” that didn’t officially “exist” because of course “the U.S. doesn’t torture.” People were swept up off the streets and out of their villages, blindfolded and flown to undisclosed locations in “torture-friendly” countries. No one knew where they were, not even their families. Thousands were tortured, sometimes for months on end; many died.4 For the great majority, there was little or no evidence of significant connections to al-Qaeda.

War in Iraq Based on Lies

Once the U.S. thought it had Afghanistan “under control,” it set its sights on Iraq, whose leader (Saddam Hussein) over the years had become increasingly “non-compliant” with U.S. demands. Iraq had no connection to the 9/11 attacks or to al-Qaeda, so the U.S. claimed that Hussein was hoarding “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs, meaning nukes, biological weapons, etc.) that he would use to attack the U.S. There was no evidence of these WMDs, but that didn’t stop every top official in the U.S. from saying there was. Rumsfeld was particularly brazen and specific. In March 2003, he confidently declared that “We know where they [the WMDs] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat.” (No WMDs were ever found anywhere in Iraq.)

A barrage of lies from Rumsfeld and others soon gave way to another kind of barrage: on March 19, the U.S. military launched its “Shock and Awe” attack on Baghdad. For three days, without stop, 1,700 attacks were carried out by bombers and cruise missiles against this city of four million. Then came soldiers, routing Iraqi military and seizing Baghdad and other cities. In just the first two months, a minimum of 7,000 civilians were killed, and hundreds of thousands more would die over the coming decades of insurgency, civil war, sectarian violence, and overall breakdown of society touched off by the U.S. invasion.

Struggling to “stabilize” the situation, the U.S. military tortured Iraqi “suspects” at Abu Ghraib prison; massacred civilians from helicopters; and reduced the city of Fallujah to “a ‘wasteland’ of ‘utter ruin,’” with “dogs and cats feeding on corpses in the streets.”5

And yet, with all this military might, terror, destruction, and death that Rumsfeld and other U.S. leaders brought to bear against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of 20 years, they have been unable to stabilize a pro-U.S. regime in either country. In fact, these wars, aimed at securing American dominance in the world, turned into a major defeat. Powerful forces in the U.S. ruling class forced Rumsfeld to resign in 2006, after the midterm elections that saw major Republican defeats. But other forces, factions, and strategies were also unsuccessful.

There is a lesson here—even while the U.S. tries to project itself as all-powerful—and it does command tremendous destructive force—it is not “in control” of everything, fundamentally because its capitalist imperialist system is a destructive dinosaur whose existence is completely at odds with the interests of humanity. Both sides of this lesson are important for people to fully absorb: one, that these imperialists truly are merciless monsters and do not hesitate to bring down destruction; but two, that they can be and have been thwarted and at times defeated by forces that begin weaker than them. Bringing Forward Another Way—a talk from Bob Avakian in the fall of 2007—digs more deeply into the miscalculations that drove the imperialist debacle in Iraq; and “On the Possibility of Revolution“ explores strategic vulnerabilities of imperialist armed forces, in distilling principles that could be applied by a revolutionary force within an imperialist power.

“Exemplary Public Servant” for a Monstrous System

As for Rumsfeld himself, after 2006 he retired from the public spotlight to his home in eastern Maryland.6 But in the 15 years since, he never once expressed the slightest sympathy or compassion for the literally millions of lives that he devastated or destroyed.

The day after Rumsfeld’s death, George W. Bush issued a statement describing him as “an exemplary public servant ... in steady service as a wartime secretary of defense—a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.”

Ask yourself this: What kind of a system, what kind of a society, requires and praises the “services” of heartless mass murderers like Donald Rumsfeld? A system that cannot be reformed: It must be overthrown.


1. See “Resurgent America: The Crimes and Times of Ronald Reagan,” June 20, 2004, [back]

2. The U.S. knew about these gas attacks at the time, but didn’t oppose them because “it was the express policy of Reagan to ensure an Iraqi victory in the war, whatever the cost.” See “Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran,” Foreign Policy, August 26, 2013. Twenty years later, Rumsfeld and the U.S. would use fake-horror about Saddam’s use of these weapons, and sympathy for the Kurdish people to justify invading Iraq and ultimately executing Hussein. [back]

3. The great majority in Afghanistan remained under one or another form of fundamentalist rule, but it is true that for a better-off minority in the big cities, there was some improvement, and some loosening of the extremely tight chains on women. [back]

4. For more, see “New Revelations of CIA Torture—and the Terrible Consequences of U.S. Role in the World,” June 20, 2016, [back]

5. For more on the U.S. destruction of Iraq, see “American Crime, Case #70: ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom,’ 2003,” December 5, 2016, and “American Crime, Case #94: November 2004—War Crime Fallujah,” both at [back]

6. Appropriately, Rumsfeld’s main residence, known as Mt. Misery, was originally the home of a “slave-breaker”—someone whose business was to break the spirits of non-compliant slaves. The great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass was tortured there for almost a year as a 16-year-old. He later said that he was “wrecked, changed ... goaded almost to madness.” [back]

Wars of Empire, Armies of Occupation & Crimes Against Humanity, by Bob Avakian, an excerpt



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