An evening with Donald Rumsfeld

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2006, file photo, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asks for another question following his Landon Lecture at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. News of the death of former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has hit far differently in Baghdad than in the U.S. capital. Rumsfeld, whose service under four U.S. presidents was stained by the ruinous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Donald Rumsfeld, the two-time secretary of Defense, adviser to presidents and three-term member of Congress, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 23 after a stately ceremony in the cemetery’s large chapel. His friends and associates filled the chapel, and I wish I could report on what luminaries were present, but I cannot. Everyone was wearing a mask. The media reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III was there and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, but I did not see them. Possibly, they were seated next to me, but with everyone masked, it was impossible to identify who was who.

I do know that former Vice President Dick Cheney was present because he spoke and delivered a very eloquent and moving speech without wearing a mask. It was a humorous speech because Don was a humorous man, and it was a serious speech because Don was a serious man. Yet, I shall remember the speech for its personal touch. Don and the vice president were particularly close for decades. The vice president claimed he owed his career to Don. Toward the end of his oration he said, “Until we meet again, goodbye, old friend,” and there his voice wavered. Dick Cheney is not given to public displays of emotion. He is no Joe Biden. Yet he came close at Arlington National Cemetery on this occasion. He proceeded by saying, “I had responsibilities and experiences far beyond anything I could have ever known” thanks to Don Rumsfeld. And the former vice president concluded, “He decided he could trust me, and it changed my life.” Yes, Rumsfeld lived and worked in Washington, yet he was famous for trusting his friends. He was a man of loyalty.

He never let The American Spectator down when we were under government investigation. If we were considered controversial, it did not matter. I remember one fine night when he came to my house to dine. With me that evening was my dear friend Martin Gilbert, the authorized biographer of Winston Churchill. Don and Martin had many mutual friends. They also had common interests. Martin knew everything about Winston and everything about world politics. He had just written in The American Spectator a defense of Pope Pius XII against charges the pope had not done enough to protect the Jews from Hitler. Possibly, he had yet to write it. World War II was one of the evening’s topics, but there was more. Don was a fan of board games, and so was Winston. Don played a game he had heard Winston favored. Martin assured him the prime minster did indeed play the game, and so did Martin. Both proceeded to talk about the intricacies of an obscure game whose name I am afraid I never mastered, though I showed my guests rapt attention. All I can tell you is the game was not checkers and not chess. We proceeded to discuss the war in Iraq.

Don had resigned as secretary of defense, and Martin named to a panel whose mission was to investigate whether Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Martin assured us that he did, and Don agreed. The Iraqi high command assured the world they had such weapons. Saddam had dispersed them all over the countryside. I never doubted this, but the debate went on for years. Don expressed his opposition to nation building. I remember him saying, “Get in and get out.” I believe Martin held to the same view. Now, Don is accused of being “one of the architects” of our Afghan involvement. He certainly was not that evening with Martin and me. I have no doubt that he would be for “getting in,” but he would also be for “getting out” pronto. Perhaps it was during that evening with Don Rumsfeld and Martin Gilbert that I came up with the formulation of Tyrrell’s Law. According to that law, we should enter ungovernable and hostile countries and “bust the place up.” Then leave. You cannot conceivably export our culture to such places. Our culture is too complicated. So why bother? Instead, send in the B-52s or better yet drones. In fact, it appears that Joe Biden may have learned Tyrrell’s Law a little late, but better late than never. Let us hope he does not forget this lesson.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is a nationally syndicated author.


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