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WASHINGTON D.C.—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld kept a straight face when he told the 9-11 commission yesterday he really couldn’t do much of anything to protect Americans inside the nation’s borders on 9-11 because his mandate at the Pentagon was to defend the U.S. outside its borders.
It was just maddening, said Secretary Strangelove. In his Pentagon office, he sat only a few feet from the commercial jets roaring in and out of Reagan National Airport and was just totally helpless. True, he could issue orders to defend the Pentagon.
Although the government had numerous warnings about Al Qaeda’s intention of using hijacked commercial jetliners as missiles, that just wasn’t his problem.
Maybe the FAA should have done something?
As for whether Rummy really gives a hoot about terrorism, the secretary swore he was thinking about it all the time. It wasn’t that he had no experience dealing with terrorists, for God’s sake: As he told the American Forces Press Service Monday, “I’ve been interested in and concerned about and involved in one way or another in the problems of terrorism,” since 1983.
That’s certainly true. In 1983, as Reagan’s special envoy, he arranged for the U.S. to get in bed with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a counterweight to the mad ayatollah in Iran, a man the Americans saw at the time as the world’s most dangerous terrorist. From the U.S.’s point of view, Saddam was a real sweetheart back in those days.
On his visit to the region’s capital cities, Rumsfeld stopped off in Baghdad for a meeting with Saddam Hussein. At the time, Iraq and Iran were fighting like crazy, with the Iraqis dumping chemical weapons on both the Iranian frontline troops and the Kurds in the north on an almost daily basis according to government documents.
In his discussions with the Iraqi leader, Rumsfeld skirted this delicate and unpleasant subject, instead commiserating with Saddam about how Iraq was unable to sell oil to the U.S. because Iran had shut off its port facilities in the Persian Gulf and Syria had closed off its pipeline to the outside world. Later, when Rumsfeld met with Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz the two agreed that “the U.S. and Iraq shared many common interests.”
And Rummy made clear the Reagan administration’s “willingness to do more” regarding the Iran-Iraq war, with some small caveats: Rumsfeld “made clear that our efforts to assist were inhibited by certain things that made it difficult for us, citing the use of chemical weapons, possible escalation in the Gulf, and human rights,” according to government documents.
The Iraqis were delighted with the meetings, and later the U.S. diplomats in Iraq let Rumsfeld know that Iraq’s leadership had been “extremely pleased” with the visit, and that “Tariq Aziz had gone out of his way to praise Rumsfeld as a person.”
Such was Rumsfeld’s major experience in fighting terrorism before turning on his old friend and taking us to war against Iraq.
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel