Having provided advice to a number of influential Balkan figures in my time, I know the sense of frustration when sound counsel is overruled in favor of proposals based on error or mendacity.  I have been proved right, but only when it was too late: Crown Prince Alexander Kara-djordjevic would have been better off had he discarded his notions of reuniting Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s.  The leaders of the Republika Srpska should have severed their link to Milosevic well before he stabbed them in the back in 1995.  Instead of ratifying the International Criminal Court (ICC) statute in 2001, President Vojislav Kostunica should have signed a bilateral treaty with Washington on the nonextradition of U.S. citizens to the ICC.

It is somewhat consoling that the effect of those mistakes was minor in the global scheme of things.  What happens in the Balkans is very important vis-à-vis the “War on Terror” and as a reflection of the postmodern Western mind-set, but individual decisions by the local actors are of limited significance.  When the president of the United States accepts advice on matters of war and peace that is based on error or guile, however, the consequences are serious both for America and the rest of the world.  If he continues receiving advice from the same source regardless of that source’s past failures, the matter is alarming, indeed.

Alarm bells should have rung on December 3, when Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld won a strong endorsement from President George W. Bush and remained at the Pentagon.  This was a mistake for four reasons: It vindicated the false rationale for the war in Iraq; it perpetuated a flawed exit strategy (or, more precisely, the failure to develop one); it reiterated the strategy of global dominance; and it implied trust in Mr. Rumsfeld’s two top advisors, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary for Policy Douglas Feith, who are not deserving of it.

That the war in Iraq was fought for reasons different from those stated is by now certain.  If there is one person more culpable than any other for the lies and the subsequent mess, it is Donald Rumsfeld.  As I pointed out in this space in October 2002, he and his team had long sought to construct an Iraqi pseudoreality in pursuit of a war “that, if successful, will do little to advance American interests: We would be saddled with yet another Muslim protectorate, unstable and resentful.”  That pseudoreality rested on two key claims: the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) and his links to the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Rumsfeld and Dr. Wolfowitz had advocated war against Iraq on the grounds of her alleged possession of WMD’s for many years.  They were among the founding members of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), established in 1997 and dedicated to “American global leadership.”  The PNAC started advocating the overthrow of Saddam almost immediately.  In January 1998, in an open letter to President Clinton, the PNAC said that the only acceptable strategy was one that would eliminate the possibility that Iraq would be able to use, or threaten to use, WMD’s: “In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.  That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.”

This theme was to be a mainstay of the group’s public speaking and private policy advocacy for years.  Testifying to the House National Security Committee in September 1998, Wolfowitz asserted that Saddam was reconstituting his “prohibited weapons capabilities” and demanded “a serious policy” that would “free Iraq’s neighbors from Saddam’s murderous threats.”  There was no proof, then or later, that Iraq had any such capability; in 2002, however, that objection was discounted by Rumsfeld in a phrase worthy of Hegel: “the absence of evidence does not mean the evidence of absence.”

When no WMD’s were found following the occupation of Iraq, Rumsfeld refused to admit that he was wrong.  “I have reason, every reason, to believe that the intelligence that we were operating off was correct,” he declared, “and that we will, in fact, find weapons or evidence of weapons programs that are conclusive.” After almost two years of diligent search, this has not happened, and it most likely never will.  On the basis of this blunder alone, Rumsfeld should have done the honorable thing and resigned, or the President should have replaced him.

As for the alleged terrorist link, the record is even more damning for the secretary and his aides.  We now know that, within hours of the attacks on September 11, they were busy trying to insert the war against Iraq into the package of antiterrorist options.  According to the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, that same afternoon, Mr. Rumsfeld told Gen. Richard Myers that “his instinct was to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time—not only Bin Laden.”  Some months later, he blended two themes into one by declaring that, “within a week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qa’ida.”  Secretary of State Colin Powell told the commission that, within days of September 11, Dr. Wolfowitz had argued that Iraq should be attacked but had no rational basis for the demand:

Powell said that Wolfowitz was not able to justify his belief that Iraq was behind 9/11.  “Paul [Wolfowitz] was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with,” Powell told us.  “And he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.”

“Using” is an apt word: In the end, the commission concluded that there was “no credible evidence” of a terrorist link.  It noted that Bin Laden had long opposed the secular regime in Baghdad and that his subsequent attempts to obtain help from Iraq were rebuffed by Saddam.  Its conclusion, that there was no proof “that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States,” reflected the consensus of the intelligence community.  Its findings were openly supported by CIA and FBI officials who had been under intense political pressure before the war to establish such a link, notably by Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon.  If Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides were not able to prove the commission’s well-publicized assessment wrong, they should have been fired for effectively obstructing the War on Terror.

The Pentagon trio got their war in March 2003, ostensibly won it, and then mishandled its aftermath.  The prisoner-abuse scandal last spring—for which Rumsfeld managed to avoid responsibility—had only aggravated a very bad security situation.  Over the past year, the insurgency has grown from 15 to 20 attacks each day to over 150, and it now includes almost daily car bombings of U.S. convoys and mortar and rocket attacks in the center of Baghdad.  The battle for Fallujah was hardly over when Mosul became a battleground.  As American casualties exceed 1,200 dead and 10,000 wounded, there is still no clear exit strategy, and U.S. troop strength is actually increasing.  Even a general election, scheduled for January, will resolve little if the Sunni minority boycotts it—or if the Shia majority wins too convincingly.

It is unclear under what conditions Mr. Rumsfeld would be ready to proclaim the mission a success and recommend the withdrawal of U.S. forces.  He and his team appear unwilling to accept that, in the long run, Washington will not be able to dictate the composition and policies of the post-occupation government in Baghdad.  They are equally loath to contemplate Iraq’s de facto partition—which should be treated as a feasible option—or the most likely alternative, her domination by a religious Shia government that would be friendly to Iran.  They can hardly hope for the emergence of a secular, Western-friendly political force, a Ba’ath with a human face: Rumsfeld’s appointee Paul Bremmer was too thorough in eradicating the Ba’ath itself, down to the level of parking-lot guards and preschool teachers, turning ethno-religious factionalism into the only game in town.  Having succeeded in imposing a monopoly on the Iraqi policy, Rumsfeld should have been held accountable for its shortcomings.  “Staying the course” promises more of the same, with an array of Islamic terrorist groups being the only beneficiaries.

The fundamental problem with Donald Rumsfeld has less to do with the particulars of his Iraqi policy—mendacious as it was before the war and inept in its aftermath—than with his strategic vision.  He is still an advocate of NATO expansion against a Russia that has long ceased to be an enemy but may be forced to become one if the alliance grabs her Ukrainian backyard.  He still favors the antimissile defense system, a costly proposal whose assumptions are both politically and technically flawed.  The 1999 Rumsfeld Report stated that the system was needed because

a number of countries with regional ambitions do not welcome the U.S. role as a stabilizing power in their regions and . . . they want to place restraints on the U.S. capability to project power or influence into their regions.

Five years later, the secretary of defense still does not see that it is impossible to maintain forever the ability to counter and defeat any regional power that seeks to assert its limited interests—e.g., China in the Straits of Taiwan.  His ambition demands global hegemony as the unquestionable basis of U.S. foreign policy.  That the task is inherently self-defeating should be obvious: In the past three years, the already massive U.S. military budget has grown by a third to a mind-boggling $500 billion, equaling the combined military spending of the rest of the world.  A strategic doctrine that demands the capacity to project power everywhere and all the time cannot be sustained either economically or physically, because the threat is limitless and open-ended by definition.  A man who subscribes to such a doctrine should not head the Pentagon.

Last, but by no means least, Donald Rumsfeld should have been replaced because he has displayed poor judgment, and may have even compromised U.S. national security, by surrounding himself with men of questionable integrity.  In 2001, he made Richard Perle chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a position Perle had to resign in March 2003 when it was revealed that a venture-capital firm in which he was managing partner would profit from the Iraq war.  (And yes, Perle was an enthusiastic advocate of that war.)  The attitude of Rumsfeld’s henchmen was evident in Paul Wolf-owitz’s now famous Vanity Fair admission last year that, in seeking justification for war against Iraq, “for bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”  This surprisingly frank statement reflects a manipulative Straussian mind-set that knows no restraint and no moral bounds.

The FBI is continuing its probe of accusations that Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst, supplied the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) with classified Department of Defense documents that were passed on to Israel.  On December 1, 2004, the feds searched the lobby group’s offices for the second time in three months and served subpoenas on four senior AIPAC staff.  Mr. Franklin, a career specialist involved in Iran policy, works under Douglas Feith at the Office of Policy.  It was Dr. Feith, Richard Perle’s protégé, who gave Larry Franklin his job, just as it was Perle who gave Feith a job after he was suspected of leaking secrets to Israel during Ronald Reagan’s second term.  As Thomas Fleming pointed out in these pages last November, Feith was one of eight authors of a 1996 memorandum that urged the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu to move toward reestablishing the principle of preemption and in which the authors referred to a foreign country as their own (“We in Israel . . . ”).

“I recommend that you allow the secretary of defense and deputy secretary of defense to return to the private sector,” U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, wrote to President Bush in September 2003.  The 18-term congressman said that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz

have made repeated and serious miscalculations, miscalculations that have been extremely costly to the American people in terms of lives lost, degradation of our military and intelligence capability to defend against terrorists in countries outside Iraq, isolation from our traditional allies and unexpected demands on our budget that are crowding our other priorities.

It is to be hoped that, as Mr. Bush begins his second term, at least some of Representative Obey’s Republican colleagues will come to see the wisdom of that call.