Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently had positive words for Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based 24/7 cable television channel now widely recognized for the immediacy of its in-depth reporting on this past year's Arab spring uprisings. But back in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera's critical reporting on the war and Iraq's subsequent descent into bloody insurgency was a major source of ire for the Rumsfeld Pentagon.
Al Jazeera's coverage of Iraq was "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable," Rumsfeld charged in 2004.
Rumsfeld, who left the Pentagon chief job in 2006 and is now promoting a memoir, Known and Unknown, showed few signs that he's mellowed over time, in this bristly and combative interview with Al Jazeera Washington bureau chief Abderahhim Foukara Tuesday:
Rumsfeld's patience quickly frayed as Foukara asked him whether he did not adequately prepare for the Iraq post-war. In particular, Foukara asked if the ensuing civil war would have claimed as many Iraqi lives if Rumsfeld had listened to Pentagon officials who said that the United States would need a much larger military force to stabilize post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
"You keep making assertions which are fundamentally false," Rumsfeld replied, as recorded in a Fox News transcription of the exchange. "No one in the Pentagon said there was not enough" troops.
"The president went around the room, he asked everyone of them, do you have everything you need, do you have the numbers you want, we went back and forth with the commanders in Iraq at CENTCOM, asking them do they want additional forces and the answer was no," Rumsfeld continued.
"So does that make the numbers you went into Iraq with right?" Foukara shot back.
Rumsfeld's assertion seems at odds with the facts, as they emerged from outside the Pentagon's own filters of information. As has been widely reported, in February 2003, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, then U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Erik Shinseki testified to Congress that "several hundred thousand soldiers" would be required to stabilize Iraq, as the New York Times reported. Shinseki also correctly predicted that "ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems ... and so it takes a significant ground force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment."
However, the accuracy of Shinseki's assessments won him neither respect nor accolades from Rumsfeld, then or later. On the contrary, Shinseki's "testimony angered Donald H. Rumsfeld ... whose war plans called for far fewer troops," the Times wrote. Shinseki soon found himself "marginalized on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and quietly retired from the Army." Shinseki now serves as Obama's secretary of veterans affairs.
And Rumsfeld? After a few more testy exchanges with Foukara, he declared the interview worthless.
"What do you mean, seriously? I'm being serious. This is worthless. This is not an interview. You're haranguing. That's what you're doing."