Rumsfeld Says War Critics Appeasing New Fascism

A friend of mine emailed an MSNBC reprint of an AP story reporting that Don Rumsfeld today likened critics of the Iraq War to those who tried to appease Hitler in the 1930s.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday accused critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq and counterterrorism policies of trying to appease “a new type of fascism.” In unusually explicit terms, Rumsfeld portrayed the administration’s critics as suffering from “moral or intellectual confusion” about what threatens the nation’s security and accused them of lacking the courage to fight back.

In remarks to several thousand veterans at the American Legion’s national convention, Rumsfeld recited what he called the lessons of history, including the failed efforts to appease the Adolf Hitler regime in the 1930s. “I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism,” he said.


He said, for example, that more media attention was given to U.S. soldiers’ abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib than to the fact that Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith received the Medal of Honor.

“Can we truly afford to believe somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?” he asked.

“Those who know the truth need to speak out against these kinds of myths and lies and distortions being told about our troops and about our country,” he added.

John McQuain, however, thinks Burn’s account a “hatchet job” and does a side-by-side comparison with the story and a transcript of the speech. He’s right that the quotes, taken out of context and rearranged with Burns’ paraphrasing, puts Rumsfelds’ remarks in the worst possible light.

Still, there’s not much doubt that the SECDEF is at least strongly suggesting that administration critics are appeasers. Take, for example, this passage from the DefenseLink transcription:

We need to face the following questions:

  • With the growing lethality and availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased?
  • Can we really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?
  • Can we truly afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply “law enforcement” problems, rather than fundamentally different threats, requiring fundamentally different approaches?
  • And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America — not the enemy — is the real source of the world’s trouble?

These are central questions of our time. And we must face them.

Are these really the central questions of our time? Is there really serious debate about these points?

While I agree that there are parallels between the Islamist menace and that posed by European Fascism, there are few serious leaders of the opposition party who are advocating the equivalent of appeasement. Indeed, military action against the Taliban in Aghanistan had near universal support and the main debate going in to Iraq was whether it was a diversion from the primary fight against al Qaeda and its allies.

Is anyone of consequence seriously arguing that we ought to negotiate a separate peace with al Qaeda?

Certainly, there are those who think the main way to deal with terrorist groups is through detective work and law enforcement actions such as recently thwarted the London hijacking plot. But nobody seriously objects to the use of lethal force against terrorist camps or leaders. Indeed, Democrats continue the silly argument that it’s the president’s fault we haven’t killed Osama bin Laden yet.

I suppose there is a significant element that argues that, if only the United States weren’t so friendly towards Israel and dependant on Middle Eastern oil, we would not be the object of terrorist attacks. Indeed, there’s some kernel of truth in that. But few serious people are advocating that we therefore ought to pull up stakes and become isolationist–and at least half of them are in the Buchanan wing of the GOP.

While there is legitimate debate over how best to combat Islamist terrorism, it is counterproductive to conduct it using straw man attacks and barely disguised ad hominem. If that’s the best defense of current policies the administration brain trust can come up with, they’re in serious trouble.

UPDATE: Steve Benen says this is “the Defense Secretary at his least sensible” and that “with neither facts nor narratives on his side, Rumsfeld was left to simply pound the table, and hope that no one snickered at the sad rants of the poor man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Now, obviously, I disagree with the last part of that but ad hominem tends to beget ad hominem.

Digby diagnoses the speech: “This is not a real critique. It’s a psych-out designed purely to make the Democrats go wobbly and to get the media to portray them that way.”

Matt Yglesias, guesting at TPM, dubs the speech, “the full wingnut monte.” While I agree with him that this seems a preview of the fall campaign (if not part it) designed to intimidate Democrats into ceding ground on foreign policy matters, he ironically takes the bait:

We’re witnessing the bitter, bitter fruits of the Iraq War. Other nations learned that they must seek nuclear weapons as soon as possible to safeguard themselves from a newly trigger happy United States of America. Muslim opinion was sharply polarized against us. Iran and Syria were told that their cooperation against al-Qaeda was no longer needed because their governments would topple soon enough. A power vacuum was left on the streets of Baghdad that parties aligned with Iran have rushed to fill. The Arab-Israeli conflict was sidelined as something that would magically resolve itself once Saddam Hussein was out of the way. And America’s allies were taught that our government was not to be relied upon — that we operated with bad intelligence and initiated wars of choice without any real plans or ideas about how to cope with the aftermath.

Apparently, America — not the enemy — is the real source of the world’s trouble. I don’t think Democrats want to lead with that one.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkT says:

    Democrats continue the silly argument that it’s the president’s fault we haven’t killed Osama bin Laden yet.

    I would say the argument is the President has spent resources on Iraq that could have been better applied elsewhere.

    The use of “haven’t killed Osama” is just a convenient soundbite for that idea.

  2. Anderson says:

    If that’s the best defense of current policies the administration brain trust can come up with, they’re in serious trouble.


    For ex, had our “law enforcement” not been a joke, 9/11 would likely have been averted.

    The administration’s inability to recognize its opponents’ actual criticisms is more & more remarkable. It’s the natural counterpart to the loathing that talk-radio Republicans have for “Democrats,” when in fact the only things they know about Democrats are what Rush and Savage tell them.

    –Btw, isn’t “facism” the doctrine of political rule by the most telegenic?

  3. James Joyner says:

    I dunno, Mussolini wasn’t that handsome. Nor Hitler, for that matter.

  4. Anderson says:

    Harry Reid gets in one of his occasional good rebuttals:

    If there’s one person who has failed to learn the lessons of history it’s Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld ignored military experts when he rushed to war without enough troops, without sufficient body armor, and without a plan to succeed. Under this Administration’s watch, terror attacks have increased, Iraq has fallen into civil war, and our military has been stretched thin. We have a choice to make today. Do we trust Secretary Rumsfeld to make the right decisions to keep us safe after he has been so consistently wrong since the start of the Iraq War?

    It’s a fair question.

    Via Yglesias, who lazily doesn’t link to the source.

  5. Anderson says:

    I dunno, Mussolini wasn’t that handsome. Nor Hitler, for that matter

    Hence the “s.” Though there are those creepy accounts of German women having Beatlemania-like reactions to Hitler.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Hence the “s.”

    Ah. Fixed.

  7. Herb says:

    Rumsfeld was right on target. We see it right here on OTB in comments by those whose only agenda is “Hate Bush” and “Bush has everything fouled up”.

    The problem with those who are on the “Hate Bush” theme is, they can’t stand it when they are told they are wrong.

    Rumsfeld was correct when he compared the “Bush Haters” to “those who tried to appease Hitler”

    Didn’t work then, won’t work now.

  8. G.A. Phillips says:

    Is true….what he be a history lesson…way back in the 2000’s there was the Democratic Party and its Culture of Treason….

  9. Triumph says:

    While there is legitimate debate over how best to combat Islamist terrorism, it is counterproductive to conduct it using straw man attacks and barely disguised ad hominem. If that’s the best defense of current policies the administration brain trust can come up with, they’re in serious trouble.

    I am not sure why you’re only beginning to question this guy now.

    This is exactly the same line of reasoning that these people were using since day one: Powell’s pathetic speech to the UN, Condi’s’ “mushroom cloud” baloney, Bush’s uranium from Niger stupidity, etc…

  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    James, you state in your post that there was universal agreement with the actions taken in Afghanistan. That is not how I remember it. Those on the left were saying Afghanistan was the grave of the Soviet Army, we will lose thousands of troops, the west cannot win in Afghanistan. The anti-war, anti-Bush nay-sayers were chanting loadly. They always find fault in that which they are incapable of doing. These are the same people who said we lost Tet, when infact Ho lost Tet The anti American left is a clear danger to American freedom. You are either on their side, or you oppose them. That’s it and that’s all.

  11. anjin-san says:

    Who exactly in the Democratic party is saying “America is responsible for all the world’s problems?” No one I have ever met.

    This is simply a RNC talking point. Mind tricks only work on the weak minded folks, lets get those thinking caps on.

    America is nither right all the time, nor wrong all the time. We do a lot of great things. We also screw up.

    In Iraq, we screwed up. To put it very, very mildly.

  12. Rick DeMent says:


    While Hitler and Mussolini were not “telegenic” they were the masters of the dominate media of their time, radio.

  13. Herb says:

    Obviously, there are some who hear only what they want to hear. The Democratic Party speaks very loudly about “Bush, (America) is totally responsible for everything.

    Some people have Chicky poo in their ears.

  14. Anderson says:

    Yglesias isn’t saying that America is the source of the world’s troubles. If you spray gasoline onto a burning building, you’re not the arsonist who set it on fire.

  15. Greywolf says:

    Yglesias’ ranting proves Rumsfeld’s point.

    They (Dems) ARE appeasers.

    They DO root against America.

    How many of them were high-fiving on 9/11 ?

  16. legion says:

    Wow. Rumsfeld must have to screw his hat on, his head is so twisted. How dare he complain about how the media isn’t showing the war he wants them to show?!? He and Cheney have worked tirelessly to establish a full-on propaganda office inside the Pentagon just to manipulate the media. Not just theirs, but ours too.

  17. Anderson says:

    How many of them were high-fiving on 9/11 ?

    Greywolf, if I call you a despicable jerk, does that violate the posting rules?

    –Oh, and thanks for the “phrasing your insult in the form of a question” technique! Never seen that before!

  18. tommo says:

    “How many of them [Democrats] were high-fiving on 9/11 ? ”

    Wow, you’ve got some major problems. The right-wing has controlled everything for six years, and screwed our once-beautiful nation. And the Dems were high-fiving on 9/11? You need to check into a rubber room, old-timer.

  19. Greywolf says:

    Anderson and Tommo:
    Neither of you denied appeasement or rooting against America.
    Glad you appreciated my “technique”.
    See, reading my post was a learning experience.

  20. cian says:

    Can you imagine the number of people working on and preparing for this Rumsfeld speech, and all to attack those with alternative ideas on how America might come through this debacle with a modicum of respect still intact. And that’s the problem right there- for the past 5 years they have been busying themselves with finding knew and devilishly clever ways to defend their position rather then ways to defeat an enemy that has managed to gather strength from this unnecessary war.

    As the insurgency continues to grow, it is the Bush doctrine of a democratic middle east that is in its last throes. A quick read of the Irish Times this morning threw up the following headlines:

    Iraq Blast Kills 29 At Petrol Pipeline; Iraq’s Sufi Leaders Declare Holy War Against US Forces; Food Crisis In Gaza Worsens Says UN.

    God help us all if the Democrats don’t perform in the November elections.

  21. Justin Case says:

    Interesting post, and also comments.

    I often wonder whether people (e.g., Greywolf above)are really serious when they talk about normal Democrats (i.e., not radical ANSWER-type leftists; they’re NOT the same) rooting against America. Do you really believe that these people desire bad things for our country? Take, for example, Mr. Yglesias’ post and Senator Reid’s post above. Both of them seem to me to be primarily criticizing how we’ve been doing things, and arguing that the strategies employed by the Bush administration in the Middle East are bad ones that have not accomplished what was hoped. To me, this does not seem to be the same as saying, “I want policies that hurt America and our allies and interests in the Middle east and elsewhere.” It’s the opposite – people who care and who think our policies have had serious and negative consequences (Yglesias, being a pundit-type is more over the top, of course). Now, I take it as a possibility that these people could be mistaken – that isn’t my point – my point is that I don’t think that they are people who criticizing that administration in bad faith (contra, e.g., Cindy Sheehan, Ward Churchill, et al.).

  22. Wayne says:

    You gave this quote from Reid.
    “Rumsfeld ignored military experts when he rushed to war without enough troops, without sufficient body armor, and without a plan to succeed. Under this Administration’s watch, terror attacks have increased, Iraq has fallen into civil war, and our military has been stretched thin.”

    It was the military commanders that came up with using the forces that we used. We made some adjustments as we drilled the war plans. Given the logistics difficulties and other circumstance having more troops would have cause more trouble than it would solve.

    Also we accomplished knocking out Iraqi military much faster than what was planned. The insurgents fading into the population would have occurred regardless of how many troops we had on the ground.

    Sufficient body armor was a MSM created problem. The up-armor HMMV’s have killed more soldiers over there than it has saved. We had a planned to succeed but in war circumstance change. The original plan had a timeline of 10 to 20 years, which looks to be about what it will take. Bush has said it will take a long time from the start. It is the MSM and Dems that lied and said that Bush said that it would be quick.

    According to Commanders on the ground Iraq is not in Civil war so who is not listening to Commanders on the ground? Reid. Our military is fully capable of taking on another war. Another MSM lie.

    The MSM and Dems have done nothing to help this war out. Just the contrary, they have been the propagandists of our enemies.

  23. Justin Case says:

    Was it not the case that important military commanders (e.g, Shinseki) claimed that a much larger force would be needed than the one that was actually sent. As I remember, a big deal was made over this in 2003. I think it’s hard to argue in hindsight that the troop levels suggested by General Shinseki would have been better at restoring order than those ultimately employed. It’s also clear from the statements made by Wolfowitz in the article I linked to that the civilian leadership at the Pentagon underestimated the difficulty of the Iraq mission.

  24. Justin Case says:


    In the post above where I wrote “I think it’s hard to argue in hindsight that the troop levels suggested by General Shinseki would have been better at restoring order than those ultimately employed,” I intended to write “would NOT have been better…”

  25. Greywolf says:

    If Democrats are not rooting against America, then….

    Do they support NSA data-mining (the real action, not surveillance or the “wire-tapping” of the techno-ignorant media) ?
    See Leahy, Kennedy thundering about “privacy” of terrorists.

    Support the Patriot Act?
    See Harry Reid’s.. “we killed the Patriot Act.”

    Support Gitmo?
    See Durbin comparing Gitmo to Nazi concentration camps.

    No, I don’t see much difference between Durbin, Leahy, Dodd,Kerry, Dean, ad nauseum and Moveon.Org, Lamont, Kos and the rest of the shrill “blame America first” infants.

  26. Michael says:

    If Democrats are not rooting against America, then….

    Do they support NSA data-mining?

    Support the Patriot Act?

    Support Gitmo?

    You have a very strange definition of “America”. I’ve never heard the definition that “America” is about “Unchecked surveillance of the domestic population, restrictions of freedom, and indefinite internment without charge or judical appeal”. I would hazard to say that your definition is at odds with the men who founded this nation.

  27. Justin Case says:

    Dear Greywolf,
    What your post describes are specific policies (Data mining, Gitmo, Patriot act), many of which trouble a large number of Americans. Is your argument here that if one does not support these policies then one necessarily must not support America?


  28. Robert says:


    Desperate times call for desperate measures.

    No, not the “War on terror”. The desperation of Republicans to stay in power.

    So silly.

  29. Wayne says:


    I respect General Shinseki views but I respect Gen. Tommy R. Franks views even more since he was the Commander on the ground. For every General or Colonel we had over there that thought we needed more forces we had three or more that thought we had about the right amount or needed less.

    Our first priority was defeating Saddams standing military. Yes, we were worried and planned for refugees, restoring order and other concerns but those where secondary to accomplishing our main goal. I larger more cumbersome force could have very undesirable results. Surely you would not suggest that the main goal was not a great success. Sometime smaller is better.

    I suspect that if we would triple our forces over there now, it would not greatly reduce the local violence. Look at the number of peacekeeping forces (Police, F.B.I, Etc) we have here in the U.S.A. Yet we have more violence here then they do in Iraq. Having a large number of boots on the ground does not necessary translate into more security. They need to be the right type of boots on the ground. We need to be smarter instead of always trying to throw more money and mass numbers at a problem.

  30. Justin Case says:

    You’re correct. It was Gen. Franks’ call, of course. However, I tend to think that a lot the worst problems have come from difficulties in restoring order and basic services like water and electricity; a lot of these problems have come from the poor security situation. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that more troops (even now) would really help keep things moving forward, instead of what seems right now to be this back & forth situation where they fix one problem, but then the insurgents just pop up somewhere else and blow up another police station or Iraqi army recruiting station.

  31. Michael says:

    The problems in Iraq did not arise because of the quantity of force in Iraq, but because of the quality of that force. Now our military is second to none on the battlefield, so don’t think I’m trying to belittle our men and women in uniform. However, they’re no longer engaged in open warfare, and haven’t been since the collapse of Saddam’s government.

    Our problems have arisen because our war machine was being used as a political machine, something it was not designed nor prepared to do. We don’t need more boots in Iraq, and we don’t need less boots in Iraq, we need the right boots in Iraq, and that means re-training a whole lot of those boots for 4th gen warfare.

    Any discussion about staying in Iraq must start with a discussion about what will be done differently from the past 3 years. So far neither Rumsfeld nor Cheney nor Bush have suggested any significant changes to our current tactics.

  32. cian says:


    I really think you need to do a little reading. It is clear from Fiasco and Cobra 11 that the vast majority of commanders on the battlefield, before and after the war commenced, were deeply concerned not only by the number of troops deployed, but also by the complete lack of planning for phase IV (Lt. Gen. Kellogg, overseeing systems for the command and control of forces in Iraq, said, and I quote: ‘I was there for all the planning, all the execution of the Iraq war plan. I saw it all’ But what he never saw was a plan for phase IV. ‘The assumption was that everything would be fine after the war’.)

    The main goal, according to the Bush administration, was not to topple Saddam, that was just the first part of a grand scheme to transform the Middle East. The main goal, if this strategy was to be completed, had to be to first secure and then transform Iraq.

    In this they have failed spectacularly, despite dire warnings from the very beginning, and the consequences of this failure has weakened America for years to come.

    It seems that in the new America, to state the obvious is now an act of treason, which leads to another problem for the Bush admin and its supporters- will there be enough prison space to hold all those who’ve been stating it?

  33. Wayne says:

    This discussion has been about the military strength and operations. The military main goal was taking out Saddams forces. Lt. Gen. Kellogg was director of command, control, communications and computers for the Joint Staff. That has to do more with communications and command infrastructure and little to do with operations. He would not be familiar with ground operation plans because that is not his job.

    Phase IV operations receive less detail planning because the first three phases could have ended in a hundred different ways. There where a great deal of preposition assets that went to waste because we did not get the vast numbers of refugees that were expected. If we did, we would have been able to minimize it but would have been accuse of not fully planning for it because things would not have been perfect by no means and we knew it.

    On the battlefield There will be places that lack sufficient forces. That does not mean that there is not enough in theater but simple not enough in a particular place.

    Almost everyone over there was concern if we had enough and if we had three times the number we would still be concern if we had enough. The same can be said about having to much. I was one of those when I first got over there that thought we needed more until I was able to study the situation better. Remember we are talking theater wide not a particular battalion or company or even division.