Monday, 16 July 2007

Before 9/11, Donald Rumsfeld Was Preoccupied With Pearl Harbor and Other Military Surprises

Donald RumsfeldAs the following two new entries in the Complete 9/11 Timeline show, early in 2001, the new Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was regularly talking about the danger of surprise attacks, and was expressing particular interest in the attack on Pearl Harbor. According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, Rumsfeld "routinely handed out or recommended" Roberta Wohlstetter's 1962 book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision.

This is perhaps unsurprising, since Rumsfeld was one of the founders of the neoconservative think tank the Project for the New American Century. In a September 2000 report called Rebuilding America's Defenses, this group had stated that, to preserve its "military preeminence in the coming decades," America would need to undergo a "military transformation." However, the report continued, this process of transformation would be "a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor." Twelve months later, what President Bush called the "Pearl Harbor of the 21st century" took place.

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January 11, 2001: Rumsfeld Warns of Surprise Attack Like Pearl Harbor
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense-designate Donald Rumsfeld warns of the danger of a surprise attack like Pearl Harbor happening again. He testifies, "We all know that history is filled with instances where people were surprised. There were plenty of signals, plenty of warnings, plenty of cautions. But they weren't taken aboard. They didn't register. They weren't sufficient to cause a person to act on those." He continues, "We know that the thing that tends to register on people is fear, and we know that that tends to happen after there's a Pearl Harbor, tends to happen after there's a crisis. And that's too late for us. We've got to be smarter than that. We've got to be wiser than that. We have to be more forward-looking." As ABC News later comments, "eight months to the day after his warning of a surprise attack, Rumsfeld's fears became reality with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks." [CNN, 1/11/2001; Scarborough, 2004, pp. 165-166; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 3/25/2004] Rumsfeld will again refer to the danger of military surprises four months later, during meetings with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees (see May 23-24, 2001).

May 23-24, 2001: Rumsfeld Warns of Inevitability of Strategic Surprise; Refers to Pearl Harbor
During a meeting with the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that the inevitability of surprise is a guiding principle of the Bush administration's national security strategy. To emphasize his point about the need to prepare for the unexpected, he gives panel members copies of the foreword to Roberta Wohlstetter's 1962 book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. This foreword, written by Thomas Schelling, argues that in order to prepare for the next crisis, the US military needs to avoid thinking that the most familiar threat is also the most likely one. Rumsfeld says that, in line with this reasoning, a key element of the administration's strategy will be preparing for the unexpected. [US Department of Defense, 5/23/2001; Associated Press, 5/24/2001] The following day, he has a similar closed-door meeting with the Senate Armed Services Committee. He hands out to senators a four-page paper dealing with the inevitability of strategic surprise, and summarizing various defense surprises and incorrect predictions made during the 20th century. The paper states that the Department of Defense should "give some thought to the flexibility of a capability-based strategy, as opposed to simply a threat-based strategy." What this means, according to the Washington Post, is that the "US military needs to move away from a Cold War structure designed to counter one large, clear threat--from the Soviet Union--and to develop capabilities to respond to everything from ballistic missiles to terrorist attacks." [NPR, 5/25/2001; Washington Post, 5/25/2001] Rumsfeld had previously warned of the danger of a surprise attack, like Pearl Harbor, during his confirmation hearing in January (see January 11, 2001). Journalist Bob Woodward will later report that one of the main themes Rumsfeld referred to in the eight months prior to 9/11 was surprise, and he had "routinely handed out or recommended" Wohlstetter's book on Pearl Harbor. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 22-23] Yet when, in July, he receives a CIA briefing about the imminent danger of an al-Qaeda attack on an American target, Rumsfeld reportedly responds with "vehement dismissal," and criticizes the CIA for its "gullibility" (see July 11-17, 2001). [Cockburn, 2007, pp. 9]

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