BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Andrew Cockburn, February 20th an A.P. story out of Bluffton, South Carolina, the first paragraph reads, ”Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Monday, ’the war in Iraq has been mismanaged for years and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be remembered as one of the worst in history.’”
Why do you think he is saying that at this point?
ANDREW COCKBURN, AUTHOR, ”RUMSFELD: HIS RISE, FALL, AND CATASTROPHIC LEGACY”: Well, McCain, he has, as a supporter of the war overall, I mean, he has to give an accounting of why, nevertheless, it’s turned into a disaster. So, he, therefore, is reaching out to Donald Rumsfeld as the agent of the disaster.
And if we can pin the blame on him, then the war itself sort of gets off the hook. I mean, that seems to be what’s going through McCain’s head.
LAMB: But is that true, that he is one of the worst – I’m not sure whether he’s one of the worst public officials or one of the worst secretaries of defense, but what do you think of the secretary?
COCKBURN: Oh, I think, definitely, McCain’s on the money there. Rumsfeld is definitely one of the worst, if not the worst secretary of defense in history. His rival for that title is, obviously, Robert McNamara.
But in all sorts of – although they ended up with disastrous wars on their hands, which they’d helped create, McNamara in many ways was a much more competent official than Rumsfeld turned out to be.
LAMB: You have a new book out and you have a cover picture that they are using at Scribner of Donald Rumsfeld. Where is this picture from? Do you know?
COCKBURN: It’s from just, from one of his briefings. It was a shot, a stray shot by a photographer that I think rather excellently captures the man.
LAMB: Why do you think it’s excellent?
COCKBURN: Because it shows, I think, a hardness. You know, he was always – normally when you saw Rumsfeld in public he was smiling. He was, you know, he had – that was one thing he was very good at was sort of bantering with the press. And his demeanor often, as best he could, concealed what I think was a very sort of chilly interior and rather a very stony temperament.
LAMB: When did you start this book?
COCKBURN: I started this book – I really started thinking about it two years ago. I started intense work on it a year ago. And then come November 8th I was proceeding along on a quite equable fashion until the day after election day last year, when I got rung by the publishers and a gun was put to my head, sort of, through the telephone. And they said, you basically have a month to finish it.
LAMB: What was your reaction when he had resigned?
COCKBURN: Well, in a way, a lot of people rang up to sympathize. They said, oh, he’s gone. But I felt a certain relief, not just as a citizen, but because I knew how it ended then. I mean, I was wondering, was this man going to go on and on?
Because he’d been in play, as I say in the book, ever since the generals, the retired generals starting denouncing him in April of last year, 2006. And at that point, it seemed only a matter of time, because it was open season on Rumsfeld.
And then during the election campaign itself last fall, it became a sort of matter of rote for every Republican candidate to say, ”and Donald Rumsfeld has to go.” I mean, even Joe Lieberman – as earnest a partisan of the war as could be found – even he felt it necessary to say that Donald Rumsfeld had to go.
So, it really was a matter of time. And I felt it was good to get it over with. Maybe he did, too.
LAMB: On page 80, you say ”In spite of the enormous shadows these men would together cast across the United States and the world, this crucial moment has never been revealed or discussed.”
And that crucial moment has to do with Dick Cheney and their friendship or – explain why you say this has never been revealed. And why did you reveal it?
COCKBURN: Well, it was an extraordinarily interesting moment. I mean, we have got used over – we got used over six years of this administration to the presence of these two dominant figures in the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.
And they were always described as friends since the Ford administration or even since before that, since the Nixon administration, when Cheney had gone to work for Rumsfeld. Cheney was a young fellow out of Wyoming.
And no one had ever known that they had actually had a very deep breach for a period, and that was in 1986, when Rumsfeld was getting ready to run for president, which he did for the 1988 nomination and presidential election.
And he’d gotten very used during the White House years of the mid-’70s to having Dick Cheney by his side. I mean, everyone referred to Cheney as ”Rumsfeld’s flunky.”
And so, Rumsfeld reached out to Cheney and said, OK, I’m about to announce and I’m embarking on this thing and I want you by my side. And Cheney said, I’d do almost anything for you, but not this. I’ve moved on politically.
Actually, what was happening was Cheney was thinking of his own presidential race, possibly, if not for ’88, for ’92. And he was forging a close relationship with the Bush campaign.
So, he turned Rumsfeld down, and Rumsfeld was furious. He was absolutely furious. He said, everything you are, I’ve made you. You know, he couldn’t believe that his sidekick, his faithful fellow, had actually – was disobeying orders, was jumping ship.
And that’s never been really discussed. I mean, I know about it from people who were very close to Rumsfeld at that time. And he discussed it with them. In fact, they were very aware of that phone conversation.
And the only public sign for anyone who might have been watching was during, while Cheney was secretary of defense under Bush Sr., from ’89 to ’92. He had a big gathering of the ”formers,” meaning former secretaries of defense. And they all sort of staggered in – McNamara, Schlesinger, et cetera (ph).
And the only one who wasn’t there was Donald Rumsfeld. He had stayed away.
LAMB: Where did you find this nugget?
COCKBURN: I found it from someone who has been very close to Rumsfeld, both in his public and commercial career. And because Rumsfeld, when he ran for president, he basically – he brought over a bunch of people from his corporate undertaking.
He’d been head of G.D. Searle, the then-pharmaceutical company – it doesn’t exist anymore – and he brought over people from Searle to run his campaign, which, as it turned out was perhaps not such a good idea, because they might have been good at running a pharmaceutical company.
But people, other people, political professionals from the Chicago area, which is where all this was happening, said they were amazed, told me they were amazed, at how little, in a way, Rumsfeld knew about electoral politics, which was one of the more surprising things I discovered doing this book.
LAMB: There’s a moment in the book where you’re in the Pentagon watching a parade of sorts.
COCKBURN: It was extraordinary. They started having – it was a year or so into the war – as Walter Reed started to fill up with horribly wounded people, including those who had lost limbs, they started bringing them down and wheeling them around, making them sort of a parade.
I mean, everyone was either in a – not everyone, but most people – were either in wheelchairs or on gurneys in some cases, and wheeling them around the A-ring of the Pentagon, which is the innermost ring, overlooks the courtyard in the center.
And all the workers in the Pentagon, bureaucrats – I mean, nothing wrong with being a bureaucrat, but these are office workers – all come out and line the corridor and all applaud. So you can hear from far down the corridor, you can hear this applause growing, the clapping, as these unfortunate men and women are wheeled past.
And I found it very – you know, it was a moment, it’s one of the rare moments where you actually see the war in the Pentagon. And they do it about every month. And I was particularly struck when I was looking at the notice someone gave me, an e-mail that had gone around – this is not for the public or the press, of course – this had gone around from a public affairs official who had organized it.
And he said, this is the first time we’ll have all amputees. The Pentagon loves milestones – you know, first this, first that. This was first all amputees.
LAMB: Why were you there?
COCKBURN: I’d heard about it, and I got a friend who worked there in the Pentagon to bring me in to see this bizarre event. I mean, it was something very strange.
I mean, I guess it’s good they do it, but then everyone went back to their offices and got on with running the machinery of the Department of Defense. It was like a sort of – I don’t want to be dismissive of it, because, I guess, it was a nice gesture. And certainly the families, people – the wounded men and women had their families with them. Well, most of them did.
So, I don’t want to be dismissive of it. But I thought, this is almost a token gesture. Here’s this enormous machine grinding away 6,000 or 7,000 miles away in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s this horrible blood and death and suffering and people being maimed, and this is like once a month we acknowledge that and then get back to work.
LAMB: Did you ask Mr. Rumsfeld for an interview?
COCKBURN: I did.
LAMB: And what did he tell you?
COCKBURN: Nothing. I had no response.
LAMB: Why do you think he would talk to Bob Woodward and not you?
COCKBURN: Well, he’s had a long relationship with Woodward. And if you read the interview with Bob Woodward, which is – Mr. Rumsfeld had this very fortunate habit, which I very much appreciate as a journalist, of putting every interview he did, unexpurgated, I mean the full text from the transcription, up on the Web site.
So, obviously, you can read, I mean, his interviews. Mr. Woodward is a very good interviewer, and you can see that he had cultivated a long relationship with Mr. Rumsfeld going back to, I think, the Ford administration. So, he was fortunate enough to be granted the presence.
But I, since Rumsfeld is – so much of what he’s said and done is on the, you know, is there for us to find out, I wasn’t too regretful.
LAMB: And what made Scribner think that this would sell?
COCKBURN: Well, a lot of things.
LAMB: Meaning your book.
COCKBURN: They were persuaded that Donald Rumsfeld had been a huge figure in our lives, I mean, in this administration, which has been a hugely impactive administration. I mean, it’s affected the lives of more people around the world than other administrations for many – for decades.
And one of the dominant figures in this administration has been Donald Rumsfeld. I mean, he – I was talking quite (ph) in the book. A White House official, who was working in the national security area, and I was asking him – this was back when Rumsfeld was still in the job.
And I said, what’s – you know, ”Is he really that powerful?”
And he said, ”Look,” he says, ”he has control of half of the discretionary budget of the United States government. And plus that, he has an effective veto on U.S. foreign policy. So, how effective is that?”
So, this is like a – this man has been as powerful as many presidents. So, of course we should have a book about him.
LAMB: Let me start by reading on page one, your introduction, and get you to tell some of this.
”Just after 9:37 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001, Officer Aubrey Davis of the Pentagon police was standing outside Donald Rumsfeld’s office on the third floor of the Pentagon’s E-ring. Inside, Rumsfeld, though aware that the World Trade Center towers in New York had already been hit, was proceeding with his regularly scheduled CIA briefing.”
How did you know to go to Aubrey Davis?
COCKBURN: I asked at the Pentagon. I said, ”Who was with Rumsfeld on that morning?”
Because, you know, it’s always been – we had the initial version of what had happened, that he had – you know, the crash had happened, the plane had hit the Pentagon and he dashed out to help with the wounded.
And I was just very curious as to what had actually happened. What had he done? How much time had he spent there?
So, I looked and looked to find someone who had been with him, and was fortunate enough to discover Officer Davis.
LAMB: You write, quote, there was an incredibly loud boom, says Davis, raising his voice slightly on the last word. Fifteen or 20 seconds later, just as his radio crackled with the message, the door opened and Rumsfeld walked out looking composed and wearing the jacket he normally discarded while in his office.
Sir, said Davis, quoting what he had heard on his radio, we’re getting a report that an airplane has hit the Mall.
COCKBURN: Yes, I mean, it was – I find it – that was so interesting that Rumsfeld, normally inside his office – I couldn’t discover what he was wearing inside his office that morning – but normally he would take off his suit jacket and put on a sort of like a vest, because he found it chilly in the office.
So, I think – I don’t know, he wouldn’t tell me – but I think he had time to change his clothes, put on his going-outside jacket, come out. And then he – Davis is there. And as I go on to say, he didn’t say a word. He just marched off towards the Mall, where it turned out the plane hadn’t hit. It was further along the Pentagon.
But it’s – you know, it was an extraordinary moment. He didn’t – you’d think he would have been rushing off to find out, since this was now the third plane – he knew two other planes had hit in New York – the third plane to hit a major American target, he might have gone along to the command center to find out what was happening.
But it was a very typical Rumsfeld thing to do. It was a moment of micromanagement, you know. He’s the man in charge of the U.S. defense system, and he goes off to look at the fire, which I have a certain sneaking sympathy with, because that’s what any of us would want to do. But he had kind of a bigger job to do, as well.
LAMB: Did you consider that a metaphor for the book, for Rumsfeld?
COCKBURN: Yes. I thought everything that happened that day was kind of a, was a metaphor for Rumsfeld. In a way he abandons his wider responsibilities to go look at the fire. He’s completely – what was very irresponsible was he didn’t appreciate that he was completely out of communication.
I mean, Davis’ radio was crackling with a voice saying, ”Where’s the secretary? Where’s the secretary?”
Dr. Cambone, who was a very – Stephen Cambone – who was a very close aide to Rumsfeld is asking, ”Where’s the secretary? Where’s Secretary Rumsfeld?”
And Davis was trying to answer, ”He’s here. I’ve got him. I’ve got him. He’s with me.” We’re at the Mall, or we’re going down to the – we’re outside, over the next 20 minutes or so, and he couldn’t get through. The radio was too jammed up.
So, it was only a few minutes, I mean, it’s roughly 20 or just over 20 minutes he was missing. But they were a very – you know, the United States was under attack.
If you think about it, during the Cold War we were always told that when the word comes that the missiles are coming in, that they might be attacking us, there was only like a few – the president would, or whoever, the national command authority, would have like four minutes or three minutes or a matter of seconds almost, to make crucial decisions.
So here, finally, the country was under attack, and yet the secretary of defense disappears for 20 minutes.
LAMB: So, what do you think all that means, though, as far as his life is concerned …
COCKBURN: Well …
LAMB: … and the way he ran the Pentagon?
COCKBURN: It was like he was – not just the way he ran the Pentagon, it was the way he ran – like, when he was in charge of G.D. Searle. I mean, one of his executives then said, ”Don likes to dive down into the weeds.”
You know, he likes focusing on one micro issue – in this case it was where a plane had just plowed into a side of the Pentagon – and to the exclusion of like what the wider picture was.
Then he – other things that happened that day were also in pattern with him. He immediately started – well, not almost immediately – he then came back to the National Command Center, finally, which he finally entered at 10:30 that morning – and he immediately starts to work on something that was completely irrelevant, which was rules of engagements for pilots, interceptor pilots, although the last hijacked plane had crashed sometime before. So then he does that for quite awhile until one o’clock, he says.
Then by two o’clock he’s already disparaging the notion that when they come in with intelligence that it might have been Osama bin Laden, or probably was Osama bin Laden. He dismisses that.
He says, oh, no, you know, because I think he was probably thinking, remembering that not long before, on September 4th, he’d had a briefing that it was quite likely that al Qaeda was going to attack the United States.
So, he, like, I think, like many other senior – well, several other – senior administration officials was recalling that they had been warned about this, and there were going to be some hard questions asked. The questions, unfortunately, weren’t that hard. But it must have been a guilty moment for him.
So, then, as I show from the notes taken by Stephen Cambone earlier that afternoon, he’s already saying, oh, well, let’s – you know, we should really go after Saddam Hussein.
So, why that’s a parable, I think, for the general Rumsfeld is that he’s immediately sort of shifting responsibility. And he has a – one of his old associates said to me, ”Don has an acute sense of incoming lethality.” You know, he can see where his own position is threatened. And this was obviously a very threatening moment for him.
I mean, they disregarded warnings of an impending attack and the attack had happened. So, what to do now?
LAMB: Why did Nelson Rockefeller and George Herbert Walker Bush dislike him so much?
COCKBURN: Because they were victims of his ambition back in the mid-1970s, during the Ford administration.
Rumsfeld – I mean, one thing we have to understand about Donald Rumsfeld is how extraordinarily ambitious he’s been, and he certainly was in the mid-1970s.
When he’d been – just a little bit of background – he’s been basically shoved out of the Nixon White House, because Haldeman and Ehrlichman didn’t like him, didn’t trust him. And he’d been sent off to be the ambassador to NATO.
When Nixon – the final days of Nixon, or final weeks of Nixon, he realizes that this is his big opportunity, and he’s coming back all the time. He sort of denied this later, but he was flying back to Washington all the time and preparing the way for a position in what would be the Ford administration. And he knew Jerry Ford well from when they were both in Congress.
So, his plan, his long-time plan seems to run at that point – he gets, you know, he gets appointed chief of staff at the White House. And he wants to be president. Donald Rumsfeld has always thought that he is by far the best qualified person in these United States to be president of the United States. He did think that until recently, anyway.
He has a problem. Well, he decides that the way to do this is to become Ford’s vice president, and then run with him in ’76, and then in 1980 perhaps run himself on the ticket to be president.
The problem is that Ford picks almost immediately Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president. And the second problem is, as chief of staff of the White House, which really isn’t an adequate jumping-off – you know, it isn’t adequate on your resume to then run for president. He needs to have a big Cabinet level appointment.
So, what he did to Rockefeller, so far as I could establish, was to give the impression, produce the impression in the Ford political campaign, that Rockefeller was a drag on the ticket, that Rockefeller was too liberal.
And he did that, so it was suggested to me, by – because he was, had meant to have, overall supervision of Ford’s reelection effort – by letting the campaign sort of run off the road a bit. So people said, oh, the campaign’s not going too well. It must be because we’ve got that liberal Rockefeller on the ticket.
And it worked. Eventually it was decided that they had to dump Rockefeller in order to – because Ronald Reagan was coming along on the right, they had to shift Ford to the right by getting rid of Rockefeller. So bingo, he’s gotten rid of – now there’s no – the vice presidential slot is open.
OK. The next thing is the Cabinet-level position. Well, he tried first to – he felt secretary of the Treasury would be good. So suddenly – but there was a secretary of the Treasury, William Simon – so suddenly, all sorts of very disobliging articles began to appear in major newspapers saying that William Simon was doing a terrible job and Jerry, President Ford was getting fed up with Secretary Simon, and Secretary Simon was for the high jump (ph) (INAUDIBLE) said.
And Simon was going crazy reading this. And he thinks, my God, the president is putting this out. I might as well resign.
And then it was discovered – a friend of Simon’s discovered this was going on, discovered that Ford didn’t want to get rid of Simon, and rang Rumsfeld and said, and read a piece – it was a journalist wrote a piece, Charles Bartlett, wrote an article – saying that Rumsfeld was having this intrigue against, was producing all these leaks via Cheney.
Then he rang Rumsfeld and said, this is going – I’m putting this on the wire in 10 minutes. And Rumsfeld – he said there was a pause – and Rumsfeld said, this will stop now. And Bartlett insisted that Rumsfeld make a public expression of support for Simon.
So, that initiative was killed.
OK. So, the next …
LAMB: Let me stop just to ask you, did you talk to Charlie Bartlett about this?
COCKBURN: I did, yes.
LAMB: He’s still alive?
COCKBURN: He’s still alive.
LAMB: He pops up so often in all these books as someone who knew all these stories.
COCKBURN: Oh, a mine of information. Yes, no, he gave me chapter and verse.
I’d heard the story already from someone else, and he confirmed every point about it. And he described this conversation with Rumsfeld when he faces Rumsfeld with the fact that he knows what Rumsfeld is up to in trying to get rid of Simon.
LAMB: And when did he stop writing, Charlie Bartlett?
COCKBURN: Well, I think he’s still putting out his newsletter, isn’t he?
LAMB: No, no. I haven’t seen the newsletter. But …
COCKBURN: Yes, he is. Yes. Should we all be so productive so long.
And Bartlett, you know, he’s been doing this – he’s been producing this very informative newsletter for decades.
So then, Rumsfeld – the next thing that happens is that the secretary of defense, James Schlesinger, is, he’s an economics professor, and he doesn’t – well, Ford doesn’t like him. Ford finds him arrogant.
Ford didn’t like things like, when the secretary of defense came in to see him, the president of the United States, he wouldn’t even bother to do up his shirt, you know, the top button on his shirt, and he would sort of lecture him.
So, Ford didn’t like Schlesinger very much anyway. And there came a time in October 1975, when under Rumsfeld – Ford – this wasn’t all Rumsfeld, but Ford certainly went along with it, Ford said it was a good idea.
They decided to have a major reshuffle, urged on by Rumsfeld, by which Schlesinger got fired, Rumsfeld got the Pentagon and George – there were many other moving chairs – but George Bush, who was already being talked about, had been – George Bush was talked about as a possible vice president. He was then ambassador in Beijing.
He is brought back, but made head of the CIA, which was thought to be a political graveyard. I mean, once you’d been head of the CIA, it was sort of considered a nonpolitical job, so that ruled you out politically.
And Bush thought correctly that Rumsfeld had orchestrated this, to put him – Bush, a rival – in the CIA, thus leaving the way clear for Rumsfeld to be nominated as vice president.
LAMB: Why would then George Walker Bush choose him to be defense secretary? Or did he?
COCKBURN: Well, isn’t that an interesting question.
It’s no secret that there was a rivalry, that George Walker Bush has problems with his father. This has been written about and quoted. I mean, he said to Bob Woodward, I follow the direction of a Higher Father, not my biological father, or whatever he said.
I’ve come across numerous statements from people who know them both, who have seen stray remarks, like that, oh, someone Bush was cycling with once – George Walker Bush – said – sorry, it was running, was running a marathon. And someone said, oh, you’re pretty fit. And he said, ”Yeah! Better than my dad!”
You know, it’s like this – he feels this need to compete with his father.
So, when you say, you know, did he pick Rumsfeld as his secretary of defense, yes he did. I mean, however much he’s under the influence of Dick Cheney, or whoever, had he wanted to, he could have refused to accept a man who was a lifelong, or for decades had been on bitter terms with his father.
And that was definitely known. He had to know the history, that George Bush, Sr., you know, one of the few people he ever speaks of – has spoken of with bitterness, because he’s a very equable fellow – one of the few people he speaks of bitterly is Donald Rumsfeld, because of what happened, as I told you, in 1975.
Rumsfeld, when he went to Chicago, I heard recently, after 1977, he would entertain dinner parties with imitations of George Herbert Walker Bush. He’s a rather good mimic, Rumsfeld.
So, the bitterness between the two was well known. And yet, Bush, Jr., picks him to be secretary of defense. That, to my mind, tells us something quite – tells us quite a lot about the relationship between Bush, Jr., and Bush, Sr.
LAMB: Let me ask you about your own views on the Iraq war.
COCKBURN: Well, clearly, I mean, retrospectively, it’s been a huge disaster.
And it’s been a disaster, because it was all entered into so casually. It was so – I mean, not just Rumsfeld. I have to take slight issue with Senator McCain here.
I mean, it was clear to me – it seemed clear to me – from fairly early on, I mean, from even before it started, that, first of all, it was all based on a lie. Because of a previous book I’d done on Saddam Hussein, I knew there were either no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever, or a few token sort of decaying, rusting warheads, at most, of chemical weapons.
It was clear to me that there was no nuclear program. In fact, there was plenty of evidence. It wasn’t very hard to find that. I mean, there were Iraqi nuclear scientists out in the world who could tell you that.
So, it was all based on a lie, and that Saddam was no threat to man or beast outside his country.
There’s a story I tell in there about a parade in 1998, a military parade in Baghdad, where elite units were marching past the reviewing stand and being looked at by Saddam.
And there was one elite unit, who, obviously, their dress uniform included white gloves. But if you looked closely, you could see they were wearing white socks.
Now, a regime who can’t afford to get gloves for its elite unit, quite certainly isn’t building a nuclear weapon. I mean, it seemed ludicrous to me.
So, the war was clearly based on a lie, a monstrous lie.
And also, it seemed that all this, the fact that they seemed to be – I didn’t quite understand at the time what was really going on inside the administration – but it seemed that they were nominating Ahmed Chalabi to be the new leader of Iraq.
I mean, I knew a lot about Chalabi, who seemed to be a recipe for disaster, too.
So, you could call me cold and sort of bleak on the war from the very beginning.
LAMB: The last time I saw you was 16 years ago, in September of ’91. You had your wife Leslie with you. Your daughters were 12 and seven. If I figure it right, they’re 23 and 28.
COCKBURN: This is true.
LAMB: And you did this book by yourself, not with your wife.
Bring us up-to-date on your family.
COCKBURN: Well, my elder daughter is just about to graduate from Harvard Law School. My God, I think it was – sorry. If you put the ages of my children back then, it does take me back.
And my younger daughter is a very successful actress in Hollywood.
LAMB: Where do you see her?
COCKBURN: I see her in movies. I see her – I’m about to – she’s making her own career, so I don’t want to – she doesn’t want to carry the baggage of a – well, I’ll see her actually tomorrow night in an NBC drama series, ”The Black Donnellys,” which is premiering tomorrow night.
LAMB: Yes, and by the time this is on, that will have already run. So …
COCKBURN: But I tell you, I …
LAMB: That’s all right. And your wife Leslie?
COCKBURN: My wife Leslie, she’s been producing for ”60 Minutes,” very successfully. She wrote a – since we spoke, she wrote a brilliant memoir, ”Looking for Trouble,” describing six wars and a revolution, because she’s much braver than I am. And she’s covered the – she goes to the sharp end in various wars.
We visited Iraq – we went to Iraq a number of times together.
LAMB: Since this last war?
COCKBURN: Yes. Actually, the last time we were in Iraq together, we went to Abu Ghraib. And this was before the Abu Ghraib scandal, or what was going on there was revealed.
And indeed, we found that they were – or she, in fact, she was making a ”60 Minutes,” and she brought me along.
And we found they were, you know, keeping prisoners off the books there. It was a sort of precursor to what was eventually exploded.
LAMB: Has there ever been a book written about the Cockburn family? And I’ll ask you again. I asked you 16 years ago, why it’s ”Co-burn” instead of ”Cock-burn.”
COCKBURN: I think – I can’t remember what I said 16 years ago, but the best I can do is it’s some Scottish – it’s a Scottish family. It’s a Scottish name.
So, maybe it’s – I mean, there is a cockerel on the family crest. So, once upon a time they may have pronounced it ”Cock-burn,” but the Cockburns for hundreds of years have pronounced the name that way.
LAMB: But has there ever been a book written about the family?
LAMB: And about your father?
COCKBURN: My father wrote several volumes of autobiography, which are well worth reading.
LAMB: Your – I mean, if we go down the list – your father was born in China.
LAMB: Your brother, Patrick, was born in Scotland. No, he was born in Ireland. You were born in …
LAMB: … in London. And your brother Alexander was born in …
COCKBURN: In Scotland.
LAMB: … in Scotland. So, you’re all over the place over there.
COCKBURN: That’s right.
LAMB: Where do they all live now? Your father’s been dead since, what, ’81?
COCKBURN: That’s right.
Well, my elder brother, Alexander, lives in California. My younger brother, Patrick, lives between England and Baghdad, because he’s been covering Iraq on an ongoing basis since the war. So, you can say Patrick Cockburn, care of the al-Hamra Hotel, Baghdad.
LAMB: And you live here.
COCKBURN: And I live here.
LAMB: And there’s Laura Flanders, the talk show host.
COCKBURN: That’s right. She’s my niece, the daughter of my late sister, Claudia. She lives in New York.
And indeed, I have another niece, her sister, Stephanie, who is the chief economics correspondent at the BBC.
LAMB: So, go back to your dad. I guess, would he be the one that would be the representative of all of this, starting out as a writer?
COCKBURN: Yes. I guess he was the first journalist in the family.
LAMB: What was his name?
COCKBURN: Claud Cockburn. And he always wanted, I mean, as we all sort of slipped into the journalistic life, myself and my brothers. I mean, oh, my God, you know, it’s a hard life. He didn’t want us to be journalists. I mean, he didn’t discourage us, but as I said, he didn’t try and stop us. But he thought it was time some Cockburn did something else, but so far that has not happened.
LAMB: What did he do?
COCKBURN: He did a lot of things. Among other things, he invented the newsletter in 1933, as Hitler was taking over in Germany, had taken over in Germany, and it looked like fascism was on the rise in Europe.
And he’s worked for the London ”Times.” He’d been a correspondent, actually, here for the London ”Times.”
And he was very conscious – but then, much more than today, the papers were very – in England, certainly – were very opaque. They wouldn’t tell you what was really going on, what people in the elite, in the sort of ruling circles, knew was happening. And they wouldn’t reveal to the outside world, you know, to their readers – they’d only say what they thought the readers should know.
So he started a newsletter to convey this inside information.
LAMB: What was it called?
COCKBURN: It was called ”The Week.” It was very successful. It was enormously influential, because all – it started to get – it even began being quoted in newspapers here in this country, in Europe. And it became – you know, it lubricated the information machinery.
And indeed, Hitler was always demanding that the British government ban it. Mussolini, too.
It got my father put on Hitler’s death list for when he, had he conquered England and to lay his hands on my father, he would have shot him immediately. So, it was a tribute.
LAMB: When did he write under the assumed name of Frank Pitcairn?
COCKBURN: That was in the ’30s, too. He had a huge number of assumed – well, there was more and they proliferated, because he was very left wing. In fact, he was in the Communist Party for a while. So, he was blacklisted later on.
And he the supreme – I guess his greatest sort of tribute was, in the same week he was denounced in a Communist court in Czechoslovakia as a British agent. And had Stalin got his hands on him, he would have shot him, because he’d left the party. And at the same time, Senator McCarthy here called him one of the most dangerous Reds in the world.
So, no one could figure him out.
LAMB: Your brother Alexander was born in 1941. I haven’t seen him much lately. Is he still active in writing?
COCKBURN: Yes, absolutely. He has a very successful online – well, a newsletter that’s both in print and online, called ”CounterPunch.” He has a column in ”The Nation,” so he’s beavering away.
He lives in rural bliss in the remote woods of northern California.
LAMB: And brother Patrick is how old?
COCKBURN: Patrick is 57, and as I say, commutes between London and Baghdad.
LAMB: Are any of you American citizens?
COCKBURN: No. Both Alexander and I are embarking on that procedure.
COCKBURN: Because, well, my family is American. You know, I’ve lived here as a legal visitor, a legal resident for all these years. It’s time I actually signed on.
LAMB: Why do you think the family is made up of all writers and public people like that, whether the movies or television? What’s the …
COCKBURN: It beats working for a living. I’m not sure.
LAMB: What’s the thread? And who encouraged you to do that?
COCKBURN: Well, I think no one really encouraged me to do it. I just thought it was more interesting than – you know, telling stories about what’s going on, finding out what’s going on and explaining to people what’s going on is much more interesting that any other occupation out (ph) there (ph).
I mean, you find there aren’t that many ex-journalists around. People, once you’re a journalist, it’s very hard to do anything else and everything else seems kind of mundane. Not so much mundane, but you’re rooted in one, you know, in one channel, whereas as a journalist, the world is your oyster.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
LAMB: And which one did the best?
COCKBURN: That’s a good question. In a way, the first one I did, I guess, which was, I wrote it, it was called ”The Threat,” in 1981 – I mean, 1982, I beg your pardon – ”Inside the Soviet Military Machine.”
And this was at a time when the Soviet military were spoken of by one and all as this mighty instrument – Soviet soldier, 10-foot tall, you know. We, the United States, could barely keep up. They were in danger of overcoming us – a point of view acidulously promoted, I might say, by Donald Rumsfeld.
And I just started talking to people who had been in the Russian military, because they had – a huge number of people had emigrated, actually, in the 1970s, and many of them had come to live in this country.
It dawned on me one day when I realized that every cab – I was living in New York – every cab I took in New York had a Russian driver.
So I started to say to them, ”Were you in the army?”
And, of course, there’s universal draft there, and they all had been in the army.
And I’d say, ”What was it like?”
”Oh, it was terrible!”
”What was the training like?”
”Oh, we never trained.” You know, no live ammunition, everyone drunk all the time.
You know, I did more research than that, but it confirmed this initial picture that the thing was basically a shambles, which was confirmed in spades once the Soviet Union fell.
LAMB: The book that you wrote that we talked about 16 years ago was ”Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship.”
COCKBURN: No. I mean, yes, lots of things have happened. But there’s still a very strong covert relationship.
LAMB: I must say, our audience can get on Booknotes.org, and from 1991, find the transcript and get the background and all that, on that book.
But go ahead.
COCKBURN: Isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing?
COCKBURN: Yes. I mean, the relationship, if anything, has gotten deeper since we wrote that book.
We see, you know, this administration is probably the most – is the closest to Israel, to the Israeli government we’ve ever had, I think. Not that it’s ever gotten that distant, except for a brief moment in the first Bush administration.
But as we see, the two countries have been working very closely in the Middle East in the last – throughout this administration, and to a degree that, I must say, far exceeds anything that ever went before.
LAMB: Back to the Rumsfeld book, you have a chapter which has got the heading, ”He’s a ruthless little bastard.”
COCKBURN: Yes. That was an immortal remark by Richard Nixon. Nixon did us the great favor of taping all his conversations in the Oval Office.
And he and his close, you know, his closest aides, Ehrlichman and Haldeman, are discussing Rumsfeld. And they’re talking about something they want him to do, and they’re agreeing that Rumsfeld is the guy to do it.
And Nixon says, ”Oh, Rumsfeld, he’s a ruthless little bastard, I’ll give you that.”
It was actually one of the things that made me think, and I went and checked how tall Rumsfeld is. All the time we used to see him in his days of glory at the Pentagon, and I always thought of him as a big man. But actually, he’s only just over 5’8”.
So, I was wondering why Nixon called him ”little.”
LAMB: I wrote down a number of names, and they’re familiar to the audience who follows this. And I’m just going to go through the list and ask you to keep it brief, but give us a quick synopsis of what you think of these folks.
And you’ve already mentioned Steve Cambone, Gambone. Cambone. C-A-M-B-O-N-E.
Who was he? And what’s the thread of the relationship with Donald Rumsfeld?
COCKBURN: Well, Cambone, he came out of – he was sort of a defense intellectual. He had worked at Los Alamos as a political scientist, and he’d worked in think tanks. He’d had a job in the first Bush administration, Pentagon.
Rumsfeld found him. They met when he was hired as the staff director for a commission, a sort of congressionally mandated commission Rumsfeld ran in the late ’90s. It was called the Ballistic Missile – it was on ballistic missiles. And Cambone worked, to Rumsfeld’s great satisfaction, on that.
Rumsfeld brought him into the Pentagon and successively promoted him from being sort of an assistant, to, by the end, Cambone was in charge of the entire defense intelligence apparatus, which was enormous, consuming billions of dollars, and was ranked number three in the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld changed the pecking order so that the job that Cambone held …
LAMB: Liked or not liked?
COCKBURN: Loathed – respected, not liked. Not liked by the military. Not liked by other people in Rumsfeld’s inner circle. For instance, he and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary, were at loggerheads a lot of the time. They were kind of rivals.
LAMB: What’s your take on Paul Wolfowitz?
COCKBURN: Very interesting character. Everyone sort of – if you look at all what’s been written about Rumsfeld in this administration, Wolfowitz gets kind of a pass. You know, he’s a very nice fellow, affable, academic, always pleasant and charming to talk to.
And yet, he is as responsible as Rumsfeld – almost as responsible – for many of the disasters that happened. He was the one who really pushed the Iraq war, I mean, on an ideological basis.
He’d been pushing the overthrow of Saddam Hussein since – certainly since the first Bush administration.
COCKBURN: He is – you know, I talk a lot about the neoconservatives, the neoconservatives who have a particular view of U.S., you know, what’s needed for U.S. national security. And Wolfowitz was one of those.
And they had this vision of the Middle East in which, among other things, Saddam Hussein was removed.
But Wolfowitz, you know, he pushed – he was an ardent proponent of sending fewer troops to Iraq. He was an ardent proponent of the war itself.
He was involved in overseeing what was going on in Abu Ghraib. I mean, he does not deserve the free pass he’s had.
LAMB: This is a quote from your book.
”He liked Feith, because he was ’stupid’” – that’s in quotes – ”explained one former Pentagon official who worked closely with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith. Rumsfeld didn’t want anyone else going over to the White House and making decisions, so he would send Feith, knowing that Feith would argue endlessly in a meeting, and no one would be able to come to a decision.”
Where did you get that quote?
COCKBURN: I got that from someone who worked very closely with Rumsfeld in the Pentagon. Actually, it was a sentiment that was confirmed by someone in the White House, who was actually, would see, was on the receiving end of the …
LAMB: Didn’t Tommy Franks say something like that at some point?
COCKBURN: Well, can I – in fact, can I quote what Tommy Franks said on television?
COCKBURN: He called him ”the fucking stupidest guy on the face of this earth.”
So, it was confirmed. Everyone – Doug Feith is generally known as an extremely stupid person.
LAMB: If he was so stupid, why did he get to where he was at the high level he was in the Pentagon?
COCKBURN: Well, it was because – originally, he was in charge of policy, which at that time, when he got the job, was the number three job in the Pentagon. As I explained, Rumsfeld changed that later to make the intelligence job the number three job.
So, originally – and that was a very powerful position. There’s 1,800 people work in that department. Initially, Rumsfeld wanted Richard Perle, a very potent figure in Washington, for that job. But Perle was making too much money in private business, and Feith was very close to Perle.
So, a lot of people regarded – and it seems correct to me – that Feith was there as sort of Perle’s representative. And also, he was close to Wolfowitz as a neoconservative in the Pentagon, in that job, who would do whatever he’s told.
LAMB: Former chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers is quoted – as someone quoted it – saying about him, ”he’s the sycophant to end all sycophants.”
LAMB: Is that – where did you find that?
COCKBURN: Well, people who – that was a senior Pentagon official who, unfortunately, didn’t want to be named – not a political appointee, but a career official, who was in these meetings.
And he said that Myers, who was personally selected by Rumsfeld to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was a sycophant. Other people called him – you know, Rumsfeld gave him a very hard time.
Someone else, who was a White House official, referred to him as an abused puppy. Apparently a very nice fellow. He is a very nice fellow, but would never stand up to Rumsfeld and felt would always try and please Rumsfeld and do Rumsfeld’s bidding.
LAMB: I don’t know what the word is, but is it fair to use this language in a book like this about all these different people – stupid, sycophant, ruthless, and all that – when some of these people won’t step up and be quoted by name?
COCKBURN: Well, I think, when in the circle – in the White House and in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the administration – that is the general impression, that’s what people say – I mean, would it be fair to deny the reader the knowledge that this is how their peers talked about them?
I think one should give people – this is the way Myers, Feith, Wolfowitz and all the other people I talk about, are talked about.
LAMB: Well, let me just talk about Richard Myers. I’ve never met the man, but he was a four star general in the Air Force. He had to be, had to have something, or he couldn’t have – I mean, that’s a pretty far road to go, all the way up there. I don’t know whether he was Academy or not, Air Force Academy.
But anyway, here is a guy that – he had to get there with – I mean, he couldn’t have been a sycophant all the way through the process, it would seem, without – he had to perform at some point.
COCKBURN: Well, I mean, unfortunately, what you have in the military today – I mean, not in every case, certainly – but, you know, one way to get ahead and one way a lot of officers, senior officers, do get ahead is by their loyalties are upward.
They – you know, you ingratiate yourself with your bosses and you become known among your peers as a ”political general.”
LAMB: You call Peter Pace a ”political general.”
COCKBURN: Yes. Well, that’s again, how he was regarded …
LAMB: Current chairman.
COCKBURN: Yes, the current chairman. Although it’s interesting. Now, I guess, he’s coming – he seems to be prepared to step over the traces (ph), occasionally. But he was known as ”Perfect Peter,” because again, these officers are very intensely ambitious, some of them. And they do – you know, they perform their assigned tasks very adequately, to the satisfaction of their superiors.
And a lot of people – I mean, long before I came to this Rumsfeld subject, friends of mine in the military, in the Pentagon, have lamented the fact that the U.S. officer corps, the general officer corps, is so thickly populated with people like that, who will not say, you know, will not take a stand on principle, who, well, do what their superiors ask, which is one reason we’re in this mess.
LAMB: Why, then, do people say we have the greatest military in the world?
Or do we?
COCKBURN: Well, the greatest military for what?
LAMB: I don’t know. I mean, I see your quote …
COCKBURN: I mean, we have the – yes, I know. But I wonder, what do they mean by that?
Yes, we can blow up the rest of the world probably more efficiently than anyone else. We have a military that can fight a conventional war when the other side fights with the same kinds of weapons that we have, more efficiently than anyone else, probably.
But do we have a military that can deal with an insurgency like we have in Iraq? Well, it’s not clear we do.
As many people – I mean, I heard many complaints from inside the military, from inside the people in Iraq saying how we’re still, we’re trying to run this war in a sort of bureaucratic, top-down fashion, when the other side is doing it differently.
LAMB: Is that the military’s fault? Or is that the civilian leadership’s fault?
COCKBURN: Both. Both.
The civilian leadership is that – we do have civilian control of the military, so the buck stops with the secretary of defense.
LAMB: If you picked this book up outside of this country and read it, you’d think that everybody in this country that runs government hates each other, and that they’re out to get each other, and that they’re undermining each other.
COCKBURN: Well, I put it that way, because that was the impression after talking to a lot of people in the administration, and then particularly in the Pentagon administration the last few years, that that was the atmosphere. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, they were, they had a cold – I don’t know that they hated each other – but they had a cold relationship.
LAMB: Did Don Rumsfeld choose Paul Wolfowitz for the job?
COCKBURN: Not really. I mean, reluctantly. I mean, Wolfowitz was Cheney’s candidate. Wolfowitz had other ties.
Rumsfeld originally didn’t want Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz – well, he couldn’t make up his mind, and Wolfowitz eventually had to say, well, I’ve been offered the U.N. job, ambassador the U.N. I’m taking that unless you decide now. So, Rumsfeld took him.
LAMB: What’s the Steve Herbits story? I mean …
COCKBURN: He’s a very interesting character. Herbits, he and Rumsfeld have known each other since the Nixon White House. He’s a very capable guy. And he worked with Rumsfeld in the, in his first incarnation as secretary of defense.
Herbits then went off to work for the Seagram’s liquor company, for the Bronfmans. But also, he came out as gay.
COCKBURN: In the – I think in the 1980s. I’m not entirely – I’m not exactly sure when that happened.
But he, you know, it’s interesting. Rumsfeld – I mean, he even moved to South Miami Beach eventually and is very active in the gay community there for gay civil rights, and in fact, gave money to the Democrats in 2000, because he said they had a better position on gay rights.
Rumsfeld, nonetheless, brings him into the Pentagon, particularly to advise on personnel matters, which Herbits actually has good expertise and had done that for previous secretaries of defense.
And he was enormously influential in Rumsfeld’s inner circle, despite being an outspoken advocate of gay civil rights, which is – it says something for Rumsfeld.
LAMB: But what’s the story about the, you know, he ends up being secretary general of the World Jewish Congress.
LAMB: What role does he play? And why did – you say he wanted the number two job?
COCKBURN: Oh, I say – I talk about there’s something which people don’t generally know.
When they were – the occupation of Iraq, you know, when they first – in April 2003, when we had just moved into Baghdad, and they’re already discussing who’s going to be the viceroy. And there’s this – General Jay Garner was there, was meant to be the sort of civilian overseer. But they already knew they were going to pull him out and put in someone more senior.
And Herbits, as a personnel expert, he was drawing up recommendations, and he was recommending Wolfowitz to be the viceroy. Which that’s – we’ve known that for a little while.
Well, what people don’t generally know is that Herbits had another – a plan within the plan was that he would go along as Wolfowitz’s deputy. So you would have two – well, two, as I said, two passionate supporters of Israel who would be running a major Arab country, which would have been interesting.
LAMB: How much did the commitment to Israel have to do with the people around the president and their interest in going into Iraq?
COCKBURN: I think a lot, to be honest.
COCKBURN: Because Saddam Hussein – I mean, now we’re hearing stories that the Israelis counseled against attacking Iraq. I don’t believe that. I mean, I know from the time that Israel was very much in favor of this operation.
Saddam Hussein was a major – was seen as – although by 2003, the regime was tattered and bankrupt, and everything, still it was a formidable – had been a formidable state. Saddam Hussein was sending money to the families of suicide bombers on the West Bank.
Ahmed Chalabi was promising the Israel supporters that once we’ve conquered Iraq and I’m in charge, I will open relations with Israel, we’ll have a direct pipeline from Iraq to Israel. All sorts of wonderful things will flow.
So, I think it was an enormous attraction. People who had the cause of Israel close to their hearts thought this is going to be great for Israel, once we’ve taken over Iraq.
LAMB: Just a couple of moments left.
You say – this is out of context with everything – but you say, you have the only copy in Washington of ”The Revolt in Mesopotamia” from 1920.
Why is that relevant?
COCKBURN: Because this was – it’s an account by the British general who was in command, the military commander under the British occupation of Iraq in 1920, when there was this massive revolt, when both Shia and Sunni revolted against the British administration, and he put it down.
So, I thought it was interesting that no one else seemed to think this was an important precedent. And I lent it – it was Xeroxed and, I think, passed around, but not, perhaps, put to the best use.
LAMB: One of the things you were pointing out is that, if you look at the spine of this book, you see one of the eyes of Don Rumsfeld. Do you think that was done on purpose?
COCKBURN: Yes. I’m confident enough of the designer’s skill to think that, to know that that was deliberately put that way.
LAMB: Why would they do this?
COCKBURN: Because when you have it on your bookshelf, you’ll – I hope this won’t be a deterrent to people buying it – you’ll have the beady eye of Donald Rumsfeld looking down at you.
LAMB: So, after you went through this process of writing this book, what was the biggest change in attitude you had about Donald Rumsfeld?
COCKBURN: That he was much less competent than I’d thought. I thought that he was the general – the general impression was, and he was always spoken of as this competent manager, the guy who could really make the trains run on time.
And after seeing what happened in the Pentagon and the way what went on inside the Pentagon while he was in charge, and how so many things were let drift, how much chaos there was in the managerial process – that was a surprise to me.
LAMB: Next book?
COCKBURN: Not about a secretary of defense. I think I’ll find – I don’t know. Who knows? Perhaps Robert Gates.
LAMB: Andrew Cockburn, our guest. The title of the book is called ”Rumsfeld.” Thank you very much for joining us.
COCKBURN: Thank you.