The mean old man of the GOP is dead

Let’s be very clear up front here. Bob Dole was not a nice man. He was never a nice man. Just because he was the last World War II veteran to win the nomination to the presidency at the same time that Boomers were dealing with their parental issues through the ahistorical and frankly absurd “Greatest Generation” nostalgia does not mean he was a nice man in 1996.

He was mean early in his career. He was mean when he was close to Nixon. He was mean in his later career. He was mean in the Senate. He was mean as a presidential candidate. And he was mean as an old man being all-in on Donald Trump, unlike the rest of the Republican elite.

Where Dole became such a hard man

Born in 1923 in Russell, Kansas, Dole grew up as a boy of the Midwest at a time when a place like rural Kansas seemed like a place of the future America. This … did not last much longer. The Doles weren’t a rich family. His father ran a local creamery. The young Bob Dole was a good athlete and legendary Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen recruited him to play for the Jayhawks. At Kansas, he not only played basketball but also ran track and was an end on the football team. But before he graduated, Dole went to war.

Dole’s story in World War II is well-known because it played such a large role in his later political career. He joined the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps in 1942, but he did not go to fight until very late in the war. By 1945, he was in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division as a second lieutenant. Fighting in Italy that April, just days before the end of the war in Europe, Dole was hit by German machine gun fire. His upper back and right arm were riddled with bullets and few thought he would survive. Very, very slowly he recovered.

He was transported back the US, treated with experimental drugs, and went through a serious depression that his athletic life was over and who knows what would replace it. He received two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. He never did recover entirely from his injuries and mostly lost use of his right hand. But he did come around both mentally and physically.

Whatever you want to say about his political career, no one can critique the man’s toughness and determination in coming back from injuries that would have destroyed the lives of many men, even if they survived. Some have speculated that this is where Dole became such a hard man. Well, maybe.

To the right of the right

Dole started back at college at the University of Arizona. Before graduating, he returned to Kansas and decided to dedicate his life to politics. He ran for the state legislature in 1950 while still in college, finishing an undergraduate and then getting a law degree at Washburn University in Topeka. He won that legislature race and served one term. He then returned to Russell and was County Attorney between 1952 and 1960.

That year, he went to Washington as a congressman from Kansas’s 6th District. When the state lost a seat in the 1960 Census, he won the race for the newly combined 1st district, covering the gigantic empty areas of western Kansas. To his credit, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, though these were not particularly controversial positions for a Kansas Republican at the time.

Unlike the present, the Republican Party wasn’t fully committed to being the White Man’s Party, though by the time Dole was in power in as Senate Majority Leader they were moving apace in that strategy, without Dole really objecting to it.

When Dole ran for the Senate in 1968 to replace the retiring Frank Carlson, he was largely seen as a hard-line conservative. That’s because he was a hard-line conservative. He did have occasional bouts of moderation. He worked with George McGovern on a bill to expand food stamps, for instance.

But he both hated Democrats and on the vast majority of issues was on the right of the Republican caucus. He rose fast in the Republican apparatus though, based mostly on his hard-line approach to Democrats that appealed to the New Right. In 1971, he was named chairman of the Republican National Committee and became a close advisor to Richard Nixon.

Attack dog, not perpetrator

During Watergate, few Republicans were as pro-Nixon all the way to the end as Bob Dole. Dole actually lived in the Watergate Hotel at the time (as he did upon his death; not sure if he ever moved out actually. In 1998, Monica Lewinsky moved in next door to him), but he was out of town at the time of the break-in. When the story came out and grew in the press, Dole was happy to serve as Nixon’s public hatchet man.

The story got worse. Dole did not care that Nixon had committed massive constitutional violations. What mattered was owning the libs. His reaction was to make sure that Americans wouldn’t know what was actually going on. He stated: "It is time to turn off the TV lights. It is time to move the Watergate investigation from the living rooms of America and put it where it belongs -- behind the closed doors of the committee room and before the judge and jury in the courtroom."

Dole met with Nixon during the hearings and told him it would all blow out, that it was just a Beltway scandal real Americans didn’t care about. Instead, Dole suggested Nixon attack Walter Cronkite as an out of touch elite, a strategy that the rest of Nixon’s advisors thought would go over very poorly.

All of this actually led to Dole himself being investigated a bit by the Senate Watergate hearings, but he was cleared of doing anything wrong. That’s probably accurate. He was the attack dog, but not the perpetrator. After all, that was ultimately his best role — attacking the libs.

Hatchet man

In 1976, Gerald Ford selected Dole to replace Nelson Rockefeller on the ticket as vice-president. In fact, Ford had nearly selected him when he chose Rockefeller in 1974. Did he run a nasty campaign? Oh, you know he did! The whole point of Dole was to be Ford’s “hatchet man,” in the words of Rick Perlstein.

When Dole tried to attack Carter for using tax loopholes in his peanut business (ah, for the days when Republicans at least claimed to be against using the government to personally clean up and loot the taxpayers), the media pointed out Dole’s own sketchy history, including a $5,000 campaign contribution from a lobbyist running an illegal slush fund from Gulf Oil. Whoops!

In the VP debate with Walter Mondale, Dole stated, "I figured it up the other day: If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans — enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

Democrat wars. Fun to know that included World War II, which evidently Dole now opposed. Of course, he didn’t oppose World War II. He didn’t oppose Vietnam either. He didn’t oppose any wars, at the time or in retrospect. He was just being a cheap cynical politician claiming to make a point in 1976, as if his buddy Richard Nixon hadn’t been more than happy to continue Johnson’s war in Vietnam.

Bob Dole wanted to be president from the moment he went into politics. He tried so hard. After Ford’s defeat, he was seen as a strong candidate in 1980, but he was totally wiped out in both Iowa and New Hampshire by both George Bush and Ronald Reagan, so he dropped out. Dole had attempted to create space for himself after the ’76 defeat by claiming that Republicans could only win if they eschewed extremism. I wonder if we’ve ever heard that again? Moreover, I wonder if that’s been proven wrong over and over again? Hmmmm. In any case, Reagan showed Dole that was not at all the case in 1980.

Moderation, schmoderation

What did moderation mean to Bob Dole? First and foremost, it meant the childish politics of having a national balanced budget. From a policy perspective, this was Dole’s top obsession. He had not only introduced the Balanced Budget Amendment into the Senate time after time but also had personally written all fifty state governors urging their support for what just seemed like common sense to his tiny rural Midwestern mind.

And of course being mean. Nothing was as important as that. That was the real appeal of Dole — trolling the libs. When Carter had his incident with the rabbit coming toward his boat, Dole went full troll, telling the press Carter should apologize to the rabbit because it was “doing something a little unusual these days — trying to get aboard the president’s boat.”

Dole may not have gotten the nomination in 1980, but he was still an important figure in the Senate. He had become the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee in 1975. Then, in 1981 with Republicans taking the Senate, he headed the powerful Finance Committee.

Sometimes, the media wanted to create a moderate Dole. In 1982, a Times article said that he had moved from his initial position as a “hard-line conservative” to become a “mainstream Republican.” What the Times and other media outlets refused to get in 1982 and really still resist is that it wasn’t Dole who changed. It’s the Republican Party already becoming increasingly radicalized, making someone like Dole seem more moderate than he actually was because the new people were even crazier and meaner than he.

Qualified loser?

He ran for president again in 1988 and did defeat Bush in Iowa. But as we all know, the worst moment in the American electoral cycle typically does not lead to any predictive power in who is going to win the nomination and that was true in ’88 too. He lost in New Hampshire and then blew up at Tom Brokaw in an interview after the loss, saying Bush should "stop lying about my record" over his tax positions. Well, that didn’t go over well. Neither did Dole calling Bush a “qualified loser,” though I happen to like that myself, although it’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle black because what was Dole if not a qualified loser?

Dole’s meanness was always an issue in his political career. Irascibility plays well in very small doses. It does not play well on TV day after day in the midst of a political campaign. He was toast; even though he had the coveted endorsement of Strom Thurmond in the South Carolina primary, he still lost to Bush. I’d like to not hold Thurmond’s endorsement against Dole. But I am absolutely am. There’s a reason that Thurmond liked Dole over Bush. And it’s not a good one.

But still, Dole did learn one lesson in 1988: lie. He told the truth that Bush’s “no new taxes” pledge was irresponsible. And he got pilloried by New Hampshire Republicans over it, contributing to his loss. He would learn from that. Lying was no longer going to be an objection again for Bob Dole.

On policy, usually awful

Dole’s positions remained horrible through these years. He was as hawkish on foreign policy as Jesse Helms and often aligned with that horrible jowly goon on sanctions against Cuba and other nations that didn’t kowtow enough to right-wing interests.

He was freaked out against the idea of teaching American history that wasn’t overtly about patriotism. Rap music came from the devil. Environmental regulations were destroying American business. Labor unions were bloodsuckers on the glorious American capitalist. Speaking Spanish or, even worse, allowing bilingual education, would destroy American culture. Campaign finance reform would get in the way of corporations controlling American, anathema to Bob Dole. That was especially true of agribusiness, for which he was a bought and sold hack.

I guess he didn’t care all that much either way about abortion. He also never bought into the supply-side nonsense about tax cuts leading to an expanding economy. But on policy, Dole was usually awful. Oddly enough, Dole had a chip on his shoulder about growing up poor and occasionally expressed his contempt for corporations, bragging about passing bills over the objections of the Chamber of Commerce. But then he would go right back and fight for the most pro-corporate agenda possible. This is how you get a guy who denounces Time-Warner for making profits off of the nation-destroying musical genre of gangsta rap (the horror!) while also taking large donations from … Time-Warner.

One positive thing

In 1990, Dole pushed through the one positive thing he did in his career and it is highly telling. This was the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is of course an unvarnished good. It has significantly improved the lives of millions of Americans in the decades since. Dole put all his energy behind it. But that was the rub — the only reason he did this is that he personally was disabled.

Yes, he deserved credit for the ADA. But Bob Dole is the platonic example of the conservative politician who hates government except for this one thing which personally benefits me and so on this issue I am a big supporter of government. Did Dole ever extrapolate from his disability to think, hey maybe the government could also help other people who have other problems out of their control? Ha ha ha ha ha, of course not.

It’s not exactly rank hypocrisy. After all, he did really help people through the ADA. What it represents is the smallness of the conservative mind, the cheap meanness that disallows empathy and instead tells people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Dole couldn’t do that because he had only one functional arm. But others can’t because of race, class, gender, sexuality, education, etc. For Dole though, that was a totally different situation with no comparison to what he went through. After all, he was a war hero.

“Dr. Gridlock”

As Majority Leader during the Clinton years, Dole was known as “Dr. Gridlock,” a moniker which of course he liked. He also played his favorite attack dog role. In the many Clinton scandals, nearly all of which were vastly overstated if not outright fabricated, Dole attempted to paint himself as the symbol of honest government as opposed to Clinton. He stated about the supposedly notorious FBI files, “I think it smells to high heaven. I remember Watergate." Given that this came from the mouth of the most notorious Nixon defender in the Senate, that’s pretty rich!

He also wasn’t really that effective as Majority Leader. For instance, the government shutdown in 1995 wasn’t really Dole’s doing so much as it was Gingrich and the hard right. But Dole did not keep his own caucus in line. He knew the shutdown wasn’t a great idea and that compromise was needed. That wasn’t what his caucus wanted to hear. So of course he went along with it as the increasingly fascist tale wagged the reluctant but not that reluctant dog.

(A story from a friend who hails from Arkansas: His father bumped into Dale Bumpers in a parking lot one day. Bumpers was still a senator at that time. His father asked him why Republicans were blocking everything Democrats proposed. Bumpers told him directly, and this is a quote: “Bob Dole is an evil man.”)

“Senior Statesman”

In 1996, Republicans smelled blood. Cocky from their big victory in the ’94 midterms, hating Bill Clinton and really hating Hillary Clinton, they felt the world was their oyster. Newt Gingrich was the real frothing lunatic here, but again, Bob Dole was more than happy to go along with him if it was to his political advantage.

When they passed their ridiculous budget in 1995 and Clinton vetoed it, the government shut down. Despite Newt’s cockiness, the public mostly blamed Republicans. Dole was already gearing up for his presidential run and Iowa was coming. He got nervous and wanted to settle.

Newt and the other extremists such as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay refused. In fact, a Republican electorate increasingly radicalized was already skeptical of Dole. Despite his huge resources and enormous name recognition, Pat Buchanan actually beat him in New Hampshire.

That kind of rebellion wasn’t going to succeed nationally in 1996 and Dole ran away with the nomination. But the writing was on the wall and “conservatives,” which more accurately given what has happened since should have been called “crypto-fascists,” were not that excited.

This civil war was played among Dole’s aids. Some of them wanted him to be Gingrich/Limbaugh. Others wanted him to be Bob Dole, Senior Statesman. More importantly, the latter is what Dole wanted to be. Somewhat interestingly, Dole was the first sitting party leader in the Senate to be nominated for the presidency, though he resigned upon receiving the nomination.

Republican daddy

Most of Dole’s campaign was about three major things. First, lower taxes and balancing that budget. Second, that Bill Clinton was a moral reprobate. Third, that he was Bob Dole and was a member of the Greatest Generation. Dole’s campaign coinciding with the rise in World War II nostalgia as that generation started dying off was a major theme; he was the Republican daddy, quite literally, that a good number of Baby Boomers wanted. As for taxes, Dole bringing on Jack Kemp as his VP was a nod to the libertarian wing of the party, what with Kemp’s closeness with Steve Forbes and the flat tax nonsense. He promised the nation a 15 percent cut in the income tax. This did not work out for him, despite Americans’ normal greed.

On the nostalgia front, Dole went all-in against that hippie draft-dodging pot-smoking womanizing Bill Clinton. In his convention speech, Dole said, "Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action.”

This was a ridiculous statement on the face of it. It’s not as if America was ever this tranquil place where we all just got along. But then nostalgia never has much connection to the lived past. It’s all about the present and that’s what Dole played to.

The problem for him is that Bill Clinton easily batted that back into Dole’s court like Dikembe Mutombo taking out a weak shot, saying in response, “We do not need to build a bridge to the past, we need to build a bridge to the future.” Even at the height of World War II nostalgia, most Americans didn’t actually want to return to the past. They wanted the America of the future, whatever that might be.

“He’s old and mean”

To make it worse, Dole’s real policy agenda was Bob Dole. When asked why he should be president, he told Esquire, “I think I fit the job description.” Uh, OK? What this meant is on the stump and in the debates is that he basically took the political positions of Newt Gingrich because his own agenda was so muddy. Both liberals and conservatives noted how far Dole moved to the right in the primaries, which Frank Luntz called “more a leap than a slide,” but then that didn’t change much in the general.

What no one could understand is whether Dole believed any of this or not. Many saw him as a pure opportunist. That seems to have included Bob Dole. He told the Republican National Committee, “I’m willing to be another Ronald Reagan if that’s what you want,” and responded to Al Gore’s claim that he had become an extremist by saying that’s what he needed to do in the primaries.

What Dole did do though was to bring the question of “stolen elections” into the limelight. Despite evidence to the contrary, Dole had always said that all the Perot votes in 1992 would have gone to Bush and thus Clinton had somehow stolen the election. He used that terminology as well in 1996, claiming that the news media wanted to “steal” the election for Bill Clinton. This was insane on the face of it, given how much the media so openly hated the Clintons and how much they were fawning over Greatest Generation Dole.

Once, in the spring of ’96, I flipped on CBS on a Sunday evening to watch something. I caught the last 20 seconds of “60 Minutes.” It was, of course, Andy Rooney’s segment. All I heard was “That’s why I like him. He’s old and mean, like me.” What more could sum up Dole’s appeal, such as it was.

His sunny side

In the end, Clinton wiped the floor with Dole. A 379-159 electoral college vote was shocking to Republicans who were sure they were going to get rid of the pot-smoking womanizing hippie draft-dodging reprobate. And while the Republicans during these years were very much a “it’s my turn to get the nomination” kind of party, there’s not much reason to think that anyone younger or more energetic would have defeated Clinton. The economy was pretty good. Even with groups such as unions that Clinton had alienated through NAFTA, it’s not as if Dole or other Republicans were really an alternative on the left or that they appealed to the left anyway.

I doubt it really mattered, but Dole’s advisors really tried to make him play up his sunny side during the campaign. But he didn’t have a sunny side. He was a mean old man. Whatever extent Dole had charm that would appeal to the American public, this is what it was, not being a regular politician. So he came across as kind of pained and not totally true to himself in the campaign. Again, I doubt it mattered but it’s worth noting.

After his defeat, Dole mostly stayed out of the political limelight. He did become something of a television personality. After all, for the mean old man he really was, he also could joke about himself. He appeared on The Daily Show several times. He cameoed on Saturday Night Live. He was even on the Brooke Shields NBC vehicle Suddenly Susan. Not Must See TV. But more importantly, Dole did what old politicians do: cashed in as a lobbyist. He was a paid foreign agent of Taiwan, registering as a lobbyist for that quasi-nation, as well as his client states of Kosovo and Slovenia.

Bob Dole could joke about Bob Dole

Dole did not get nicer as he got older. In 2008, Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary, wrote a book criticizing his former boss. Dole just unloaded on him for daring to do such a thing. He wrote in an email to McClellan, which Politico got ahold of:

There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don’t have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues. No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits and, spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique. In my nearly 36 years of public service I've known of a few like you. No doubt you will 'clean up' as the liberal anti-Bush press will promote your belated concerns with wild enthusiasm. When the money starts rolling in you should donate it to a worthy cause, something like, 'Biting The Hand That Fed Me.' Another thought is to weasel your way back into the White House if a Democrat is elected. That would provide a good set up for a second book deal in a few years.

"That would have taken integrity and courage but then you would have had credibility and your complaints could have been aired objectively," Dole concludes. "You’re a hot ticket now, but don’t you, deep down, feel like a total ingrate?"

That’s the Bob Dole we know!

Outlived Norm Macdonald

And then there was Dole’s vigorous support for Donald Trump. This was the perfect way for the mean old man to end his mean old career. Whereas the rest of the senior Republican establishment either kept their distance from Trump or outright rejected him, Dole completely embraced him. It’s obvious why — they both lived to own the libs.

Given how much Dole had embraced the idea that Clinton had stolen the election in 1992, he was more than happy to embrace Trump’s way of politics. Even before the 2016 election, Dole touted how Trump would be “a great president.” Dole particularly lauded Trump’s ability to cut deals with Congress, saying, "I think that's his strength," he says. "He's done that all his life. He's made deals. He'll compromise. He's not a rigid conservative and that's why, you know, I think I'd call him a pragmatic conservative." Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

When confronted with the Access Hollywood tapes that demonstrated for all to see what a utter reprobate Trump was, Dole’s response? “The Clintons aren’t pure either.” Of course! Trump paid him back, signing a bill in 2019 to give Dole an honorary promotion to colonel.

Dole complained that the 2020 Debate Commission was biased against Trump, because he said he knew all the Republicans and none of them were fervent Trump supporters, as if a nonpartisan group is supposed to include partisan hacks at the Dole level. At least Dole admitted that Biden won the election, but that’s about as good as it got here.

Somehow, Bob Dole outlived Norm Macdonald, who had the most iconic impression of him.

His legacy

So this is the legacy of Bob Dole. He’s not the worst American the nation ever produced. But he was a nasty guy, someone who contributed materially to the disintegration of American politics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His support of the ADA was the height of his career, but also demonstrated what a small-minded man he was since he completely lacked the basic empathy to make comparisons between the disabled and other people struggle. It’s not surprising.

In the end, he was a small-minded Midwestern man from a small-minded Midwestern town. He could never grow out of that perspective and that ultimately is his legacy.

The real legacy of Colin Powell must not be forgotten

Colin Powell has died of COVID-19. One of the most unjustly lauded individuals in early twenty-first century America, an honest portrayal of Powell's legacy turns out starkly negative. From his cover-up of the My Lai Massacre to his lies about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, Powell holds a great deal of responsibility for many of America's worst crimes in the last 60 years.

Born in 1937 in Harlem, Powell's parents were immigrants from Jamaica. He started working as a young boy in Jewish-owned stores around his house and learned Yiddish well enough to speak it for the rest of his life, sometimes speaking to Israeli reporters in the language.

Powell worked hard and went to City College to study geology. He wasn't much of a student at that point. He graduated but certainly with no honors or any particular direction. This made him perfect for the Army. Powell joined the ROTC at City College. He liked it a lot more than college so he made it a career. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to Georgia, where he faced discrimination in a state still committed to Jim Crow. He rose fairly quickly in the military brass. He first went to Vietnam in 1962 for a tour and was wounded after stepping on a punji stake. He returned to Vietnam in 1968 as assistant chief of staff of operations for the 23rd Infantry Division. By this time, he was already a major.

What first made Powell newsworthy was his whitewashing of My Lai. It's hard to overestimate the horror of this. So many people in the US Army did so many things so horribly wrong both on that day when William Calley and his troops massacred 500 or so Vietnamese civilians who were not even fighting back, and then in the aftermath of it during the gigantic cover-up. Given that, it's easy to excuse many of the people involved, saying that they did what anyone else would do, unfortunate as it may be. But this of course is a lie to make ourselves feel better about the whole thing.

That day, on the ground, there were soldiers who refused to participate and actively intervened to save Vietnamese lives. There were people up the chain of command who finally took these murders seriously and acted upon them. Colin Powell was … not one of those brave soldiers. He was a coward and an apologist for mass murder.

He actually wrote in the report on the massacre: "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." This was … not true. He never really did fess up to his role in covering up for My Lai. As late as the 2000s, he said that My Lai was bad but was also exceptional and shunted any blame for it away from himself. He just never could be honest in his role covering up arguably the worst war crime in American history. This is central to Powell's legacy and we must remember it today.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his role in covering up My Lai, Powell still rose right up the ranks of the military. He had a White House Fellowship in the Nixon administration in 1972 and 1973. During the early Reagan years, he was a senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. By 1986, he was high enough to command V Corps out of Frankfurt, Germany. In 1987, he became Reagan's National Security Advisor, where he stayed for the rest of the administration. In 1989, George HW Bush named him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By the time of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Powell was one of the most powerful military officers in the post-Vietnam period. Powell's great skill was politics and he rode it all the way to the top.

Of course, part of the significance of Powell is that he was the first Black person to be in any of these positions. That is important. It's also worth noting, though, that part of his work in rising this high was being useful to the command in underplaying racial tensions in the military. While Powell was in South Korea, there was a race riot on a base. This was not so uncommon in the late 1960s. Powell's job was to prosecute the Black soldiers in this and end Black militancy in the military. I'm not saying the US military can operate with any kind of racial militancy in its ranks, though it seems to be a lot more comfortable with the white extremism in it today than it was of Black radicalism a half-century ago. But of course they made the Black guy take charge of it and of course he was happy to do so, advancing his career in the process.

Anyway, the HW Bush years were quite active for American warfare. Powell was in charge when the US invaded Panama after its useful dictator Manuel Noriega became less useful. And as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he played an outsized role in crafting the invasion of Iraq in 1991. At some point, I guess around the late 1940s, every time some foreign policy person created a slight policy change, it became known as the X Doctrine. That included Powell. The so-called Powell Doctrine created a list of questions that he felt should be answered before the US engaged in a military strike against another country. Alas, if only the nation ever took these questions seriously. Such questions include whether it was a vital national security interest, is there an exit strategy, do Americans support this, and have all nonviolent options been pursued. Hmmm …

Now to be fair, when we were talking about Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, these questions were probably answered fairly in the affirmative. I don't know what else was going to get Saddam out of Kuwait and really that was an unjust invasion and conquering of a nation that really was unacceptable, even without the oil question. I am not one of those leftists reflexively criticizing every American military action, and I'm not convinced of other alternatives that would have ended this without war.

What I am saying, though, is that Powell himself would not do a good job of following his own doctrine and that the US would just wildly ignore all of this the second time it went into Iraq, which also, of course, involved Powell. The success of the Gulf War made Powell an American hero. This was despite the abandonment of the Iraqis the US urged to rise up and which Saddam then slaughtered with the Americans standing by. But for Americans, and especially for the military and the conservative establishment, the Gulf War supposedly ended the Vietnam Syndrome, when Americans didn't support its wars and demanded accountability in human rights. This supposedly would usher in a new age of American patriotism. Powell would be front and center in this as the reasonable and statesmanlike general who provided calm leadership in a crisis. That he was Black also made him an important civil rights figure. Moreover, he was a stark contrast to the more militaristic and controversial Norman Schwarzkopf. Powell became a celebrity as well as a general.

Powell and the Clinton administration did not get along at all. Powell really disliked the liberal internationalism of Clinton advisors and saw himself as more a realist in the Kissinger school. Great. The long influence of Kissinger, a man who evidently will never die, continues today. Powell and Secretary of Defense Les Aspin really hated each other. Powell felt that Aspin was indifferent to the job and Clinton indifferent to foreign policy (perhaps true). So Powell stepped down in September 1993. After the American military disaster in Somalia, Powell made it pretty well known that he had suggested better military preparations over there and was ignored by Aspin. Of course, Powell also strongly disagreed with Don't Ask Don't Tell, not because it opened the door to prosecutions of gays in the military, but because it allowed gays to be in the military at all, which he definitely did not support at the time.

Where this left Powell was a Hero to the Centrist Blob. These people loved Powell. And they wanted him to be president unlike that southern hick womanizing pot-smoking Bill Clinton. That Powell was the kind of conservative but respectable Republican Daddy the media loved only made him more popular with them. He had mostly stayed apolitical during his time as a general, but now away from the military, he could provide his significant support to Republican candidates. There was a major push to get him to run against Clinton in 1996, providing the military leadership that the Blob so loves. He refused, preferring not to run for office himself. Had he run, it's hardly unreasonable to think he would have done better against Clinton than Bob Dole did and perhaps he would have won. It's difficult to overstate Powell's popularity at this time. Some Republicans wanted him to run in 2000, but he again refused and threw his support to George W. Bush.

After the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush as president, he surrounded himself with neoconservatives. Colin Powell was not a neoconservative. But he was a respected voice. Bush also wanted to make claims that he cared about Black people and so searched for Black voices he could bring into his administration. Powell was a team player too. So Bush hired him as Secretary of State. This was far from a controversial decision. He received no meaningful opposition in the Senate or with the general public, who still loved him from the first invasion of Iraq. The Senate unanimously confirmed him.

As Secretary of State, Powell was surprisingly indifferent to traditional notions of diplomacy. He was the least-traveled Secretary of State in recent history, rarely leaving the country unless he had to and having few meetings with global leaders. However, on September 11, 2001, he was in Peru at an OAS meeting. He quickly became the administration's point man on coordinating what Bush would soon call the Global War on Terror on the international stage. Of course, he wasn't very convincing. Most of the world was highly unconvinced of anything that Bush and his people had to say about any of this outside of Afghanistan. But Powell used all his public credibility to push Bush's idea to expand the GWOT into Iraq, despite the fact that not only did Saddam Hussein have nothing to do with 9/11, but he also wasn't even a supporter of radical Islamic terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. As many, many people pointed out, if the administration had really cared about that, they might have noted that 20 of the 21 9/11 bombers came from Saudi Arabia. But the Saudi leaders were old oil friends of the Bushes. So there you go. Other targets would have to suffice.

Powell's lying to the United Nations over so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq gave huge amounts of cover to the unjust and frankly idiotic invasion of Iraq in 2003. This is the singular event for which we should remember Powell. One does not have to apologize for or cover up the awfulness of Saddam Hussein to note that this war was absolutely wrong, especially in the context of the war on terrorism (whatever that actually meant). Iraq was a terrible state, but it was most certainly not an Islamic fundamentalist state along the lines of the Taliban-led Afghanistan or even Iran. Saddam Hussein was a secular nationalist leader along the lines of Yassar Arafat. And Iraq most certainly had nothing to do with 9/11. Powell used all of his credibility to browbeat the global community into believing that Hussein had WMDs and thus the US would be justified in invading the nation. He was only partially successful, as many traditional American allies stayed out of it.

Did Powell really believe that Iraq was enriching uranium and planning for terrorist attacks against the US? I actually don't care.

Because Powell had so much respect on the international scene, his testimony was the most important moment in convincing enough of the United Nations and enough of the American public to sanction what would become a terrible and disastrous war.

Either he was outright lying or he was a fool who saw what he wanted to see. Whatever the answer, he materially contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the destabilization of an entire region, and the death of over 4,000 Americans and many thousands more wounded and suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is the legacy of Colin Powell. He may share that responsibility with many other terrible people, but he earned more than his share that day in front of the UN. Powell later tried to shift blame, saying he only had four days to review the data before he gave that UN report. But that's his responsibility. By 2005, he realized he was wrong. Bush had forced him out as secretary of state in late 2004 since he wasn't a team player on the war anymore. So he could say he was wrong. But again, I don't care. You don't get to take that back, especially given the number of deaths he caused.

Sure, Powell did turn on the Bush administration. In retirement, he endorsed Barack Obama and Joe Biden, giving them important room to attract the kind of voters who still look up to Powell for some strange reason. This is fine, it's important to repent for your sins and try to do better. Does this make up for his actions in the Bush administration?

No, absolutely not.

This isn't to diminish Powell doing the right thing as he aged. It's important. Were there a few centrists who were uncomfortable about supporting Democratic presidents who felt better about that because of Powell's endorsement. Yeah, probably there were. So that's fine. But we also need to keep it in the context that it doesn't make up for Iraq.

Simply put, Powell's legacy is covering up My Lai and lying about Iraq. Despite the Blob's love for the man, something he was happy to take advantage of while also serving on many high-paid corporate boards and engaging in the enriching lobbying of the Washington elite, his life made the world worse.

History's worst secretary of defense: Rumsfeld's death leaves behind a legacy of arrogance and violence

Rumsfeld's upbringing isn't really very interesting; upper-middle class German-American family from Illinois, Boy Scouts, Princeton, ROTC, marriage at 22, kids, bit of time in the Navy. He started in politics in a pretty normal way, as a congressional aide to David Dennison of Ohio and then Robert Griffin of Michigan.

He then worked at a banking firm for a couple of years in the early 1960s, but then ran for Congress in 1962. He won that race and served four terms. He was a generally moderate Republican at this time and supported civil-rights legislation. He also co-sponsored the Freedom of Information Act, an ironic move given his later career.

But during these years, he was exposed to a vile force that has done tremendous damage to the world—the Economics Department at the University of Chicago. This transformed his views, as these ideas placed the seeds of evil in so many people over the decades and all the way to the present. How much did Milton Friedman come to love Don Rumsfeld? He later bemoaned Reagan selecting George Bush as his vice president as the greatest mistake of his presidency (how dare he use the term "voodoo economics!") and claimed that if Reagan had listened and selected Rumsfeld instead, "I believe he would have succeeded Reagan as president and the sorry Bush-Clinton period would never have occurred." Hoo boy. What a world that would have been.

In 1969, Rumsfeld resigned from Congress to go work for a nice man named Richard Nixon. The new president wanted to reform the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), which administered most of the War on Poverty. Rumsfeld, who had voted against its creation and who still believed it should be eliminated, did not want to take the job of director. After all, by this time he was pretty committed to his Randian economics. But Nixon, who believed that it should exist in some way but under conservative leadership, convinced him to take the job. But hey, at least he got to hire some really lovely people like Frank Carlucci and Dick Cheney to work under him.

Pleased with Rummy's administration, Nixon named him Counselor to the President in 1970 and allowed him to retain the Cabinet rank he had gotten at OEO. Rumsfeld became one of Richard Nixon's top White House advisors, with his own office in the West Wing. Why did Nixon like him so much? One quote demonstrates his Nixonian values: "He's a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that." The Iraqis are sure of that anyway. Finally, in 1973, Nixon named Rumsfeld the NATO ambassador.

When Nixon resigned, Rumsfeld returned to Washington to head up Gerald Ford's transition team. Ford and Rumsfeld were close from their time in the House together. Then, Rumsfeld became Ford's Secretary of Defense. Here he was a pretty open bureaucratic enemy of Henry Kissinger, as Rumsfeld was committed to building up America's traditional military forces, unlike the secretary of the state.

Rumsfeld argued the classic old strategy of the Cold War: that a reduction in military armaments and forces would open a gap with the Soviets. So he pushed for significantly expanded missile systems and a big shipbuilding program. Overall, his first run as Secretary of Defense was ultimately relatively uncontroversial compared to others during the Cold War. Kissinger was the more powerful player on foreign policy, even if Rumsfeld was very good at playing the inside Washington game.

Like any rich Republican with connections throughout the defense industry and every other government-related business, Rumsfeld found his talents in high demand after the Ford administration. He became president and CEO of the pharmaceutical company GD Searle. He won a bunch of big awards for being such a great CEO, which I have little doubt was about currying favor from this powerful Washington insider. He was CEO of General Instrument, a semiconductor company, from 1990 to 1993 and then chairman of Gilead Sciences, another Big Pharma firm, from 1997 to 2001.

At the same time, Rumsfeld was a useful guy for Republican presidents to have around. In 1983, for instance, Reagan named him his Special Envoy for the Middle East, which allowed him to meet with a good buddy: Saddam Hussein. They had lots in common actually, such as opposing Syria and Iran. Of course, Iraq was in the middle of its war with Iran, which the US supported with significant investment on the Iraqi side. Sure, Rumsfeld expressed some mild disapproval of Saddam's frequent use of chemical weapons, but that wasn't going to get in the way of the alliance and doing some business. This was just the most prominent of Rumsfeld's many forays into representing Reagan and then George Bush internationally and on domestic issues.

That included everything from Reagan's Special Envoy on the Law of the Sea Treaty and a member of the Joint Committee on US-Japan Relations to his time on the National Economic Commission and being a member of the FCC's High Definition Television Advisory Committee. Maybe he just got to watch a lot of cool new TVs in that last one, I don't know. Anyway, more significant was Bill Clinton naming him to the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States in 1998, which produced a report claiming Iraq, Iran and North Korea would have intercontinental ballistic missile systems that could strike the US in five to 10 years. I wonder if we will run into those three supposed threats later in this obituary?

Rumsfeld was also an active member of the Project for a New American Century, that vile group of neoconservatives who saw the fall of the Soviet Union as an unvarnished victory that opened the door for the US to dominate the world through an aggressive free-market capitalism backed with robust military force. Just what the world was asking for. Rumsfeld, working with Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney and other lovely people, basically believed the US should not be restrained by international law and they did the intellectual work to create the American response to 9/11 before it even occurred, ready to go with turning Iraq into the personal experiment in American awesomeness and badassery. Their 2000 document "Rebuilding America's Defenses," was such an aggressive statement of American power that it received both national and international condemnation for seeking to overthrow world order, especially after all the people involved with it ended up working for President George W. Bush.

It is, of course, due to Rumsfeld's return to the position of Secretary of Defense under Bush that this obituary exists. He holds more responsibility than arguably any single person for the disaster of US foreign policy after 9/11 and the huge numbers of dead, American and Iraqi. Unlike when he served under Ford, there was no great rival to Rumsfeld implementing policy. The entire administration was staffed with Rumsfeld allies, most notably Dick Cheney, the most powerful vice-president in US history. Rumsfeld and his cronies sought to apply PNAC ideals into the administration. This first came through their plans to modernize the military by significantly reducing its size. While earlier in his career Rumsfeld had argued for a larger military, now he saw a fast and effective fighting force as the way to go. This would soon be a major area of controversy when his ideas proved less than effective in his preferred war.

When the attacks of September 11, 2001 took place, Rumsfeld had little real interest in exploring the real roots of the problem of terrorism, especially in regards to Saudi Arabia. Rather, he applied the event to his preconceived notion of the world's problems. Bush's Axis of Evil speech simply reflected Rumsfeld's and PNAC's obsessions that Bush was happy to share. Rumsfeld was already obsessed with Iraq, Iran and North Korea, as we saw in the Clinton years. In particular, Rumsfeld wanted to use 9/11 as an excuse to take out Saddam Hussein. In his memoir, Known and Unknown, he later dissembled about all this: "Commentators have suggested that it was strange or obsessive for the President and his advisers to have raised questions about whether Saddam Hussein was somehow behind the attack. I have never understood the controversy. I had no idea if Iraq was or was not involved, but it would have been irresponsible for any administration not to have asked the question." This is bullshit.

There's a huge difference between an administration asking a question and telling lies to start a war with a nation that had nothing at all to do with the attacks, pushing uncorroborated or false claims about weapons of mass destruction and engaging in a year-long full-frontal assault to justify an invasion, followed by not having a clue about what to do after the war ended except to apply PNAC's vision of fundamentalist free-market capitalism and assume everyone would see that America was awesome. Rumsfeld has prevaricated throughout this history. Another known known.

Even so, as the nation planned his war against Iraq, Rumsfeld kept complaining that the US was going to use too many troops! You don't need a big military to take out and rebuild Iraq! Not surprisingly, thanks in no small part to his ideology, the war and its aftermath was a disaster. It was easy enough to overthrow Saddam. No one loved him. His military had been seriously hamstrung by the decade of sanctions after 1991.

But who or what would replace him? Rumsfeld and his cronies seemingly never really considered this, placing faith in ex-pat hucksters such as Ahmed Chalabi instead of engaging in real studies of Iraqi culture. Hell, Rumsfeld and his people didn't even have a functional knowledge of the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam, simply the most important point in the history of the religion and the societies build upon it, an issue that it so happens defines much about Iraqi politics and those of the nations around it. Chalabi told Rumseld what he wanted to hear, was rewarded with plum posts in the new Iraqi government, and, welp. When Germany and France questioned the morality of this invasion, Rumsfeld dismissed them as "Old Europe," by which he meant effeminate weak nations, as opposed to Bush's Coalition of the Willing, which was super manly and buff and well-oiled with flaunting muscles. Poland will not be forgotten! Meanwhile, there was this slight war going on in Afghanistan all through this period. Given that's where Al Qaeda actually was and where Osama Bin Laden was hiding, you'd think Rumsfeld would have cared about this, but he didn't. He thought of it is as a sideshow to the real show. Given that he didn't care about nation-building one bit, even as he was embracing wars that required it, his disinterest in Afghanistan undoubtedly made the situation there even worse than it had to be.

The disaster began in Iraq almost immediately. Cultural institutions and Iraq's amazing cultural patrimony were looted to sell on the black market. Rumsfeld's reply: "Stuff happens … and it's untidy and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here." Freedom baby!

He also responded, "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases?'" In conclusion, Donald Rumsfeld was a monster of a human being.

It's not as if this was unknown. George H.W. Bush wrote (or ghost-wrote, no doubt), "I've never been that close to him anyway. There's a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He's more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that. Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow." Well, Bush can go to hell himself for hiring him and letting him do whatever he wanted, but he was correct.

Rumsfeld's war was pure ideology. It couldn't just be fought to eliminate Saddam or fight terrorism. It had to be fought his way, with his military, his preferred weapons, his idealized free-market capitalism replacing Hussein. Of course, there were no weapons of mass destruction, no support of Al-Qaeda, no nothing. The entire war was based upon the lies of Donald Rumsfeld and his friends. Rumsfeld was sure they were there. In March 2003, he said on ABC's This Week, "We know where they [Iraq's WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat … I would also add, we saw from the air that there were dozens of trucks that went into that facility after the existence of it became public in the press and they moved things out. They dispersed them and took them away. So there may be nothing left. I don't know that. But it's way too soon to know. The exploitation is just starting." The exploitation was indeed just starting, but Donald Rumsfeld was the exploiter.

Rumsfeld was central in the torture and "extraordinary rendition" that marked the treatment of Iraqis and Afghanis during these wars. As Rumsfeld supported the use of black site detention, the American use of Abu Ghraib prison and the endless (and still continuing) detaining of supposed terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, itself a colonial possession stolen from Cuba, he was responsible for the abuses at all of these places.

He accepted this responsibility, in no small part because he didn't care about such minor things as torturing possibly guilty but quite possibly not guilty prisoners. In one memo about forcing prisoners to stand in one position for four hours to break them, Rumsfeld smarmily responded, "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing [by prisoners] limited to 4 hours?" Human rights organizations such as the ACLU attempted to sue him for his responsibility in these atrocities, but there was no way the US "justice" system was going to hold him accountable for torturing Muslims.

Rumsfeld consistently believed that the right messaging would salvage the popularity of the war for Americans. Talking about "sacrifice" was big for Rummy, but he could never articulate what we were sacrificing for, except to play 9/11 footage over and over again, which had squat to do with Iraq and everyone knew it by 2004, even if they should have known it before. But Rumsfeld could not be moved off this messaging obsession, developing then-secret Pentagon PR plans. He couldn't even be bothered to sign letters of condolences for dead American soldiers, using a signing machine instead. He had more important things to deal with, like killing brown people.

And of course, there was the greatest bit of messaging in American history: "Now what is the message there? The message is that there are no 'knowns.' There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say, 'well, that's basically what we see as the situation,' that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns." It's a wonder Rumsfeld couldn't sell this war to the parents whose children were dying for no good reason.

For all of this, Rumsfeld received the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation in 2003. That award is supposed to go to "those who have made monumental and lasting contributions to the cause of freedom worldwide." And if you consider "freedom" to mean breaking the law to sell arms to Iran and sending the money to commit human rights violations in Nicaragua, then giving it to Rumsfeld makes perfect sense. Moreover, in 2011, CPAC gave Rummy their "Defender of the Constitution Award." Only the best people.

Finally, Rumsfeld was forced out, the worst secretary of defense in American history. Eight retired generals and admirals publicly called for his resignation for his utter lack of competence. Although George W. Bush continued to back him, Rumsfeld retired on election day in 2006. Some Republicans claimed his delay in resigning cost them at the ballot box, but his work was done and it wouldn't have made any difference.

Rumsfeld retired to the life of a slightly disgraced public official whose standing in official circles never really suffered. He wrote a memoir, for which he at least had the minor grace to give all the profits to veterans' organizations. He sat on many foundations and corporate boards. He also started his own foundation, The Rumsfeld Foundation, which brings people in from central Asia to school them in Rumsfeld's preferred free-market fundamentalism. He also complained about paying his taxes.

Because the world likes to remind us of link between human rights crimes of the past and present, Rumsfeld purchased the plantation where Frederick Douglass was taken as a young slave to be broken by a slavebreaker. In Douglass' first Autobiography, the physical beating he placed on the slavebreaker and the inability of the man to tell anyone lest it destroy his business is the moment where his manhood is formed. This land was owned, until today, by Donald Rumsfeld. Evil is attracted to evil.

In a just world, Rumsfeld would have been tried for war crimes, or at least became Washington's latest persona non grata. Instead, he got a huge advance for his memoirs, established The Rumsfeld Foundation to push his ridiculous ideas and was honored by the 2011 CPAC conference. Finally, the beast is dead, a man who represented the very worst of American arrogance and violence toward the rest of the world.

Alas, there are so many beasts to replace him.