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Context of 'April 11, 2003: Rumsfeld on Looting, Vandalism: ‘Stuff Happens’'

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Kenneth Adelman.Kenneth Adelman. [Source: PBS]Neoconservative Kenneth Adelman, who served as an assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975-1977 and was arms control director in the Reagan administration, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post titled “Cakewalk in Iraq.” Adelman is straightforward in his insistence that defeating the Iraqi military and beginning a transition to a democratic government in Iraq will be a “cakewalk.” He derides predictions that the US could lose “thousands of troops in the process,” writing, “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” He gives what he calls “simple, responsible reasons:” it was a cakewalk in 1991, Iraq is significantly weaker than during the Gulf War, and “now we’re playing for keeps.” Adelman details just how weak and insignificant the much-vaunted Iraqi ground forces are, and says that US forces are “much fiercer.” Between that quality and the sophisticated “gizmos”—unmanned Predator drones, “smart” bombs, and other technological wonders—Adelman says the Iraqi military should be routed with ease. He gives similar short shrift to the idea that the US needs to build a multinational coalition. In 1991, he writes, the US “engaged a grand international coalition because we lacked a domestic coalition. Virtually the entire Democratic leadership stood against that President Bush. The public, too, was divided.” The situation is different today. “This President Bush does not need to amass rinky-dink nations as ‘coalition partners’ to convince the Washington establishment that we’re right. Americans of all parties now know we must wage a total war on terrorism.” Saddam Hussein, and not Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, is “the number one threat against American security and civilization. Unlike Osama bin Laden, he has billions of dollars in government funds, scores of government research labs working feverishly on weapons of mass destruction—and just as deep a hatred of America and civilized free societies.… Measured by any cost-benefit analysis, such an operation would constitute the greatest victory in America’s war on terrorism.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Adelman, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries.Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries. [Source: Representational Pictures]Widespread looting and general lawlessness breaks out as the security forces of the Baathist regime fade away. Countless age-old treasures are lost when museums are looted (see April 13, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/10/2003; CBC News, 4/11/2003] US officers at Central Command in Qatar tell CBC news it is up to Iraq’s own civil authorities to stop the looting. “At no point do we really see becoming a police force,” says Brigadier General Vincent Brooks. “What we see is taking actions that are necessary to create stability.” [CBC News, 4/12/2003; Washington Post, 8/18/2005] The Coalition Provisional Authority later estimates the cost of the looting at around $12 billion. According to reporter George Packer, the looting canceled out the “projected revenues of Iraq for the first year after the war. The gutted buildings, the lost equipment, the destroyed records, the damaged infrastructure, would continue to haunt almost every aspect of the reconstruction.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 302]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Vincent Brooks, George Packer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned.The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned. [Source: Art Daily (.com)]In a press briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismisses the wave of looting and vandalism throughout much of Iraq (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003) with the comment, “Stuff happens.” The looting is “part of the price” for freedom and democracy, he says, and blames “pent-up feelings” from years of oppression under the rule of Saddam Hussein. He goes on to note that the looting is not as bad as some television and newspaper reports are trying to make it out to be (see Late April-Early May, 2003 and May 20, 2003). “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” he tells reporters. “They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is with Rumsfeld at the press briefing, agrees. “This is a transition period between war and what we hope will be a much more peaceful time,” he says. CNN describes Rumsfeld as “irritated by questions about the looting.” Rumsfeld says that the images of Iraqi citizens ransacking buildings gives “a fundamental misunderstanding” of what is happening in Iraq. “Very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime, into the palaces, into the boats and into the Ba’ath Party headquarters and into the places that have been part of that repression,” he explains. “And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003; CNN, 4/12/2003]
Accuses the Media of Exaggeration - Rumsfeld accuses the media of exaggerating the violence and unrest throughout the country: “I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn’t believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny—‘The sky is falling.’ I’ve never seen anything like it! And here is a country that’s being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they’re free. It’s just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country! Do I think those words are unrepresentative? Yes.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003] “Let me say one other thing,” he adds. “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? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’” [Huffington Post, 4/11/2009]
'Looting, Lawlessness, and Chaos on the Streets of Iraq' - The next day, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbiasias reports: “All day long, all over the dial, the visuals revealed looting, lawlessness, and chaos on the streets of Iraq. Nothing was off-limits, not stores, not homes, not embassies, certainly not Saddam Hussein’s palaces nor government buildings and, most disgustingly, not even hospitals.” She is “astonished” at Rumsfeld’s words, and observes that “the only free anything the Iraqis are going to get in the next little while is going to be whatever they can ‘liberate’ from electronics shops. Maybe Rumsfeld’s marketing people can come up with a slogan for that.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]
Archaelogists Outraged at Rumsfeld's Remarks - Historians and archaeologists around the world are outraged at Rumsfeld’s remarks. Jane Waldbaum, the president of the Archaeological Institute of America, says her agency warned the US government about possible looting as far back as January 2003. She says she is as horrified by Rumsfeld’s cavalier attitude towards the looting as she is with the looting itself. “Donald Rumsfeld in his speech basically shrugged and said: ‘Boys will be boys. What’s a little looting?’” she says. “Freedom is messy, but freedom doesn’t mean you have the freedom to commit crimes. This loss is almost immeasurable.” [Salon, 4/17/2003]
Failure to Protect Hospitals, Museums - Four days after Rumsfeld makes his remarks, progressive columnist John Nichols notes that had a Democratic or liberal government official made such remarks, Republicans and conservatives would be “call[ing] for the head” of that official. Nichols notes what Rumsfeld failed to: that looters stripped hospitals, government buildings, and museums to the bare walls. He also asks why US soldiers did not stop the looting, quoting the deputy director of the Iraqi National Museum, Nabhal Amin, as saying: “The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened.” Nichols notes the irony in the selection of the Oil Ministry as the only government building afforded US protection. He concludes: “When US and allied troops took charge of the great cities of Europe during World War II, they proudly defended museums and other cultural institutions. They could have done the same in Baghdad. And they would have, had a signal come from the Pentagon. But the boss at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, who had promised to teach the Iraqi people how to live in freedom, was too busy explaining that rioting and looting are what free people are free to do.” [Nation, 4/15/2003]
Fired for Confronting Rumsfeld over Remark - Kenneth Adelman, a neoconservative member of the Defense Policy Board (DPB) who before the war said that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” (see February 13, 2002), later confronts Rumsfeld over the “stuff happens” remark. In return, according to Adelman’s later recollection, Rumsfeld will ask him to resign from the DPB, calling him “negative.” Adelman will retort: “I am negative, Don. You’re absolutely right. I’m not negative about our friendship. But I think your decisions have been abysmal when it really counted. Start out with, you know, when you stood up there and said things—‘Stuff happens.‘… That’s your entry in Bartlett’s [Famous Quotations]. The only thing people will remember about you is ‘Stuff happens.’ I mean, how could you say that? ‘This is what free people do.’ This is not what free people do. This is what barbarians do.… Do you realize what the looting did to us? It legitimized the idea that liberation comes with chaos rather than with freedom and a better life. And it demystified the potency of American forces. Plus, destroying, what, 30 percent of the infrastructure.” Adelman will recall: “I said, ‘You have 140,000 troops there, and they didn’t do jack sh_t.’ I said, ‘There was no order to stop the looting.’ And he says, ‘There was an order.’ I said, ‘Well, did you give the order?’ He says, ‘I didn’t give the order, but someone around here gave the order.’ I said, ‘Who gave the order?’ So he takes out his yellow pad of paper and he writes down—he says, ‘I’m going to tell you. I’ll get back to you and tell you.’ And I said, ‘I’d like to know who gave the order, and write down the second question on your yellow pad there. Tell me why 140,000 US troops in Iraq disobeyed the order. Write that down, too.’ And so that was not a successful conversation.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: John Nichols, US Department of Defense, Jane Waldbaum, Richard B. Myers, Kenneth Adelman, Iraqi Oil Ministry, Nabhal Amin, Donald Rumsfeld, Antonia Zerbiasias, Iraqi National Museum

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

About a dozen US soldiers witness looters stealing high explosives from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site in northern Babil Province over a span of several days. The Al Qaqaa facility is where hundreds of tons of some of Iraq’s most powerful conventional explosives have been stored since 1991 (see May 2003); at least nine of its bunkers were unsealed by US troops days before (see April 18, 2003). In October 2004 the International Atomic Energy Agency will inform the US that around 380 tons of high explosives from Qaqaa are missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). The US soldiers, Army reservists and National Guardsmen, will say in November 2004 that they are unable to prevent the looting because they are drastically outnumbered. Some of the soldiers call their commanders to request help in securing the site, but receive no reply. The soldiers later describe watching Iraqis heave explosives from unsecured bunkers into Toyota pickup trucks. They try, with little success, to deter the looters; one noncommissioned officer will recall: “We were running from one side of the compound to the other side, trying to kick people out.… On our last day there, there were at least 100 vehicles waiting at the site for us to leave so looters could come in and take munitions.” Another officer will recall: “It was complete chaos. It was looting like [Los Angeles] during the Rodney King riots.” The soldiers who recall the events for the Los Angeles Times ask not to be identified, fearing reprisals from the Pentagon. When US search teams visit the facility on May 8, they find it “had been looted and stripped and vandalized.” No IAEA-monitored materials are found. No US forces were specifically delegated to guard the Al Qaqaa facility, codenamed “Objective Elm” by US strategists. Marine units are later delegated to guard the facility; one senior Marine officer will say in November 2004: “That site was just abandoned by the 101st Airborne, and there was never a physical handoff by the 101st to the Marines. They just left. We knew these sites were being looted, but there was nothing we could do about it.… There was no plan to prevent these weapons from being used against us a year later.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, International Atomic Energy Agency, US Marine Corps

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Just over two weeks after President Bush visits the the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare an end to major combat operations in Iraq in the infamous “Mission Accomplished” appearance (see May 1, 2003), the administration’s plan to implement Iraqi self-rule is postponed “indefinitely” due to looting and lawlessness. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Army Times logo.Army Times logo. [Source: Army Times / Grantham University]An Army Times editorial says that to tell the “hard bruising truth” of the war in Iraq is to conclude that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must resign. The editorial observes, “One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and… Rumsfeld: ‘mission accomplished’ (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008), the insurgency is ‘in its last throes” (see Summer 2005), and ‘back off,’ we know what we’re doing (see May 2004), are a few choice examples.” Some retired and active generals and military leaders are now beginning to speak out (see April 13-14, 2006, April 14-16, 2006, April 16, 2006, and October 5, 2006). In August, US CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid predicted the possibility of all-out civil war in Iraq (see August 3, 2006). And in mid-October, the New York Times reported on a confidential CENTCOM briefing that called the situation in Iraq “critical,” and sliding towards “chaos” (see October 18, 2006). The Army Times editorial observes that “despite the best [US] efforts… the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.” Bush has vowed to stick by Rumsfeld for the remainder of his second term. The Army Times calls that decision “a mistake.” It explains: “It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.… Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.… Donald Rumsfeld must go.” [Army Times, 11/6/2006] The Department of Defense responds to an advance copy of the Army Times editorial a day before its official publication. The editorial is “inaccurate and misleading,” and took Abizaid’s words “out of context.” The Pentagon claims that Rumsfeld has always presented what it calls a “balanced” picture of Iraq, and has never engaged in “rosy scenarios” to mislead the public (see April 11, 2003, April 12, 2003, Summer 2005, June 25, 2005, November 1, 2005, February 17, 2006, and April 18, 2006). It goes on to call the editorial little more than a rehash of old criticisms, and chides the writer(s) for “insulting military commanders” and “attack[ing]” Rumsfeld. [US Department of Defense, 11/5/2006] Rumsfeld resigns on the same day as the editorial appears (see November 6-December 18, 2006).

Entity Tags: New York Times, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Central Command, Donald Rumsfeld, Army Times, John P. Abizaid, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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