Ten months before the US aired formal proof of Iranian involvement in funding Iraqi insurgents, then-Secretary of Defense warned in secret Pentagon memos that Iran should be the "concern of the American people" and he issued explicit instructions to the military.
"[L]ink Iraq to Iran," Rumsfeld wrote in one of thousands of "snowflakes" -- short memos distributed throughout the Pentagon during his tenure.
The Washington Post obtained a handful of the memos and published excerpts from them Thursday. A newly disclosed memo, written in April 2006 as Rumsfeld faced retired generals' calls for his resignation, tied Iran and Iraq together and claimed failure in the latter "will advantage Iran."
The memo came as Rumsfeld was going to great lengths in public to avoid explicitly tying Iran's government to Iraqi insurgents -- although that was precisely the impression he left.
In March 2006, Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Peter Pace were asked about recent claims about Iranian-made weapons found in Iraq. Did the military have any "proof" Iran's government was fueling the insurgency?
"I do not," Pace acknowledged. Rumsfeld gave a more open-ended response.
"Unless you physically see it coming in ..., you can't know it," he said. "All you know is that you find equipment -- weapons, explosives, whatever -- in a country that came from the neighboring country."
The following month, when he was privately circulating the Iran-Iraq link, Rumsfeld publicly downplayed suggestions that the US was planning a military or nuclear strike against Iran.
"You know, someone comes up with an idea, runs it in a magazine or a paper; other papers pick it up and reprint it; editorialists then say, oh, Henny Penny, the sky is falling, and isn't -- opine on this and opine on that. And to the extent anyone starts responding to the kinds of things that have been circulated, it's endless," he said, insisting that America was on a "diplomatic track" in dealing with Iran.
It would be more than a year until Vice President Dick Cheney took to the deck of an aircraft carrier floating in the Persian Gulf in an apparent effort to antagonize Iran. And it was February of this year by the time American intelligence agencies were reported to have reached a "broad agreement" that Iran was supplying weapons to Insurgents.
The New York Times reported the assessment in February of this year, based largely on anonymous administration and intelligence sources. It acknowledged that specious administration claims four years ago could create difficulty in paving the way to war with Iran.
"Administration officials said they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims about Iraq’s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American claims," reported Michael Gordon, the Times scribe whose by-lined accompanied Judith Miller's on several key discredited pre-Iraq reports.
The memos also show that Rumsfeld, who left the Pentagon's top job the day after last year's Democratic sweep of Congress, kept a tight reign on the military's image. He issued a flurry of memos instructing his staff to respond to critical news reports and suggesting "bumper sticker statements" to rally public support. He also mulled re-branding President Bush's signature foreign policy adventure, the "Global War on Terror."
"Rumsfeld, whose sometimes abrasive approach often alienated other Cabinet members and White House staff members, produced 20 to 60 snowflakes a day and regularly poured out his thoughts in writing as the basis for developing policy, aides said. The memos are not classified but are marked 'for official use only,'" reports the Washington Post which obtained a sampling of the memos Wednesday.
The memos reveal Rumsfeld was concerned about how Americans viewed the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he suggested strategies to improve public opinion.
"Make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists," Rumsfeld wrote in April of 2006 after retired generals began calling for his resignation. He suggested that people would "rally" to sacrifice. "They are looking for leadership. Sacrifice = Victory."
Rumsfeld suggested that the when the Pentagon responded to war criticism aides should "push people back, rather than just defending" Iraq policy, and he acknowledged privately that no "terminal event" would signal an end to the fight against terrorism. Eighteen months ago, Rumsfeld also urged military aides to begin connecting the war in Iraq to threats from Iran -- a strategy that has since become de rigueur within the Bush administration.
"Iran is the concern of the American people, and if we fail in Iraq, it will advantage Iran," he wrote in April 2006.
Rumsfeld also displayed concern with how the "war on terror" was being sold to the American people, and he suggested redefining the campaign as a "worldwide insurgency," according to the Post, and he even proposed focus grouping the proposed name change.
"[T]est what the results could be," if the war on terror were renamed, he advised aides.
A Pentagon spokesman accused the Post of using "selective quotations and gross mischaracterizations" from "some 20,000" memos Rumsfeld penned as defense secretary.
Indeed, Rumsfeld's snowflake production was prolific, and his instructions covered nearly every aspect of the Pentagon and were distributed to employees at all levels of the bureaucracy, sometimes rankling aides.
"Rumsfeld was into everyone's business. No one was immune," Bob Woodward recounted last year in State of Denial, which examined the Bush war policy. "Many in the Pentagon looked at the snowflakes as an annoyance. Others found them intrusive and at times petty. For some there was no way to keep up."
According to memos obtained by the newspaper, Rumsfeld displayed an increasing concern with battling a pessimistic media that focused on missteps and setbacks in the Iraq war. A handful of snowflakes asked aides to respond to columns in the New York Post and Philadelphia Inquirer that were critical of the war. Rumsfeld even asked for clarification of his own assessments of the war.
"Please have someone find precisely when I said 'dead-ender' and what the context was," he ordered one aide in September 2006.