Fox & Friends invited former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld onto the program this morning for an unintentionally awkward round of Obama bashing regarding the situation in Syria. (The “so-called commander in chief” is how Rumsfeld mocked the president.) As part of Fox's relentless critique of the president's handling of Syria, and his call for military strikes in response to the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons against its own people, Fox & Friends attacked Obama for moving too slowly.
Twice during the interview, Steve Doocy complained that Obama had previously “delayed” launching the successful attack that captured and killed Osama bin Laden. The fact that Doocy made the point to Rumsfeld, who as Secretary of Defense, could not locate bin Laden for seven-plus years in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, was clumsy at best.
Even more awkward though, was Brian Kilmeade's accusation put to Rumsfeld that the Obama White House had allegedly sent mixed messages to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [emphasis added].
KILMEADE: Do you blame Assad for getting mixed signals from the very people now asking for war? From the people that once put their hand of friendship out?
Kilmeade wanted to know from Rumsfeld whether a Middle Eastern dictator accused of gassing people had been sent mixed messages from American officials who extended their hand of friendship but now threaten to use military force.
Well, Rumsfeld ought to know:
That's the now infamous photo of Rumsfeld, as a U.S. special envoy, traveling to Baghdad in December 1983 to meet with Saddam Hussein. Rumsfeld was sent to improve relations between the two countries while Iraq fought through the Iran-Iraq War. The photograph captured just one of multiple trips Rumsfeld made to Baghdad during that era.
What's so awkward about Fox pressing Rumsfeld on the U.S. sending “mixed signals” is Rumsfeld himself had offered a “hand of friendship” to Iraq's dictator at the time when Hussein was engaging in the use of banned chemical weapons -- actions the Bush administration would later cite as a justification for military strikes.
From a December, 2002 Washington Post article detailing how the Reagan administration aided Saddam's notorious rise:
Declassified documents show that Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons on an “almost daily” basis in defiance of international conventions.
And just last month Foreign Policy confirmed, “the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983.” Rumfseld has claimed he “cautioned” Saddam against using chemical weapons. “But there was no mention of such a warning in state department notes of the meeting,” according to a Guardian report.
Still, there's no acknowledgement of the past from Rumsfeld. Appearing on Today this morning, when asked about his push for an invasion of Iraq during the Bush administration, Rumsfeld stressed, “You had a brutal dictator in Iraq who had used chemical weapons against his own people; used them against his neighbors.”
Left unsaid was the fact that the U.S. knew Hussein was using chemical weapons when Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad decades ago to extend his hand of friendship and restore diplomatic ties.
So no Brian Kilmeade, Donald Rumsfeld's probably not the best person to ask about the dangers of sending “mixed signals” to dictators.