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“Stuff Happens”: Donald Rumsfeld and the Iraq War



Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld exercised great influence over U.S. policies in the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. The Secretary’s leadership presents a puzzle—accounts agree that Rumsfeld was a masterful bureaucratic infighter who ruthlessly gained control over the major decisions and marginalized colleagues, yet, having secured that control, was remarkably blasé about events on the ground in Iraq. I argue that Rumsfeld’s paradoxical performance was rooted in key aspects of his worldview—measured through systematic content analysis of his verbal output on the principle that the words individuals say are related to the way they see the world—and his bureaucratic style, identified through interviews with Bush administration insiders. Rumsfeld’s worldview centers on a low perception of the control of self in relation to macro-political events, and a very high conceptual complexity, indicating a nuanced view of issues. This low perception of control and heavily contingent worldview is the discursive, “stuff happens” side of Rumsfeld which so frustrated critics of the U.S. occupation. His bureaucratic style, however, was controlling, suspicious, and overbearing. I suggest that this approach offers a more complete explanation of Rumsfeld’s actions, and so contributes to understanding of the Iraq story, as it is rooted in consideration of the basic dispositions that condition how individuals approach their roles.