Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is making waves in recent interviews, displaying a strikingly simplistic understanding of the foreign policy challenges faced by the Obama administration. Last night he did it again in an interview with Fox News’s Greta Van Sustern, during which he declared that Moscow has “Muslim problems” and Russia’s GDP is comparable to Portugal’s:
GRETA VAN SUSTERN: Are we drifting back towards the era of the Cold War?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, I don’t think so. Russia is a totally different thing than the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. Russia’s got probably a GDP about the size of Portugal except for their energy. They’ve got problems with their borders. They’ve got Muslim problems with their population. They’ve got alcohol problems. They’ve got a large prison population. They have difficulty with conscripts in their military. They’ve got an outflow of educated people who are going to better places. They have trouble attracting industry outside the energy business because of rule of law issues and corruption. So it is a totally different thing from the Soviet Union.
Indeed, Russia is very different from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But Rumsfeld’s casual relationship with facts and his willingness to declare Russian Muslims a “problem” is surprising from a former cabinet level official.
George W. Bush made it a point after the 9/11 attacks to specify that “Ours is a war not against a religion, not against the Muslim faith,” but Rumsfeld’s statement about Russia’s “Muslim problems” offers no subtleties about Russia’s challenges with Chechen separatists and buys into the language of Islamophobes who advocate that Western countries are at war with Islam and all Muslims.
When not painting all of Russia’s Muslims as “problems,” Rumsfeld casually dismisses of Russia’s GDP as “about the size of Portugal except for their energy.” An examination of Russia’s economy, as listed in the CIA World Fact Book, shows a GDP of $2.38 trillion, the sixth largest in the world. And Russia’s gas industry reportedly makes up only 25% of Moscow’s current gross domestic product. Even subtracting that 25% (bringing Russia’s GDP down to $1.785 trillion) Russia’s economy is still tenth biggest in the world and far outpaces Portugal’s GDP of $246.9 billion.