In new book, Rumsfeld knows best

Focusing primarily on Saddam Hussein’s alleged nuclear weapons program in the run-up to the Iraq war was a “public relations error,” former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld writes in a new book.

In his much-anticipated memoir, Known and Unknown, George W. Bush’s wartime Defense secretary paints himself as an ever-prescient sage. The 78-year-old, who was famous for his memo-writing during his tenure at the Pentagon, uses that paper trail to suggest the Iraq war might have gone differently had Bush’s national security team hewed closer to his thinking.

ADVERTISEMENT
The 726-page tome, filled with detailed footnotes and endnotes, is vintage Rumsfeld. His omniscient voice fills the pages, including the 15-plus chapters were he discusses one of the most controversial aspects of his time in public service: Afghanistan and Iraq.

The book is available for purchase Tuesday. Rumsfeld tweeted Monday that: “Every dollar of my proceeds from #knownandunknown will go to orgs that support the wounded and the families of those killed in action.”

As expected, in his tome Rumsfeld lands a few professional jabs at Condoleezza Rice (former national security adviser and secretary of State) and Colin Powell (Bush’s first secretary of State).

Rice was a poor manager of the National Security Council (NSC), Rumsfeld writes, incorrectly building policies that were compromises — or “bridges,” as he calls them — instead of leading in-depth debates to fashion a clear way ahead.

Powell was not, as the media and public were led to believe, the voice of reason within Bush’s war council; and he and the State Department won many policy battles that ultimately drove the American postwar effort in Iraq straight into a ditch, Rumsfeld writes.

But he shies away from personal attacks on either individual.

He speaks favorably of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He writes of meeting with Bush during the campaign: “I found him to be unlike the picture the press was drawing of him. … He asked serious questions, was self-confident, and had a command of important issues. … I left our 1999 meeting impressed.”

He praises Cheney, his former assistant in the Ford administration, throughout the book, even noting that he used his working relationship with Cheney to encourage Ford staffers to “find a deputy they could trust.”

Rumsfeld is not so kind to one longtime critic, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He describes McCain as “a man with a hair-trigger temper and a propensity to fashion and shift his positions to appeal to the media.”

Much was made about the timing of Rumsfeld's November 2006 resignation, which came on the day after Democrats secured both chambers of Congress. Rumsfeld writes that he had been mulling a departure for some time.

Rumsfeld said he had decided he would "definitely" step down if Democrats took control of either chamber, giving them the chance to "re-litigate old questions such as prewar intelligence on Iraq for their political advantage."

He notes that "several days" before the 2006 midterm elections, Cheney called to inform him that Bush had decided “to make a change.” During a meeting in the Oval Office the morning of the elections, Rumsfeld hand-delivered his resignation letter to Bush, adding that the president praised his professionalism.

At numerous points throughout his writings on Iraq, Rumsfeld is highly critical of the U.S. intelligence community. Several times, he flatly says it “failed” to provide quality information, producing outcomes that left the U.S. effort in Iraq hamstrung.

The book also features a number of inconsistencies. For example, Rumsfeld claims an alleged chemical weapons factory in the Kurdish town of Khurmal could have given the administration “the conclusive evidence of an active WMD facility” in Iraq had it not been destroyed when U.S. forces clashed with “terrorists” holed up there. But on the next page, Rumsfeld states Bush’s war council “was wrong” about any such illicit weapons activity.

The man known both affectionately and infamously as “Rummy” uses the book to provide some after-the-fact cover to several members of his inner circle — like Paul Wolfowitz (former deputy Defense secretary), Doug Feith (the Pentagon’s former intelligence chief) and Peter Rodman (former assistant secretary of Defense). Wolfowitz and Feith have been widely criticized for their roles in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Rumsfeld tells readers the administration settled on the WMD focus — though he does not say why — despite his calls for a broader war sales pitch.

And he describes a Bush national security policy apparatus that often was not at all receptive to his ideas. At numerous times before and during the Iraq war, he injected proposals and warnings crafted by himself or his senior lieutenants, but nothing came of them: not one follow-up memo, not a phone call or e-mail, not a senior-level meeting and certainly not policies or strategies to combat the potential problems Team Rumsfeld saw, according to its leader.

For instance, Rumsfeld points to an NSC meeting in “the autumn of 2002” with Bush, Rice, Powell and then-CIA Director George Tenet. Rumsfeld writes that during the session he read aloud from “a handwritten list of possible problems, later referred to as the ‘Parade of Horribles,’ that I believed could result from an invasion.”

The then-Defense secretary said he wanted to generate thinking about what could go wrong. He also asked the group to raise their own pre-war worries. But, to his alleged consternation, “that discussion was brief.”

Rumsfeld acknowledges some of the predictions and warnings did not come true. But a remarkable number did, at least in part.

For example, Rumsfeld’s forecast that the U.S. “could fail to find WMD in Iraq” did come true. So, too, did his worry that Washington “could fail to manage post-Saddam Hussein Iraq successfully.” He also got right that Iraq could devolve into “ethnic strife among Sunni, Shia and Kurds.”

That memo also correctly floated the notion that the American experience might not stop at two or four years, as some in the administration argued at the time, but could span “eight to 10 years, thereby absorbing U.S. leadership, military and financial resources.”

Rumsfeld speculates that had a senior-level conversation about the possibilities of not finding WMDs occurred, it might have altered “the administration’s communications strategy” and Powell’s February 2003 speech to the United Nations about Iraq’s illicit weapons program.

That discussion never took place, however. And Rumsfeld wants the world to know the Defense Department had its finger on the alert button, but, he claims, no one was listening.

“Unfortunately, though the Department of Defense prepared for these contingencies in our areas of responsibility there was never a systemic review of my list to the NSC,” he writes.

The memoir does spend ample time defending and justifying the actions of and plans set in motion by all of his fellow war council members, including Rice and Powell.

The author defends the war council’s actions in pushing for war, however, saying no Bush administration officials lied about Iraq’s WMD aims.

Powell was not duped or misled, “nor did he lie about Saddam’s suspected WMD stockpiles,” the former Defense chief writes.

“The president did not lie. The vice president did not lie. Tenet did not lie. Rice did not lie. I did not lie. The Congress did not lie,” Rumsfeld admits. “The far less dramatic truth is that we were wrong.”


More in Homeland Security

A new missile defense policy for the new year

Read more »