Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir Known and Unknown is out next week, but a few journalists have snagged advance copies. The early word: In the 800-page book, a “largely unapologetic” Rumsfeld mounts “a muscular, uncompromising defense” of his tenure as Bush’s Defense Secretary. Here are some highlights. (In a future post, we’ll deal with the push back on his version of events.)
He admits to a few regrets (but only a few)
- Saying “Stuff happens” about the early looting in postwar Iraq
- Brushing off Germany and France as “old Europe” when they opposed using force against Iraq
- Claiming that “We know where they are,” in reference to Iraqi WMD
- Not forcing the president to accept his offers to resign after the prisoner-abuse scandal broke. The Timesquotes Rumsfeld as writing, “Abu Ghraib and its follow-on effects, including the continued drum-beat of ‘torture’ maintained by partisan critics of the war and the president, became a damaging distraction. More than anything else I have failed to do, and even amid my pride in the many important things we did accomplish, I regret that I did not leave at that point.”
Bush was focused on Iraq right after 9/11
- Fifteen days after the attacks, the president called Rumsfeld to the Oval Office and ordered a review and revision of war plans–for Iraq. The Times quotes Rumsfeld as writing, “Two weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, those of us in the Department of Defense were fully occupied,” Mr. Rumsfeld recalls. But the president insisted on new military plans for Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “He wanted the options to be ‘creative.’”
- Notes Bradley Graham in the Washington Post, this is “the latest confirmation that war—or at least serious war planning—was gearing up long before the public was clued in, and despite the absence of any link between Saddam and the terrorist attacks.”
He says he believed diplomacy could work with Saddam
- “[A]n aggressive diplomatic effort, coupled by a threat of military force, just might convince Saddam and those around him to seek exile,” Howard Kurtz quotes Rumsfeld as writing. Kurtz adds: “Instead, history will record that Rumsfeld became a principal player in the Bush administration’s drive to invade Iraq, which led to the execution of Saddam, the deaths of more than 4,400 American soldiers and a long, grinding war that will forever define his reputation.”
He says the generals never requested more troops for the Iraq mission
- “In retrospect, there may have been times when more troops could have helped,” he writes, but nobody asked him.
He claims the administration didn’t “lie” about Iraqi WMD
- Kurtz quotes Rumsfeld as saying: “[Colin] Powell was not duped or misled by anybody, nor did he lie about Saddam’s suspected WMD stockpiles [in his infamous speech at the United Nations]. 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. The far less dramatic truth is that we were wrong.”
- Kurtz goes on: “[Rumsfeld] resurrects quotes from Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry and Al Gore as supporting the WMD allegations—and the war. “Yet when opposing the Bush administration’s efforts in Iraq became politically convenient,” says Rumsfeld, “they acted as if they had never said any such thing.”
WMD or not, he has no regrets about toppling Saddam
Bush gets a mixed review
- Rumsfeld describes Bush as “a far more formidable president than his popular image,” but expresses frustration with the president’s management style, says the Times. In Rumsfeld’s account, meetings of the National Security Council too often ended without consensus on precise objectives and next steps.
- Bradley Graham writes that Rumsfeld faults Bush “for not doing more to resolve disagreements among senior advisers. Bush ‘did not always receive, and may not have insisted on, a timely consideration of his options before he made a decision, nor did he always receive effective implementation of the decisions he made.’”
Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are not his favorite people
- “Rumsfeld portrays Powell as reigning over a State Department reluctant to accept Bush’s political direction and intent on taking anonymous swipes at the Pentagon in the media.”
- He “chides” Rice, as National Security Adviser, for often “papering over differences” between Defense and State rather than presenting Bush with clear choices.
But his “sharpest critique” is saved for Paul L. Bremer (the civilian head of the U.S. occupation of Iraq)
- “[Bremer] sought a direct line of communication to the president, bypassing both the Pentagon and State Department, which Mr. Rumsfeld said blurred oversight. ‘There were far too many hands on the steering wheel, which, in my view, was a formula for running the truck into a ditch,’ he writes.”
- “Mr. Rumsfeld condemns what he describes as Mr. Bremer’s heavy-handed, top-down approach and his decision to delay the transfer of authority back to Iraqis. Those actions, he writes, ‘inadvertently stoked nationalist resentments and fanned the embers of what would become the Iraqi insurgency.’”
- That said: “[I]“in truth, it wasn’t all Bremer’s fault…I was told of Bremer’s decision and possibly could have stopped it.
This post first appeared on the site of the Progressive Book Club.