Rumsfeld’s Memoir: Regrets and Iraq War Revelations

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)

Among which:

  • 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 TimesIn 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.

US Army
by JULIAN BROOKES , Progressive Book Club


Adam K.
Douglas K7 years ago

We lost thousands of troops and billions worth of vehicles because they werent protected by bullet-proof uniforms from head to toe, with bulletproof shields, because the vehicles weren't jamming the IEDs in the road ahead with tesla electrical disrupters and cell phone jammers. Sort of like WWI trench warfare, Gallipoli, pickets charge, etc all over again. The military refused to adapt strategy to conditions and to improvise to minimise loss.

Micha Shepher
Micha Shepher7 years ago

@ Parvez,

If God will punish them, then we don't need to prosecute them.

Parvez Z.
Parvez Zuberi7 years ago

Former President BUSH and people like Rumsfield, VP Dick Cheney and others are WAR CRIMINALS they should be prosecuted, Liars of the biggest order GOD may punish them so that every one could see them suffer as people of IRAQ suffered

Ronald N.
Ronald N7 years ago

This is what power does. He knew that they didn't have WMD's and largely, the Bush administration fooled everyone. That includes the Democrats and the people of the United States. I cannot, nor other Americans forgive what Rumsfeld and the Bush administration did. But it's past history and regardless of hindsight being 20/20 we still follow our bad leaders into war. These wars have been extended to the present and people are still dying from their recklessmess. I don't think for any moment that we are living in an extended policy of pre-emption.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson7 years ago

i'll have to read this one. thanks.

John E.
John E7 years ago

Rumsfeld remains "largely unapologetic" ...
Why am I not surprised ??

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M7 years ago

Thanks for the post Cynthia. I would not buy this book either Catharine B. In my opinion they (Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and others), knew there were no WMD's after sending in experts to look for same.Saddam & sons were extremely cruel and killed and tried to elimate many of his own people.. so it was good that they got him out of the way, but to keep continuing on with many thousands of Iraqi people still being killed and Especially all the Brave Men & Women in the forces still there, boggles my mind. It is a situation now that will never be won as there are too many factions that have never gotten along and in all probability never will.

Donald MacDonald
don MacDonald7 years ago

What the unconvicted criminal did was certainly not misguided, that why people say what they say about him.

He was an active participant in a conspiracy to invade Iraq, and should be up on war crimes charges...but the criminal syndicate still has control of who the criminals will be.


Yvette T.
Past Member 7 years ago

Good to read the he admits a few things we already knew, and gave us a peek into the inner workings we otherwise would not have. He does not cloak his misguided mistakes in his thinking process, either, which leaves us to confirm that we have good judgment when we instinctively know that Bush sent troops to Iraq without concern for any life other than his daddy's. Bush 2 was simply vying for approval from Bush 1. It is true that Hussein and his two sons were disgusting in their brutal actions and depravity, and they had to be stopped, but, we needed to push for International Laws to enable the global opinion to push despots from power instead of sensing in human beings to kill and be killed!!!!

Dan B.
Dan Brook7 years ago

The regressive Republican Party of No is mean-spirited, thuggish, religiously fanatical, scientifically ignorant, corrupt, hypocritical, xenophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, evolution and global warming denying, authoritarian, selfish, greedy, lacking compassion, warmongering, and otherwise dangerous.

NEVER vote for Republicans.