Unrepetant Rumsfeld: Iraqi Deaths, Torture Worth It
Former Defense Secretary Remains Largely Unapologetic in Memoir
Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, that master of the tart
zinger, now concedes he went too far with some. The man who more than
any other in the Bush administration personified bravado and
self-assuredness has come to regret saying "Stuff happens" about the
early looting in postwar Iraq. He admits his quip about "old Europe" -
meaning Germany and France - not supporting the use of force in Iraq was
hardly deft diplomacy.
As for declaring, as he did in the first days after the invasion of
Iraq, "We know where they are," referring to suspected stockpiles of
weapons of mass destruction - well, Rumsfeld would like to take that one
But Rumsfeld still can't resist - in a memoir due out next week - taking
a few pops at former secretaries of state Colin L. Powell and
Condoleezza Rice as well as at some lawmakers and journalists. He goes
so far as to depict former president George W. Bush as presiding over a
national security process that was marked by incoherent decision-making
and policy drift, most damagingly on the war in Iraq.
Much of Rumsfeld's retrospective reinforces earlier accounts of a
dysfunctional National Security Council riven by tensions between the
Pentagon and State Department, which many critics outside and within the
Bush administration have blamed on him. Speaking out for the first time
since his departure from office four years ago, the former Pentagon
leader offers a vigorous explanation of his own thoughts and actions and
is making available on his Web site (www.rumsfeld.com) many previously classified or private documents.
Sounding characteristically tough and defiant in the 800-page
autobiography "Known and Unknown," Rumsfeld remains largely unapologetic
about his overall handling of the Iraq conflict and concludes that the
war has been worth the costs. Had the government of Saddam Hussein
remained in power, he says, the Middle East would be "far more perilous
than it is today."
Addressing charges that he failed to provide enough troops for the war,
he allows that, "In retrospect, there may have been times when more
troops could have helped." But he insists that if senior military
officers had reservations about the size of the invading force, they
never informed him. And as the conflict wore on, he says, U.S.
commanders, even when pressed repeatedly for their views, did not ask
him for more troops or disagree with the strategy.
Much of his explanation of what went wrong in the crucial first year of
the occupation of Iraq stems from a prewar failure to decide how to
manage the postwar political transition. Two differing approaches were
debated in the run-up to the war: a Pentagon view that power should be
handed over quickly to an interim Iraqi authority containing a number of
Iraqi exiles, and a State Department view favoring a slower transition
that would allow new leaders to emerge from within the country.
"Those key differences were never clearly or firmly resolved in the NSC," Rumsfeld writes. "Only the President could do so."
Rumsfeld blames L. Paul Bremer III, who led the first year of
occupation, for pursuing a grandiose plan more in line with State's
vision than the Pentagon's. Although Bremer has said he kept Pentagon
officials fully informed, Rumsfeld, who was nominally Bremer's boss, now
describes himself as slow to recognize Bremer's intentions.
Rumsfeld asserts that Bush exacerbated matters by allowing confusion in
the chain of command and enabling Bremer to "pick and choose" which
senior Washington officials to deal with. Rumsfeld quotes a memo he
wrote to himself when Bremer's appointment was announced in May 2003,
quietly criticizing Bush for having had lunch alone with the new envoy.
"Shouldn't have done so," the memo said. The president "linked him to
the White House instead of to" the Pentagon or State Department.
"There were far too many hands on the steering wheel, which, in my view,
was a formula for running the truck into a ditch," Rumsfeld writes in
Providing pointed critiques of other former colleagues, 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, in her initial role as national
security adviser, for often papering over differences rather than
presenting Bush with clear choices in cases when the Pentagon and State
Later, after Rice succeeded Powell as secretary of state, Rumsfeld
argues that she pushed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf too hard
toward more democratic practices, wrongly put human rights ahead of
important U.S. security interests in Uzbekistan, and fruitlessly pursued
diplomatic engagement with Syria, Iran and North Korea.
Though careful to describe Bush personally in complimentary terms,
Rumsfeld suggests the former president was at fault 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," Rumsfeld writes.
Such criticisms stand in contrast to Rumsfeld's longtime aversion to
publicizing his sometimes disparaging views of colleagues or discussing
internal government deliberations. Still, his barbs stop short of ad
hominem attacks, and the memoir, even with its flashes of lingering
resentments, maintains a measured tone.
In a few places, Rumsfeld, now 78, reveals a more vulnerable side than
he showed in office. He speaks tenderly of efforts by two of his three
children - son Nick and daughter Marcy - to deal with drug addiction. He
recounts an emotional moment 15 days after the Sept. 11 attacks when
Bush asked him about Nick's recent decision to enter a treatment center.
Rumsfeld describes himself as tearing up.
The book, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post ahead of a
Feb. 8 release date, covers Rumsfeld's entire life, including earlier
stints in government and a long career in business. But more than 60
percent of the book deals with his controversial six years as Bush's
In a lengthy section on the administration's treatment of wartime
detainees, Rumsfeld regrets not leaving office in May 2004 after the
disclosure of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. At the time, Bush rejected
two resignation letters, five days apart, from Rumsfeld. Another 21/2
years passed before Bush, facing the Republicans' loss of Congress,
decided to let Rumsfeld go.
"Looking back, I see there are things the administration could have done
differently and better with respect to wartime detention," Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld argues that the administration was wrong to have been so
focused on preserving presidential powers that it initially eschewed
negotiations with Congress in formulating detainee policy. A chief
proponent of this strategy, Rumsfeld notes, was former vice president
Dick Cheney, a longtime friend. Rumsfeld contends it would have been
better to get buy-in from Congress by soliciting its involvement early
in drafting detainee legislation.
Even so, Rumsfeld doubts that the resulting practices would have
differed much. He remains unrepentant about the Pentagon's overall
handling of detainee interrogations, his own approval of interrogation
techniques that were harsher than those in the Army Field Manual, the
management of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the creation of
military commissions. And he notes that even the Obama administration
has found little recourse but to maintain the Guantanamo prison and
continue holding suspected terrorists without according them