Known and Unknown by Donald Rumsfeld

Known And Unknown

Known And Unknown: A Memoir is an autobiography by Donald Rumsfeld- the youngest and oldest Secretary of Defense in US history. Mr. Rumsfeld is an interesting guy. As a high-ranking member in a number of Republican administrations, Rumsfeld draws a lot of criticism. Some of it justified but most is not. I say this not because I agree with all the policies he implemented but because Rumsfeld took the time to lay out his arguments in a logical manner, something I find sadly lacking with his critics.

This is Rumsfeld’s first book, and he manages to write clear prose. The book deals with his entire life, but also dwells on his public service. The earlier incidences his life help inform the decision-making processes that occur in later longer chapters on Iran and Afghanistan. I found his decision-making processes fascinating. Rumsfeld generated lots of memos, posed questions and solicited feedback from his team members. I found his focus on strategic thinking refreshing. I find most politicians stuck with tactical thinking or reactionary thinking.

Without meaning too (?) the book paints the State department in a poor light. When he compares the actions of the State Department to the Defense Department, State comes off as incompetent and counterproductive. I wasn’t surprised by this- it reinforces an opinion I’ve held for some time.
The press is also shown to be unprofessional and incompetent. Again, it is no surprise to me- the press generally doesn’t have the background or skill set to accurately report complex stories. Often Rumsfeld and the administrations he served had more trouble with the press and liberals than with our enemies. Rumsfeld illustrates these problems, such as the issue with Uzbekistan. One is left with the thought that Liberals and the press are hypersensitive and/or delusional.

In person, Donald Rumsfeld probably comes off as more than a little brusque, and yet I think I would like him and would get along well with him. I think he would be a great boss, or an interesting friend. My only complaint about the book was it spent too much time on Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet because he retired as Secretary of Defense in 2006 ‘The Surge’ story gets short shrift.

832 pages

Donald Rumsfeld was noted for his ‘snowflakes’ an endless stream of short memos dealing with a wide range of topics. The following aren’t necessarily his ‘snowflakes’ so much as short quotes from the Kindle version of the book that I found interesting.

The experience with Lebanon confirmed my impressions of the Middle East as a tangle of hidden agendas, longstanding animosities, and differing perceptions operating above and beneath the surface. The hope that moderate Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and others, might play a constructive role in the crisis also proved to be misplaced. line 648

Rumsfeld was skillful at deflecting every controversial issue into some bureaucratic bog or other, Kissinger noted later, giving more weight to what he considered my bureaucratic skills than the substantive merit of my arguments. He thought that was a criticism of me. I felt it was a compliment when it came to the risk of an arms control agreement that, in my view, was not in our country’s best interest. line 4030

The military had experienced what Generals Myers and Franks and I ironically called catastrophic success. Because Saddam’s forces had crumbled so rapidly, our troops were able to liberate Baghdad even faster than anticipated. “Freedom’s untidy,” I said. Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. line 8193

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “[T]he central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.” line 8600

The fact was that Bremer’s views on Iraqi governance and occupation reflected those of the State Department. Those key differences were never clearly or firmly resolved in the NSC. Only the President could do so. line 8967

I might suggest that not even hindsight is an exact science, as demonstrated by any number of memoirs and books that explain the same events so differently. I found this myself when I started to subject my own memories to rigorous fact-checking in the process of writing this book. line 10402

During the late 1990s, Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki had wisely challenged the Army with the adage that “if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance a lot less.” line 11221

Nonetheless, officials need to periodically reexamine their own views and judgments. Human beings are fallible, and the information policy makers use to make their judgments is always incomplete, imperfect, and ever changing. The assumptions that underlie strategy can become stale or even proved wrong to begin with. It sometimes requires exquisite balancing skills to be properly skeptical and yet open to criticism in internal deliberations, while not suggesting to allies or enemies abroad that one is adrift or lacking confidence in a policy. line 11449

Khalilzad and Barno held a country-team meeting with their senior advisers to ensure the closest possible coordination of civil and military activities across Afghanistan. This tight linkage between the State and Defense Departments was a model of how civil-military relations should work. line 11762

The President understood his surge proposal already ran against the conventional wisdom of the foreign policy establishment, his State Department, and congressional Democrats as well as some Republicans in Congress. Without support from senior military leaders, it would be fatally wounded before it was ever proposed. line 12332

It is of note that during Bob McNamara’s confirmation hearing to become secretary of defense in 1961, not a single U.S. senator asked him a question about Vietnam. In Dick Cheney’s confirmation hearing in 1989, not a single U.S. senator asked him about Iraq. In my confirmation hearing in 2001, not a single U.S. senator asked me about Afghanistan. Yet in each case, the questions not asked dominated our tenures. The lesson is that we should learn to expect to be surprised. The limits of intelligence- of both human intellect and the products of our government’s intelligence agencies- are a reality that should make us all humble. We need to be confident but also intellectually flexible to alter course as required. Being prepared for the unknown and agile enough to respond to the unforeseen is the essence of strategy. line 12410

Andrew McCarthy, the chief prosecutor on that case, was required to turn over to defense attorneys a list of two hundred possible co-conspirators. Bin Laden reportedly was reading the list several weeks later in Sudan. line 15729


About craigmaas

I do a little web design work and support a couple web sites and blogs. My primary focus is lighting and energy consulting where I use a number of computer tools to help my customer find ways of saving money and improving their work environment. See my web site for more information:
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