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Donald Rumsfeld: Knowable and Notable
A meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Pentagon on June 14, 2004

Donald Rumsfeld: Knowable and Notable

Douglas J. Feith

Why was Donald Rumsfeld such a notable public figure? Few American statesmen had the prominence and influence of Rumsfeld, who died on June 29.

I first got to know him after I joined his team in the George W. Bush administration. What immediately struck me was the vastness of his perspective. There was nothing narrow, limited, cramped, parochial or closeminded about him. He saw the whole world as a chessboard. He was down to earth and practical, and his interests were specifically American, but he cared about ideas and his perspective was global and long-term. He was by nature a strategist.

When a new issue arose that required National Security Council deliberation, Rumsfeld would write down the three or four main U.S. strategic goals he thought were relevant. He would bring the written points to the NSC meeting and distribute copies. It made no sense to discuss possible actions, he said, if there was not agreement on our goals. Alluding to Alice’s dialogue with the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland, he often said, if you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.

For Rumsfeld, strategic goals were conceptual and took the long-term into account. Strategic thinking meant not viewing events or problems as isolated phenomena. He always considered whether there were connections among apparently disconnected things (and distinctions among apparently similar things). If a commander wanted to relocate a combat air operations center on the Arabian Peninsula, Rumsfeld would ask, how would and how should that affect our defense posture in Central Asia and, for that matter, in Northeast Asia? If an adviser proposed deploying a Marine Expeditionary Unit to relieve a humanitarian disaster in Africa, Rumsfeld would not only ask a series of “what if” questions, admonishing his team to “look around corners,” but he would also initiate a program to train and equip other countries to be able to perform such missions in the future, so the burden of rapid action would not always fall on the United States. He was hard on anyone who considered only the near term, the readily apparent and the easily anticipated.

Rumsfeld lived in the world of ideas. Every decision he made related in his mind to some large notion of American security in the world, the role of alliances in world affairs, the nature of democracy, the responsibility of U.S. officials to be frugal with tax dollars, the moral obligations of elected and appointed officials or some other big thought. Yet, he was a doer, energetic, impatient, even hyperkinetic.

Rumsfeld was conservative and old-fashioned, yet he was eager to overhaul almost every institution he dealt with and streamline almost every established procedure. Whenever he learned of routine activities – for example, annual meetings that senior Defense officials had for years been holding with foreign counterparts – he questioned whether they should be terminated in favor of a new meetings or activities better suited to the Department’s plans for the future. I told him that he was the most radical conservative I had ever met.

When I left my job as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in August 2005, I wrote a book called War and Decision. Generally referred to as a memoir, the book is actually more a portrait of Rumsfeld than a self-portrait. As a tribute to him, I am reproducing here some passages that described his thinking, character and way of operating.

He was an unusual man. His service to the United States was admirable for its honesty, patriotism, longevity, creativity and high value. In American and world politics, he played historic roles time and again over decades. He appeared larger than life, even to those of us who worked closely with him. His death was a serious loss for the country.

What follows is from Douglas J. Feith, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism (New York: Harper, 2008):

Strategy for responding to 9/11

It was not clear [in the days immediately after the 9/11 attack] whether U.S. strategy should concentrate solely or principally on Usama bin Laden and al Qaida, on the assumption that they were behind the 9/11 attacks—or try to hit other elements in the broader terrorist network. Rumsfeld had already developed some thoughts on this question. He saw the terrorist threat from Islamist extremists as a broad-based phenomenon, one that relied on ideologues, financiers, operational planners, commanders, and weapons experts (not all of whom were Islamist or even Muslim) working for groups or governments in many countries on virtually every continent. So a strike against al Qaida in Afghanistan—even if it eliminated bin Laden and denied al Qaida its safe haven there—would not defeat the terrorist threat against us.

If the U.S. government limited its attention to the perpetrators of 9/11, Rumsfeld reasoned, we would not be doing all we could to prevent the next attack, which could come from any quarter of the international terrorist network. If we confined our response to al Qaida’s presence in Afghanistan, the terrorists there might simply migrate to other safe havens. Rumsfeld was intent on undoing not just al Qaida’s refuge in Afghanistan, but the policies of states around the world that supported or tolerated terrorist groups. He thought our goal should be to make it increasingly difficult for terrorists to find governments willing to support them.

Rumsfeld stressed that the importance of these state supporters went beyond their willingness to provide safe haven. As awful as 9/11 was, he pointed out, it would have been deadlier by orders of magnitude if the attackers had used chemical or (especially) biological or nuclear weapons. Though some terrorist groups might be capable of producing such weapons themselves, a more likely source would be a state supporter. And we knew that the list of leading state supporters of terrorism coincided with the list of so-called rogue states who were notorious for pursuing (and, in the case of Iraq, using) weapons of mass destruction. [pp. 18-19]

Uncertainty and surprise

In his first Quadrennial Defense Review, produced largely before 9/11 . . . , Rumsfeld’s big theme was strategic uncertainty. He argued that our defense establishment must not be organized merely to counter specific threats, for history showed that even our best efforts to collect and analyze intelligence had not improved our poor ability to see the future. The most our government could anticipate with confidence, he warned, were general categories of hostile capability. The U.S. government could not precisely predict which countries would confront us down the road. For decades, we had been surprised time and again by new conflicts and enemies—in Vietnam, in the Persian Gulf, in Bosnia and Kosovo.

With 9/11, we were surprised again. That attack did not mark the start of the war, but it did shock the American people and the world into recognizing that the terrorists had been at war with us for years. This was the kind of strategic surprise that Rumsfeld wanted the Pentagon to understand as a recurring phenomenon in world affairs, and to be strong, nimble, and flexible enough to handle.

Effective and ineffective reactions to 9/11

On September 14, [2001] . . . Rumsfeld [shared thoughts at a meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and others]. There was pressure on the President to “go soon,” he told us, but this created a danger that we might do “something hollow, ineffective, embarrassing.” Because our first action would likely be “moderately ineffective,” Rumsfeld insisted that the United States should “do something that has three, four, five moves behind it.” He wanted our government to plan for a “sustained, broad campaign” that would surprise people and include economic, political, and other moves, not just military action. Reiterating that the threat we faced was from a global terrorist network, not just one organization, he told us: “Don’t over-elevate the importance of al Qaida.”

. . . 9/11 did not mean simply that the United States had an al Qaida problem. We had a terrorism problem. A strategic response to 9/11 would have to take account of the threat from other terrorist groups—Jemaah Islamiya in Southeast Asia, Lebanese Hezbollah, various Africa-based groups—and state sponsors beyond Afghanistan, especially those that pursued weapons of mass destruction. We would need to determine what action—military or otherwise—to take against which targets, and on what timetable. [pp. 49-50]

Who is in whose lane?

[Rumsfeld’s Defense Department team drafted a policy paper for President Bush] not from the viewpoint of the Secretary of Defense but from that of the President. Rumsfeld wanted us to do this with all our strategy papers. He explained that his job was not just running the Defense Department but also advising the President, and it did not help the President to get analyses limited to the concerns of a single department. So when we wrote about issues, we were to do so with a national, government-wide view that would correspond to the President’s perspective—an approach that meant commenting on issues within the responsibility of other departments, which frequently caused friction with his colleagues. When he had to choose between staying in his bureaucratic “lane” and giving the President more useful advice, Rumsfeld unapologetically opted for the latter.

At the same time, Rumsfeld was vigilant in protecting the exclusive prerogatives of the only two civilians in the military chain of command— the President and the Secretary of Defense. Other officials saw Rumsfeld (and his subordinates, including myself) as trying to have it both ways— encroaching on other departments’ turf, but invoking the sanctity of the chain of command to keep those other departments out of decision making on military operations.

Considered coolly and analytically, Rumsfeld’s positions here both made sense: his determination to give the President advice from a presidential perspective was logical and constructive, and his jealous protection of the chain of command served an important national interest and accorded with the law. But personal and bureaucratic resentments do not always yield to cool reason. Sometimes they just fester. [pp. 52-53]

Demon snowflakes

Bureaucrats have been described as people who write memos they don’t sign and sign memos they don’t write. I have known several top-level government officials who fit that definition—indeed, who did little more than sign memos they didn’t write.

Rumsfeld, on the other hand, was a prolific memo writer, happy to sign his own productions. He generated memos of a special type—informal, frugally printed on plain, white copy paper, first draft dictated by himself, sometimes lengthy but often only a few sentences, asking a question or prodding someone for a response to a previous query or assignment—and he turned them out in such profusion that they were called “snowflakes.” He tended to phrase them sharply, as he did his comments at Pentagon meetings. Rather than simply ask where project X stood at the moment, he would write: Why is nothing being done on project X? The snowflakes often sent an exasperated, drop-everything-and-get-me-an-answer- immediately message. The blizzard from his office on a typical day could be two dozen; some days it topped one hundred.

As I read his numerous contemplative, demanding, quick-on-the-draw, stimulating, backside-covering, intelligent, and/or disruptive snowflakes, I saw how useful and how irritating they could be to people throughout the Pentagon and the government. To be sure, one had to marvel at their volume and generally high quality. It would have been impressive even if Rumsfeld had had nothing else to do all day but write them. Particularly noteworthy was the high ratio of ideas to words. He was blessed with a mind that naturally produced short, clear declarative sentences.

And he was an avid collector as well as producer of ideas. In his huge office, wherever he held meetings—at his large rectangular conference table, his smaller round table and, for stand-up sessions, next to his stand- up writing desk—Rumsfeld kept small yellow pads handy. When he was out of his office, he would resort to three-by-five cards in an old leather holder in his suit coat. Whenever anyone said anything he deemed note-worthy, Rumsfeld grabbed a pad and scribbled. The worthy note would eventually fall to earth as a snowflake. [pp. 57-58]

Contrast between Rumsfeld and Colin Powell

It was typical of Rumsfeld and his team to introduce concepts and principles into policy discussions and consider ways to influence public thinking about strategic matters. And it was typical of his State Department counterpart, Colin Powell, to dismiss such generalities and address policy questions within what he saw as the status quo. The conceptual, intellectually ambitious, strategic talk that Rumsfeld brought into policy debates met with little patience from Powell, who made it clear that he viewed such discussion as so much theory and ideology. Powell presented himself as the practical man of affairs, taking the world as he found it, focused on the here and now, intent on getting organized for the next day’s set of meetings on whatever crisis was at hand.

This is not to say that Powell had his feet on the ground and Rumsfeld and his team did not. All the high-level Administration officials understood that we had to operate in the real world—within “the art of the possible,” as Bismarck defined politics. But Powell tended to accept his own view of the current lay of the land as defining the art of the possible. Rumsfeld, often joined by Cheney, Rice, and Bush, not only saw the world differently—they were inclined to think that U.S. leadership might be able to alter the land- scape, at home or in the world, making more difficult goals attainable.

When Rumsfeld was told, for example, that a certain law required the Defense Department to do business in a less-than-optimal way, he would not simply adjust; he would ask if it made sense to try to get the law changed. Likewise, if the government lacked diplomatic or political support for an action Rumsfeld considered important, his instinct was to clarify the action’s strategic goals and use that insight to argue our case to get the support we wanted.

When a pressing issue arose—a possible war, the collapse of a government, preparations for a missile test by a dangerous regime—Powell would come to interagency meetings to discuss the talking points he wanted to use when discussing the matter with his foreign counterparts in the coming days.

Rumsfeld insisted that we formulate our national goals in words— to ensure clarity, precision, discipline within the Administration, and a long-range view. Powell did not conceal his opinion that it was a waste of time to debate abstractions and engage in wordsmithing when action was required—when he had urgent discussions to conduct with foreign ministers from around the world. Powell preferred to think and act as an operator or crisis manager, not as a strategist or innovator.

Rumsfeld was unusually intelligent, but Powell also clearly had an ample intellect. Powell also had—to an extraordinary degree—those qualities that make for what has been called a high “E.Q.,” or emotional quotient: the personal traits that allow one to win friends and influence people.

But Powell and Rumsfeld had different frames of mind—a point demonstrated by the approach each took toward his department after 9/11. Rumsfeld created numerous new organizations and offices in the Pentagon, among them the Northern Command, the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, and the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense. He created new forums that allowed (for the first time) the Pentagon’s military and civilian senior leadership to meet as a group and with the combatant commanders; redrew the areas of responsibility of the combatant commands; and realigned the U.S. defense posture throughout the world . . . . Powell, however, left the State Department’s apparatus of bureaus and foreign missions largely unchanged—complete with major offices devoted to arms control agreements from the Soviet era. When Powell left the Administration in early 2005, one could hardly tell from the State Department’s structure that 9/11 had occurred in 2001—or even that the Cold War had ended in 1991.

Perhaps the most telling difference in how the Rumsfeld and Powell teams operated arose from Rumsfeld’s passion for documentation and the written word. In his view, the only way to ensure clarity of thinking was to get one’s arguments down on paper. . . . Sometimes my staff or I conceived and drafted items for him; sometimes we just edited memos he drafted. In all events, we put a lot of thinking into writing. This disciplined our work, and it also improved interagency debates and increased our influence.

Powell showed little appreciation for these efforts and made cutting remarks about the stream of Defense Department memos. State Department professionals did produce many long memos, but these were usually operational discussions of diplomacy, wordy and full of details that fell below the proper purview of the Principals Committee, let alone the President. From Powell on down, State officials generally chose not to challenge strategic or conceptual arguments from Defense, and especially not in writing. As intelligent and persuasive as he was, Powell evidently preferred to forfeit the opportunity to present written strategic arguments for Bush (and future historians) to weigh against policy papers from Rumsfeld and his staff.

Journalists have depicted Principals Committee and National Security Council meetings as a soap opera of nasty clashes between Powell and Rumsfeld. It is true that there were policy differences between them (and among others at those meetings), but their personal interactions tended to be cordial and their policy differences generally produced no actual clash. When the Secretaries of State and Defense disagreed, each would make his points, but those points rarely banged into each other. Though they were often headed in different directions, Rumsfeld and Powell tended to move on different planes.

President Bush often connected with Rumsfeld—or bumped up against him—on the level of ideas and strategy; the same was true of Cheney and often of Rice. Disagreements among the four of them, which were rarely fundamental, had the effect of polishing or refining their colliding ideas, as debates among generally like-minded people often do. But there was a ships-passing-in-the-dark quality to disagreements between Powell and the others—not just because they differed about philosophy or policy, but because Powell chose to confine his contributions to operational and tactical thoughts.

In the past several years, countless media stories have suggested that Rumsfeld and the “neocons” mysteriously or conspiratorially achieved sway over the President. Defense officials did have influence, but this owed much to a mode of operation that was the opposite of conspiracy: We created a transparent record of the facts and reasoning we used to support our proposals. Bush often complimented Rumsfeld’s memos, which addressed him at the level on which he liked to operate—that of strategy, not tactics. They were analytical and mercilessly edited, giving the results of much thought in few words. And they showed confidence that the ideas they contained, when reduced to print on a page, could retain potency and withstand scrutiny over time, unlike arguments that derive their force from the personality of the advocate. [pp. 59-62]

False charges of unilateralism

From the outset, then, Rumsfeld directed the Department of Defense to see the war as an activity undertaken by many U.S. government agencies and many countries. This belies the common criticism that the department was unilateralist. I never heard any Pentagon official say that the war on terrorism could be won solely or even mainly by military means. And I never heard anyone in the Administration contend that the United States should try to fight the war—or the campaigns in Afghanistan or Iraq— alone. The real issues were not whether to have a coalition, or whether the United Nations or NATO should have roles in the war. The issues were what these organizations and our coalition partners were willing and able to do, how quickly, requiring what kind of assistance from us, and what they would ask of us in return.

The stereotype of the military or Pentagon bigwig—reinforced monotonously over decades by the Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herblock—was of an aggressive and narrow-minded buffoon who saw every problem in the world as solvable through military action. In my experience, that image was off the mark. In Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, the top military and civilian officials promptly saw the large role that nonmilitary means would play in the war on terrorism. Rumsfeld spoke out loudly and often, including in public, on the importance of financial, diplomatic, law enforcement, information, intelligence, and other operations. In fact, he was unhappy from the start with the term “war on terrorism,” concerned that the word “war” led people to overemphasize the importance of the military instrument in this multidimensional conflict. [pp. 86-87]

Should a general be pushed or pulled?

It is always a tough call whether a civilian boss should push or pull a military commander in a particular situation. No mathematical formula can tell the Secretary of Defense and the President precisely where strategic supervision ends and improper micromanagement of military operations begins. Rumsfeld wrestled hard with this problem. He was, to be sure, a strong-willed strategist. But his management philosophy, which was respectful of the judgment of the people in-theater, and his instinct for political self-protection, made him disinclined to overrule (if he had failed to shape) the judgments of his operational chief executives.

Rumsfeld had a technique that was generally effective in producing [p. 110] agreement, though it could be wearing on the commanders. He spent a lot of time discussing concepts with them and often reacted to new proposals— especially war plans—by demanding (in his characteristic fashion) to know the “key assumptions” behind them. For a military planner, a key assumption was an expectation that, if it did not happen, would require a significant change in the plan. In Afghanistan, for example, one key assumption was that the Northern Alliance would seize ground from Taliban and al Qaida forces once the United States provided supplies and air support.

Rumsfeld rejected assumptions that were in the form of precise predictions. He didn’t believe anyone could predict the future, no matter how much intelligence was available. As a philosophical conservative, he considered the inevitability of error in human affairs one of the key realities of this world. As imposing as he was in practice, in principle he endorsed intellectual modesty—for himself and others.

Of course, none of this meant that Rumsfeld argued against making plans. The point of his skepticism was to make sure that our planning accounted for the possibility that important things might happen that none of us had predicted: We should plan to be surprised. That meant planning to maintain broad capabilities, flexible tactics, and an open mind ready to adapt to events as they develop. If a commander talked predictions rather than adaptability and agility, Rumsfeld would correct or “calibrate” him.

Rather than issuing orders, Rumsfeld preferred to massage concepts. A four-star commander (accompanied by his senior planning officers) would visit the Pentagon to present a war plan to the Secretary and the Chairman (joined by a few other senior civilian and military staff, including me). Sometimes the commander himself would present the briefing. “This plan deals with an attack by country X on country Y and, if that happens, our goal would be to defeat the attack,” the briefer would begin. Then, as he prepared to leap into his ideas about which forces should deploy, Rumsfeld would interrupt, to ask for a more specific statement of the goal—something less banal than “defeat the attack.” Then he would probe the assumptions, firing a series of questions at the briefer. A two-hour block of time slated for a war-plan briefing might be consumed entirely with such discussions. “If you get the assumptions right, a trained ape can do the rest,” Rumsfeld would assert with a laugh, no doubt endearing himself to military planners everywhere.

Rumsfeld worked on strategic analysis through a kind of Socratic method of question and answer. He had a way of getting people to offer him back his own ideas, as if they were their own. It was a tour de force of reason and education, not compulsion. But it could be discomfiting for those on the receiving end.

If a commander argued well against an idea from Rumsfeld, the Secretary was willing to be talked out of it. If a commander claimed credit for one of Rumsfeld’s own ideas, that was all to the good. It gave the general “ownership”: There would be less chance of failure if the officer implementing a proposal had a personal stake in its success. If a commander were told to do something he had not himself proposed, it could hurt both the Secretary and the President in the event of failure. So Rumsfeld rarely gave commands. He asked questions and floated thoughts, made assertions to which he invited challenges, and in general launched an aggressive give-and-take. Rumsfeld did not consider policy ideas sacred. He reexamined his own ideas frequently and would demonstrate this in meetings so that the educational effect would ripple through the Department. This took some getting used to.

One combatant commander, trying to get a war plan approved, was cut short when Rumsfeld launched into an “assumptions drill” that consumed the entire meeting. The result was a refined set of assumptions, but not an approved plan. Some weeks later, the commander flew back to the Pentagon for another try. At the start of this round, the commander waved his refined assumptions slide in front of the Secretary and proposed moving through it quickly: It contained Rumsfeld’s own words, meticulously crafted and recorded on his last visit. Rumsfeld held up his hand. I’ve got to read this, he said. Otherwise, how do I know I didn’t put something dumb in here? How do I know that circumstances haven’t changed? How do I know I still agree with it? And he meant it. Rumsfeld wanted it known that he saw no humiliation in changing one’s assumptions down the road. He also wanted to gauge whether the commander had truly assimilated the assumptions or was just giving them lip service. [pp. 109-111]

Comprehensive menu of options

[Before 9/11, Rumsfeld sent the president a memo about Saddam Hussein’s attacks on U.S. aircraft patrolling Iraq’s “no-fly” zones. Among the policy options, Rumsfeld included talks with Saddam’s regime.] It might appear that Rumsfeld had inserted the idea of a dialogue with Saddam merely as a straw man—a throwaway option, included to create the false appearance of choice. (It was a standard joke that State Department papers always had the same three options: [1] Suffer in silence; [2] do some diplomacy; [3] nuclear war. State would boldly support the second option.) But that’s not how Rumsfeld’s mind worked. Floating such a suggestion—to talk with Saddam to explore a mutual accommodation— was characteristic of Rumsfeld’s approach to problem solving. Despite a common misperception, Rumsfeld was not closed-minded or ideological. Indeed, he was actively anti-ideological: All ideas, theories, and preconceptions were open to continual examination and challenge. It was clear to him that approaching Saddam was a bad idea, and he signaled as much in his memo, confident that others would agree. But he wanted the Principals and the president to think the idea through. That way, if they rejected it, they would do so affirmatively and know why.

This continual process of evaluation was the most significant feature of Rumsfeld’s mind—though many failed to recognize it, perhaps because they could not see past his intimidating personality. As we weighed the many questions surrounding Iraq, the secretary always wanted a comprehensive menu of ideas, each of them rigorously formulated and considered, so that he could say in good conscience that he had presented the president with the full range of options. [p. 212]

Leaking secret information

Rumsfeld would have given no quarter to any subordinate of his who [made an unauthorized disclosure of secret information]. On at least half a dozen occasions I saw him lecture his staff about maintaining peace within the Administration. He said it was disloyal and harmful to the President to squabble needlessly or excessively with interagency colleagues. And he warned severely against giving journalists accounts of confidential interagency deliberations. I don’t believe that Rumsfeld ever leaked classified information or provided a reporter with any kind of unauthorized account of a meeting with the President or his fellow Principals. Doing so would have violated his personal code, which he talked about, at rare relaxed moments, with the intense earnestness of the Eagle Scout he had been as a boy. Some Boy Scout traits—and not just his use of “good golly” and “darn”—survived in him, despite all his hardheaded sophistication. As a rule, Rumsfeld did not even give “background” interviews to journalists, a convention that would have allowed them to quote him as an unnamed source. When he spoke to them, he did so on the record. [pp. 250-251]

Who should create democracy in Iraq?

[Before the Iraq war began, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice circulated a “Liberation Strategy” paper that said the U.S. government’s aim was “to create a democratic, unified Iraq.״] Rumsfeld . . . concurred with the paper’s emphasis on liberation, not occupation. Iraq belonged to the Iraqis, and so the U.S. should emphasize that point—rather than acting as if we owned the place or planned to run it. But much in the paper was inconsistent with the idea of Iraqis being allowed to run their own affairs after Saddam’s removal.

The statement that the United States aimed to create democracy in Iraq struck both Rumsfeld and me as off base. The proper way to think about this, we believed, was that the Iraqis would have to create their own democracy; the United States should not undertake to do it for them. Democracy in Iraq, if it were possible, would be highly desirable. But we wanted President Bush to clarify that the measure of success of his regime change policy would be whether we ended the dangers posed by Iraq—WMD, support for terrorism, threats against neighbors, and tyranny. If the United States accomplished that, we would have achieved a hugely valuable victory—even if the Iraqis were slow (or unable) to build a stable democracy.

. . . Rice’s emphatic language about promoting democracy reflected the intensity of the President’s commitment to the idea. But that was not a reason, [Rumsfeld thought], to say that America’s success depended on whether Iraq became a model democracy. It would be dangerous to measure the success of our war effort against an accomplishment that was beyond our ability to guarantee. [Rumsfeld] also saw strategic, political, and even legal drawbacks to the notion that the United States was considering war not for self-defense but for the purpose of implanting democracy in Iraq. [pp. 284-285]

Rumsfeld’s Parade of Horribles

[Opponents accused Rumsfeld and his team of “cherry picking” information to provide to the president, to conceal items that did not support Rumsfeld’s views.] But . . . Rumsfeld and his team did not operate that way. The Parade of Horribles memo [in which Rumsfeld took the initiative to outline at length for the president everything that Rumsfeld anticipated could go wrong in the event of war in Iraq] was typical of how we viewed our responsibility to advise the President. Had we worried that our views required protection from inconvenient facts, we would not have embraced those views in the first place. Our strategy in interagency debates was to put forward our own ideas together with countervailing thoughts. We often heard the comment that we set out the case against our own ideas more compellingly than our opponents did. We figured if we showed how our analysis withstood strong criticism, we could be more effective—not to mention more honorable—than if we tried to keep the President in the dark about relevant facts or analyses. Our approach, as reflected in this important memo, was precisely the reverse of cherry-picking. [pp. 334-335]

The famous “long, hard slog” memo

On October 16, 2003, Rumsfeld addressed a memo to Wolfowitz, Generals Myers and Pace, and me asking how we should measure our progress in the war on terrorism. Winning in Afghanistan and Iraq, he projected, would be a “long, hard slog.” Rumsfeld and I had had several long talks about what I called the main deficiency in the U.S. war effort: opposing pro-terrorist ideologies. Rumsfeld here wondered: “Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas [Muslim religious schools] and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?”

This was a good example of the value Rumsfeld brought to the Administration. He wielded a courageous and skeptical intellect. He challenged preconceptions and assumptions—including his own—and drove colleagues as well as subordinates to take a long view and to evaluate honestly whether their work was actually producing results. His ideas and ambitions for the Defense Department and the United States were high-minded, his contributions extensive and influential. [p. 509]

Photo Caption: This photo is from a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Pentagon on June 14, 2004. Shown from left to right across the table are: Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers (USAF), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman, and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense William Luti. In foreground on the right is President Karzai. In background against the wall is Paul Butler, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

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