Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir is, obviously, called Known and Unknown, after what may have been the Zen-est moment of a Defense Department press briefing ever. I look forward to the day the Internet gives us a Former Administration Official Memoir title generator. It will spit out phrases that evoke ’90s action movie swagger, patriotic nostalgia, and unbreakable public spirit all at once, like the titles of such classics of the FAOM genre as Going Rogue and At the Center of the Storm.
Meanwhile, Internet writers have started culling the juicy bits for people like me, for whom most of the contents of this book are and will remain unknown. “Rumsfeld Knifes Condi” was how Politico’s Mike Allen played it in a headline—but actually it’s not so bad, at least in the excerpt Allen gives. Turns out Rumsfeld was once self-conscious in a National Security Council meeting because he was wearing a suit he had had since the Ford administration and our own Professor Rice looked polished, and that he wanted to be able to take more notes. (Because what could go wrong?)
Elsewhere, the Christian Science Monitor lists the five mistakes to which Rumsfeld “sort of” admits. He concedes, for example, that the invasion of Iraq could have used “several thousand more troops,” at least in Baghdad, “where most of the media was located” which “might at least have kept the capital from appearing so chaotic, a perception that proved damaging throughout our country and the world.” Detainee treatment, too, was by his account less a failure of policy than of public relations.
This kind of score settling and self-justification will ring tediously familiar to those of us who were forced to skim a few FAOMs in college. One useful outgrowth of the genre, though, is the response-genre of withering, account-correcting book reviews by smart people who read these things so you don’t have to.
UPDATE, 2/12: Here‘s the ever-insightful Fred Kaplan, Slate’s “War Stories” columnist, confirming that, but for the title “there’s little to be said for this book, which marks Rumsfeld as not only the most destructive secretary of defense in American history… but also the most mendacious political memoirist.” Specifically:
Most shameless are Rumsfeld’s attempts to deny the undeniable fact that he ordered far fewer troops to Iraq than his army’s generals recommended. “In reality,” he writes, “there was full debate and discussion, but there was no disagreement among those of us responsible for the planning. … Among [Gen. Richard] Myers, [Gen. Tommy] Franks and me, there was no conflict whatsoever regarding force levels. If anyone suggested to Franks or Myers that the war plan lacked sufficient troops, they never informed me” (p. 452).
This is playing word games. The key phrase is that there was no disagreement “among those of us responsible for the planning”—by which he apparently means statutorily “responsible.” Myers was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Franks was the combatant commander; so they, along with Rumsfeld, were “responsible for the planning.” It is extremely well-documented, however, that the senior officers who created the war plans engaged in endless disputes with Rumsfeld, who whittled down the troop levels again and again, over their objections. (For the proof, see Cobra II by Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor, Fiasco by Thomas Ricks, The Assassins’ Gate by George Packer, or State of Denial by Bob Woodward, among others.)
Kaplan also flags Rumsfeld’s point-missing contention, noted above, that the lack of troops fed a perception of chaos. “It led to a real breakdown,” Kaplan writes—not just looting, but insurgents’ access to unguarded weapons depots, where they got much of the materiél “with which they killed U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians.”
The lack of troop strength has been justly much-discussed since before the invasion, and to me the most chilling implication was pointed out by Gordon and Trainor in Cobra II. What if there had been WMD hidden somewhere, while the U.S. didn’t even have enough soldiers to keep track of known caches of small arms?
Kathy Gilsinan is a first year student studying International Security & Cooperation