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The Interrogation of Rumsfeld

The former defense secretary pens an ­absorbing memoir—not that you’d know it from the ­mainstream media interviews.

Feb 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 22 • By FRED BARNES
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Rumsfeld insists his book isn’t “score-settling” with old foes. “It isn’t at all,” he told me. “It’s descriptive. I think it’s honest.” He says Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, urged him “to tell it like it was,” as Kissinger himself has in his memoirs. “And I did,” Rumsfeld says.

He alerted many of those whose names pop up in the book or in the documents posted on his website to what was coming. He called 7 of them, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and sent notes to 20 more.

Powell, Rumsfeld writes, “was valuable as an adviser and respected as a man of considerable accomplishments, but his department seemed to remain skeptical about President Bush and less than eager to implement his policies.” The State Department under Powell was also the source of constant leaks damaging to the Defense Department and the White House, he says.

Condoleezza Rice’s deficiency as national security adviser in Bush’s first term was her insistence on bridging differences between advisers. “Rice seemed to believe that it was a personal shortcoming on her part if she had to ask the president to resolve an interagency difference,” Rumsfeld writes.

He’s no fan of John McCain, calling him “a man with a hair-trigger temper and a propensity to fashion and shift his positions to appeal to the media.” And going back to his time as Ford’s chief of staff in 1974 and 1975, he writes that Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was a bully who “would badger and pester subordinates until they said what he wanted to hear.” Kissinger, he says, was chronically late to meetings.

Washington memoirs are often short on anecdotes. Rumsfeld has sprinkled his book with them. When he was a congressman from Illinois, he was reading a bill when Republican John Byrnes of Wisconsin approached him. “Don’t start reading that stuff, Don,” Byrnes said, “or you’ll never make it around here.” Byrnes was joking, Rumsfeld insists.

One episode in Known and Unknown is troubling. Rumsfeld is sharply critical of Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that governed Iraq after the invasion in 2003. Rumsfeld says he gave Bremer “considerable latitude for decision making,” but Bremer exceeded his instructions and, in particular, was unwilling to give Iraqis any real say.

Bremer was also Bush’s man in Iraq, a fact that Rumsfeld laments. Bremer had a one-on-one lunch with the president before he left for Baghdad. “The president could of course have lunch with whomever he wanted,” Rumsfeld writes. “But in Bremer’s case, such actions contributed to a confused chain of command.” Bremer, however, didn’t appear to be confused. Though he reported to Rumsfeld, his ultimate boss was the president.

“Most troubling,” according to Rumsfeld, “was that Bremer proved reluctant to cede any significant authority to the Iraqis.” Not for long. He created an Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to advise him and handle some administrative duties. In May 2004, a year after Bremer arrived, the IGC named Ayad Allawi prime minister of an interim government. In 2005, a full-fledged Iraqi parliament was elected. That strikes me as a reasonably fast transition.

And as two 2003 documents posted on Rumsfeld’s website suggest, Bremer followed the administration’s guidelines. Its “principles for Iraq” included the requirement that the CPA “assert authority” and “impose order.” It also was to provide “hands-on political reconstruction.” Bremer complied. He basically adhered to the “Iraqi Interim Authority Action Plan,” which outlined the path to an Iraqi government.

When I talked to Rumsfeld last week, he appeared to soften his criticism of Bremer. There were “a lot of good things accomplished” under Bremer, he said. The Pentagon and State Department simply disagreed on the “pace” of transition to Iraqi self-rule. Rumsfeld wanted to “do it fast,” as had been done in Afghanistan. “The State Department did not agree,” he said. Nor did Bremer.

In Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld acknowledges he was a “latecomer” to supporting the surge of troops in Iraq. He emphasizes its psychological effect as much as its military impact, annoying some surge backers. Still, he promoted the surge​—​after his departure had been announced​—​when “there was not a lot of support in the Pentagon,” Rumsfeld told me. “I made it my job to work with the military so that when the decision was made the department would be supportive of the president and .  .  . supportive of the [surge] concept.”

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