“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
Donald Rumsfeld has written a book. Four years out of office, such tomes ought to be called “shots from the grave,” a fusillade of explanations after the fact. Such literature has a long and honored tradition.
Dwight Eisenhower wrote and spoke of the dangers of the “military/industrial complex” as he lounged on the 19th hole; and Maxwell Taylor sounded The Uncertain Trumpet about nuclear weapons as he left the Pentagon. Their arguments were bestsellers in their day, but that industry complex and those megatons are still with us. General Taylor was right about several things however, especially the need for Special Forces designed to fight below the nuclear threshold.
Media critics are no happier with Rumsfeld’s memoir, Known and Unknown, than they were with his tenure as Secretary of Defense. Reviewer angst begins with the title which is both a poke at detractors and a paraphrase of Rummy’s most famous soliloquy:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.”
This infamous quote is a velvet stiletto; a masterful parry - and twist of the knife; a kind of humility and honesty you seldom see in journalists. The Defense Secretary was telling the Press that there were things that he did not know; and that there were things that he and they might never know. In short, nobody has good answers to stupid questions.
The Fourth Estate hates such candor. Press scribblers prefer the comfort of lies to the discomforts of truth. This, and low standards, probably explains why Bill Clinton and Julian Assange have become Media idols – especially in America.
A survey of the reviews of Known and Unknown, reveals a uniform list of complaints – or better still, talking points. Rumsfeld is characterized as arrogant, combative, and dishonest; he is also charged with sanctioning torture and refusing to send enough troops to Iraq, almost precipitating a catastrophe. These complaints, in part or collectively, could be dismissed charitably as “bravo sierra!”
Gwen Ifill (of NPR) writing for the Washington Post is typical of the “hot wash-ups” on Rumsfeld’s book . Her brief 8 February book review contained at least two factual errors. Any writer who doesn’t know the difference between a civilian Service Secretary and a military Chief of Staff shouldn’t be writing about defense issues.
Donald Rumsfeld was indeed pugnacious, not a handicap for a warrior. The two-time Secretary of Defense was a college wrestler, a fighter pilot, and a retired Navy captain. He did not suffer fools gladly; his candor was often mistaken for arrogance. Alpha males are seldom appreciated among the girly men and khaki sniffers that frequent Pentagon press conferences.
The charges of sanctioned torture and of strategic incompetence are more serious, yet even less credible.
On the torture charges, there are multiple layers of civilian and military bureaucracy between the remote Abu Ghraib prison and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The military police responsible for the prisoners were poorly trained reservists from rural Cumberland, Maryland. The idea that any cabinet-level appointee would direct or condone torture of prisoners is ludicrous. A more likely culprit would be the Army Chief of Staff, the Army theater commander, or the on-site commander in Iraq.
The commander of the prison guards at Abu Ghraib was Brigadier General Janis Karpinski another reservist, a lady who pleaded ignorance about the criminal behavior under her nose. Karpinski also tried to implicate the Israelis in the Abu Ghraib fiasco. If anyone in DOD was blame worthy, or got a pass on their culpability, it was Karpinski. Instead of trying to hang Rumsfeld for Abu Ghraib, you would think that critics might want to ask the Army how and why Janis Karpinski dodged a court martial.
Karpinski was first demoted to colonel in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and then promoted back again to general by the Army before she was allowed to retire gracefully with full benefits.
And the claim that the “surge,” 30,000 fresh troops, was the only tactic that saved the day in Iraq is nonsense too. More critical was the decision to buy off Sunni al Qaeda supporters with bribes. Only when that money dries up, will we know which way that insurgency blows. In any case, having reversed the sectarian poles in Iraq, the last chapter of the Iraq ‘victory’ is yet to written.
The most malicious and mendacious charge against Rumsfeld concerns the now mythical Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. “They (Bush and Rumsfeld) lied and people died” critics cried. Trying to lay blame for the flawed 2002 Iraq National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) at the feet of the Secretary of Defense misrepresents responsibilities and history.
The bogus Iraq estimate was prepared by the Intelligence Community with George Tenet’s CIA in the lead. One of two footnotes (dissents) in the document was taken by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence Research (INR). State analysts didn’t think the nuclear weapons evidence was convincing.
The deceptive speech at the UN was delivered by then Secretary of State Colin Powell. Tenet and Powell secreted themselves in the woods of Langley a week before the fateful speech in New York. Somewhere between Foggy Bottom and New York, Colin Powell was rolled. He contradicted his own State Department intelligence analysts at the United Nations.
Rumsfeld’s rap against Powell was that he couldn’t be trusted. Indeed,
since his retirement, Powell postures like Arianna Huffington; a kind of political hermaphrodite – a chap who could play for either team.
Rumsfeld’s criticism of the former Secretary of State is generous because no interpretation of Powell’s behavior in 2003 can be rationalized. He was; either ill-informed, incompetent, gullible, or mendacious. None of the options are flattering. Rumsfeld lets Powell off the hook by simply writing that he was “wrong.” Yet the bottom line is clear, if anyone cooked the intelligence books on Iraq, it was Tenet and Powell, not Rumsfeld and Bush.
Pundits are fond of claiming that “journalism is the first draft of history.” Unfortunately, political myth and innuendo sell better than facts. The real truth about Rumsfeld and the Press is their mutual contempt. And coverage of Rumsfeld isn’t the first draft of history as much as it is an insult to truth.
G. Murphy Donovan was the Senior USAF Research Fellow at RAND Corporation when Donald Rumsfeld served on the RAND Board of Directors. The author also writes at G. Murphy Donovan. This essay appeared previously in th American Thinker.
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- G. Murphy Donovan
- The author is a native of the Bronx, a transplant to DC. He is a Vietnam veteran and former USAF Intelligence officer with tours at all of the major 3 button Intelligence agencies. He is a graduate of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. School and Cardinal Hayes HS in NYC. He also has several degrees from less illustrious institutions. Check Six writes primarily at G. Murphy Donovan and Agnotology in Journalism. His work has appeared in various political, national security, and Intelligence journals.