Review: Known and Unknown by Donald Rumsfeld
Penguin, €29.99, Hardback
Published 19/02/2011 | 05:00
Donald Rumsfeld has never been one for saying sorry. And in his new memoir, Known and Unknown, the former US secretary of defence remains unapologetic to the end.
An accounting and -- true to 'Rummy' form -- acerbic defence of his time in public office, Known and Unknown is, in the words of the Washington Post, a "revenge memoir".
The title of the book is taken from Rumsfeld's now infamous response to a reporter's question about whether there was any link between Saddam Hussein and terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction.
"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me because, as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know," Rumsfeld responded. "We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."
The oldest ever US defence secretary -- and perhaps the most controversial -- Rumsfeld was in the Pentagon when it was hit by American Airlines flight 77 at 9.37am on 9/11.
The secretary ran from his office toward the smoke and fire and helped lift the wounded onto stretchers. He then went back to his smoke-filled office to "figure out what we do about it."
Rumsfeld and the Bush administration's 'figuring out' in the wake of 9/11 would lead to two wars on two fronts that have cost the United States thousands of military lives and trillions of dollars.
It also ultimately cost Rumsfeld his job, when he was fired in 2006 after he became a lightning rod for criticism due to his handling of the unpopular war.
But in his memoir Rumsfeld is reluctant to admit that he sometimes missed the policy mark. Instead he is content to throw former colleagues, secretary of state Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, under the bus.
Despite being polite about Rice's academic achievements, Rumsfeld dismisses her as "disorganised" and so intent on keeping everyone happy that her policies led to a dysfunctional national security council.
Powell, Rumsfeld writes, was so sceptical of the Bush administration's initiatives as to appear disloyal. Rumsfeld seems especially vexed by Powell's behaviour in the wake of his appearance before the United Nations to make the case for war against Iraq in February 2003.
"Powell was not duped or misled by anybody," Rumsfeld writes. "Nor did he lie about Saddam's suspected WMD stockpiles. The president did not lie. The vice-president did not lie. Tenet did not lie. Rice did not lie. I did not lie. The Congress did not lie. The far less dramatic truth is that we were wrong."
Rumsfeld's only major regret, it seems, is his decision not to resign in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004 when photographs of American soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees came to light. But even then there are caveats -- he writes that he offered to resign twice but that President Bush urged him to stay on.
He also admits that his cavalier remark that "stuff happens" in the wake of the looting and mayhem in post-invasion Iraq was a "mistake".
But despite Rumsfeld's cranky and dismissive public image, there are glimpses in the book of a more complex man, a kind-hearted husband who is devoted to his wife, Joyce, and a father deeply affected by the drug addiction of two of his grown children.
In the book, Rumsfeld recounts breaking down in front of President Bush in the weeks after 9/11 when his son, Nick, had checked himself into rehab for drug abuse.
"What had happened to Nick -- coupled with the wounds to our country and the Pentagon -- all started to hit me. At that moment, I couldn't speak. And I was unable to hold back the emotions that until then I had shared only with Joyce," he writes.
"President Bush rose from his chair, walked around his desk, and put his arm around me," he recounts.