Following are excerpts from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s new book, “Known and Unknown,” published by Penguin Group.
In the first extract, selected by The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Bureau Chief Gerald F. Seib, Mr. Rumsfeld writes that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice attempted to use her post to “bridge” differences among foreign-policy advisers to President George W. Bush, part of an overall operating style he found unsatisfying:
This bridging approach could temporarily mollify the [National Security Council] principals, but it also led to discontent, since fundamental differences remained unaddressed and unresolved by the president. Indeed, an unfortunate consequence was that when important and controversial issues did not get resolved in a timely manner, they sometimes ended up being argued in the press by unnamed, unhappy lower-level officials. I doubt this would have been the case had the President been asked to make a clear-cut decision. If given an order from the President, most department officials would have then saluted and carried it out, even if it had not been their recommendation.
I had other issues with Rice’s management of the NSC process. Often meetings were not well organized. Frequent last-minute changes to the times of meetings and to the subject matter made it difficult for the participants to prepare, and even more difficult, with departments of their own to manage, to rearrange their full schedules. The NSC staff often was late in sending participants papers for meetings that set out the issues to be discussed. At the conclusion of NSC meetings when decisions were taken, members of the NSC staff were theoretically supposed to write a summary of conclusions. When I saw them, they were often sketchy and didn’t always fit with my recollections. Ever since the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration, NSC staffs have been sensitive to written notes and records that could implicate a president or his advisers. Rice and her colleagues seemed concerned about avoiding detailed records that others might exploit. This came at the expense of enabling the relevant executive agencies to know precisely what had been discussed and decided at the NSC meetings. Attendees from time to time left meetings with differing views of what was decided and what the next steps should be, which freed CIA, State, or Defense officials to go back and do what they thought best.
In one August 2002 memo to Rice, I raised this lack of resolution. “It sometimes happens that a matter mentioned at a meeting is said to have been ‘decided’ because it elicited no objection,” I wrote. “That is not a good practice. Nothing should be deemed decided unless we expressly agree to decide it.” Rice started putting a note at the bottom of draft decision memos: “If no objections are raised by a specific deadline, the memo will be considered approved by the principals.” That, too, was impractical. [Secretary of State Colin] Powell and I were frequently traveling. I did not want to have others assume I agreed with something simply because I missed an arbitrary deadline.
Mr. Rumsfeld discloses that, in the run-up to the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush never asked his defense chief whether he thought the invasion a good idea:
While President Bush and I had many discussions about the war preparations, I do not recall his ever asking me if I thought going to war with Iraq was the right decision. The President was the one charged with the tough choice to commit U.S. forces. I did not speculate on the thought process that brought him to his ultimate, necessarily lonely decision. We were all hearing the same things in briefing after briefing, and one National Security Council meeting after another, mulling over what we knew of the Iraqi regime and what the intelligence community believed about its capabilities and intentions. Though there were differences among us, they were not differences at the substantive or strategic levels of whether or not to allow Saddam Hussein’s regime to remain in power. Not one person in NSC meetings at which I was present stated or hinted that they were opposed to, or even hesitant, about the president’s decision. I took it that Bush assumed, as I did, that each of us had reached the same conclusion.
As the occupation of Iraq turned ugly, stories emerged that Ms. Rice was going to take over management of postwar Iraq and oversight of Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer from the Pentagon :
The news stories about Rice’s new management plan also repeated the widely believed canard that the State Department had been cut out of postwar planning. The stories bore the unmistakable fingerprints of Powell’s top aides.
I had been eager for the State Department to accept more responsibility in Iraq and would have been the last person to shut them out. When we asked the State Department to send experts to Iraq, they failed to meet their quotas. When we asked for support for reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, they struggled to fill them. When the State Department was in charge of training the Iraqi police, it did not get the job done. Powell was in National Security Council meetings and principals meetings on Iraq and shared in every major decision. It was a mystery as to what these State Department officials felt they were not involved in. I was skeptical that either the National Security Council or the State Department truly wanted to be accountable for the administration’s Iraq policy, and I was all too aware that Rice and the NSC were not able to manage it.
On Oct. 6, 2003, I sent a memo to the president with copies to Vice President Cheney and [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card. “In Monday’s paper,” I wrote, “Condi, in effect, announced that the President is concerned about the post-war Iraq stabilization efforts and that, as a result, he has asked Condi Rice and the National Security Council to assume responsibility for post-war Iraq.” I recommended that Bremer’s reporting relationship be formally moved from Defense to the NSC or state.
I further noted that I had told Bremer months earlier that I would prefer to have him report to the president, Rice, or Powell. “[H]e is fully aware of my willingness to have this reporting relationship adjusted now that the circumstances there have matured,” I wrote. No one took up my offer. In fact, Rice shortly thereafter reversed herself, apparently at the president’s insistence, and informed the press that, contrary to her previous announcement, nothing about the administration’s Iraq policy had changed.
One week later, after a principals meeting on Oct. 14, 2003, Rice asked to see me privately. She apologized for the flap over Iraq and said that she was doing everything to correct it.
I interjected, “You’re failing. You could have said something in the NSC meeting in front of the president and the principals.”
“Don, you’ve made mistakes in your long career,” she replied.
“Yes, but I’ve tried to clean them up.”
After the disclosure of abuses at the military’s Abu Ghraib detention facility, Mr. Rumsfeld writes that he offered his resignation in response:
The previous week had been excruciating because the scandal was so damaging to our armed forces and the country. I generally thrived under pressure, but I wasn’t thriving now. Abu Ghraib was threatening to consume the Defense Department, eclipsing the fine work thousands of service-men and -women did every day. The Democratic National Committee was already using Abu Ghraib to raise funds for its campaigns.
That Sunday—Mother’s Day—our children called and told me they were with me no matter what I decided. Vice President Cheney said that with Iraq in such a difficult condition, the president wanted me at the Defense Department. “You have to stay,” he urged in a phone call.
I was later reminded of an episode more than a half century earlier. In April 1952, when I was studying naval science in college, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hobson struck the aircraft carrier USS Wasp in the dark of night. The Hobson sank to the Atlantic seafloor with 176 men aboard. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander W. J. Tierney, went down with the vessel. A Navy board of inquiry ultimately concluded that Tierney was to be held responsible for the incident. It could not have been easy to demand accountability from a commanding officer who lost his life. Nevertheless, there is a tradition on the sea and in our Navy that with authority comes responsibility and accountability. The Navy’s venerable tradition regrettably seemed not to have taken hold to the same extent in the other military services. The case of the Hobson said a lot about leadership—and its consequences.
On May 10, 2004, President Bush came to the Pentagon for a briefing on Iraq. At the end of the briefing, I asked the President if I could see him alone. As we sat at the round table in my office overlooking the Pentagon’s River Entrance, I handed him a second letter of resignation. “By this letter I am resigning as secretary of defense,” it read. “I have concluded that the damage from the acts of abuse that happened on my watch, by individuals for whose conduct I am ultimately responsible, can best be responded to by my resignation.” As he read my letter, Bush was quiet.
“Mr. President, the Department of Defense will be better off if I resign,” I insisted.
“That’s not true,” he responded, tossing the letter across the table back to me.
I told the president my mind was made up. Nonetheless, he insisted that he wanted some time to think about it and to consult with others. The next day, Vice President Cheney came to the Pentagon. “Don, 35 years ago this week, I went to work for you,” he said, “and on this one you’re wrong.”
In the end, Bush refused to accept my resignation.
Adapted from Known and Unknown: A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld, with permission from Sentinel, a member of The Penguin Group, USA. Copyright 2011, Donald Rumsfeld.
This book is available at Liberty Books