- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network.
Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let’s all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he’s demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes — in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he’s doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by — if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld’s Rules, it’s a pearl of wisdom. And when he’s not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico‘s Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It’s complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It’s easier to get into something than it is to get out," he’s not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media’s Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan’s Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we’re such a big target.
"I sorta can’t believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he’s ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, ‘I’ve been mistaken so many times I don’t even blush for it anymore.’ Sure, you see things that don’t turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence — and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn’t be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn’t be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld’s rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal’s whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you’re wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he’d like you to know, he’s "happy as a clam."