Framing the Dialogue

Known and Unknown

I debated whether to read Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir and passed it several times as it laid on display at Costco.  I think like many people I was tired of hearing about the Bush Administration and wanted to look forward to 2012 rather than rehash the past.  Obviously I relented and I was very surprised at the long and varied career of Mr. Rumsfeld.  His story chronicles some of the seminal events in American history and he often had a front row seat which helps explain some of the vitriol spewed at him over the last few years. 

One of the first things you’ll notice when you pick up Known and Unknown is its girth which is a glimpse into the level of detail that he includes.  As I started reading I was impressed with the detail that is backed up with references/notes (over 50 pages of notes) and unlike any other author that I can think of he is making copies of his references available at a special website (  It seems like he kept copies of everything so it may be hard for his critics to discount his assertions. 

As a Republican you would expect criticism of Democrats and he has his share, but these memoirs are more about his role in many issues rather than a hatchet job.  In fact he saves his sharpest and most frequent critiques to Colin Powell, Condeleza Rice and their roles as Secretaries of State.  The State Department is not his favorite agency and based on his experiences is an almost autonomous, in their own minds, organization that takes no direction from elected representatives.  Little evidence is available to contradict those inferences.

“I asked Powell to try to manage his deputy. [Richard Armitage*]  The President was facing rearguard disloyalty from a small band of “senior State Department officials” who were attacking the administration and the effort in Iraq in the press as anonymous sources.”

Known and Unknownis sprinkled with “Rumsfeld’s Rules” which are thought provoking,

“History teaches that weakness is provocative.  Time and again weakness has invited adventures which strength might well have deterred.”

He later added that the perception of weakness is equally as provocative.  Rumsfeld provides a glimpse inside Washington politics from the sixties through today and it’s, as expected, less than pretty,

“A shift in Washington had taken place since I left the Pentagon in 1977.  The relationship between the executive and legislative branches had evolved from proper congressional oversight to what was becoming legislative micro-management.  The Defense Department was receiving between four and eight hundred letters every month from members of Congress, in addition to countless phone calls.”

“One of the notable changes I had observed from my service in the Pentagon in the 1970s was the prevalence of lawyers – in almost every office and in nearly every meeting.  By the time I returned as secretary in 2001, there were a breathtaking ten thousand lawyers, military and civilian, involved at nearly every level of the chain of command across the globe.”

The last two excerpts that I will share are examples of how terrorists use our rules against us,

“As never before in history, today lawyers and legal considerations pervade every aspect of U.S. military operations…this is a new kind of asymmetric war waged by our enemies – ‘lawfare.’  Lawfare uses international and domestic legal claims, regardless of their factual basis, to win public support to harass American officials…each legal action is a thread.  The cumulative effect binds the American Gulliver…make us vulnerable to enemies who have nothing but contempt for those very instincts and institutions.”

“The court proceedings against the so-called Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, who conspired to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993, revealed almost all the U.S. government knew about al-Qaida at the time.  To comply with standard criminal procedures in U.S. courts, Andrew McCarthy, the chief prosecutor on that case, was required to turn over to defense attorneys a list of two hundred possible coconspirators.  This told al-Qaida which of its members had been compromised and indicated where U.S. intelligence had gleaned its information.  Bin Laden reportedly was reading the list several weeks later in Sudan.”

* In case you didn’t know or remember, Richard Armitage was the “leak” in the CIA Valerie Plame “scandal” that shouldn’t have been a scandal.  Both Powell and Armitage kept quiet about their involvement and Scooter Libby was convicted for a process crime.

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