Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld levels criticism at top members of the Bush administration, including current Stanford professor and former provost Condoleezza Rice, in his new memoir “Known and Unknown.”
The memoir, released Feb. 7, contains a comprehensive account of Rumsfeld’s life and political career, including his role in the Iraq war while serving under George W. Bush.
While Rumsfeld acknowledges some tactical errors on his part, he also lays blame at the feet of other high-ranking officials. He takes aim at Rice in her capacity as both national security advisor and secretary of state, saying she did not push the president to make firm decisions on war strategy.
“The core problems the NSC (National Security Council) faced resulted from the effort to paper over differences of views,” he writes.
According to political science professor Kenneth Schultz, however, Rice’s efficacy may have been impacted by an internal power struggle between agencies.
“There were serious divisions within the administration, particularly between the Defense Department and State Department, and ultimately the people at the Defense Department wielded the bulk of influence over decision making,” he said.
Furthermore, Schultz says, the conciliatory nature of the national security advisor position limited Rice’s ability to make demands.
“It would have been Rice’s job as national security advisor to insure the president was getting views from different players,” Schultz said. “Her primary onus was to coordinate information from different agencies. The general view was that the process was a bit dysfunctional.”
Rice, who is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, declined to comment.
But history professor Jack Rakove warns that Rumsfeld’s writings should be viewed with a cautious eye.
“Historians are universally suspicious of memoirs,” Rakove said. “The great danger of memoirs is that they’re inherently self-serving, and they can be selective.”
Rumsfeld does acknowledge several of his own strategic mistakes in his memoir. He writes with regret that he did not stop L. Paul Bremer, the chief administrator of Iraq at the beginning of the war, from disbanding the entire Iraqi army, despite military recommendations to the contrary. The move was part of a U.S. effort to undercut Iraqi socialist influence after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein
“I was told of Bremer’s decision and possibly could have stopped it,” Rumsfeld writes.
Rumsfeld further admits that he and other Bush officials overstated the certainty that weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq, recalling in particular an instance where he told a television reporter the weapons were around Tikrit and Baghdad.
“While I made a few misstatements—in particular the one mentioned above—they were not common and certainly not characteristic,” he writes.
Accompanying the memoir is a trove of previously classified documents, released on Rumsfeld’s website. They offer a glimpse into backroom policy discussions; one memo from a senior Rumsfeld staff member, for example, reveals that Bremer told Rumsfeld of his decision to disband the Iraqi army four days before signing the order on May 23, 2003.
Rakove notes that these documents hardly form a complete record of the events that transpired during Rumsfeld’s time in office.
“What other documents are not being released? Is the release selective?” he said. “If a few documents are missing, we’re missing part of the picture.”
Schultz remarks that the book’s title, “Known and Unknown,” is a nod to the complexities of historical documentation as well as the uncertainty that drove much of Rumsfeld’s decision making.
“A major critique of Rumsfeld’s policies is that the war planning seemed to rely on very optimistic assumptions of what would happen [in Iraq],” he said. “These optimistic assumptions led to the small deployment of forces and an unrealistic timetable for postwar rebuilding. A good leader knows that there are uncertainties and there will be unforeseen contingencies, and you have to plan for that, not use uncertainty as an excuse for things having gone wrong.”