- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2011

KNOWN AND UNKNOWN: A MEMOIR
By Donald Rumsfeld
Sentinel, $36, 832 pages

The first roughly 300 pages of “Known and Unknown” cover Donald Rumsfeld’s story up to his second term as secretary of defense, and general readers without a dog in the fight will find this part to be the book’s most enjoyable and entertaining. It contains some very interesting anecdotes about famous and infamous individuals he encountered, from President John F. Kennedy to Saddam Hussein. The meetings with Saddam took place in the 1980s before the Iraqi became a foe. Mr. Rumsfeld’s personal remembrance of Kennedy is particularly touching.

The majority of the book deals with his second tenure as secretary of defense. It is not a weepy apology for mistakes made in the tradition of Robert Mc Namara’s remembrance of the Vietnam debacle, “In Retrospect.” Nor is it a wholesale defense of his actions as was the case with Paul Bremer’s “My Year in Iraq,” covering Mr. Bremer’s time as proconsul in Iraq. Instead Mr. Rumsfeld takes a fairly direct approach: “This is what I did and why I did it with the information at hand.”

Mr. Rumsfeld admits to mistakes, including underestimating the danger of the insurgency in Iraq. He particularly regrets off-the-cuff phrases like “Dead Enders” and “Old Europe.” However, in the case of one of the key bad calls of the war - disbanding the Iraqi army, which he credits to Mr. Bremer - he remains ambivalent. He still believes some good came of it. When it first happened, I was also ambivalent as I believed that the old army was a near useless one; that notion disappeared when I got on the ground in July 2003 and realized the extent of the vacuum that had been created in internal security.

Now, a disclosure. I am mentioned briefly but favorably on page 521 of the book. However, that does not hinder in assessing the book’s merits and flaws. The key weakness in this readable and comprehensive account of Mr. Rumsfeld’s leadership of the two wars on his watch and of his tenure in general is his failure to realize the intimidating effect he had on subordinates and peers alike. He states repeatedly that he solicited dissenting opinions and I believe that he believes that he did. The reality was far different. He was a truly intimidating presence.

Most of the generals and “senior” officials in the department had been junior officers or in college when he first served as secretary of defense. The reality is that the few people who did stand up to him generally got an airing and escaped with their heads. A good example is Torie Clarke, his deputy press aide who called him a “son of a bitch” to his face for not calling his wife on Sept. 11, 2001; he then called his wife.

Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice come in for considerable criticism as does Gen. Tommy Franks, who jumped ship at a critical time in the occupation. Mr. Rumsfeld is not alone in his disappointment with Gen. Franks, which runs deep in the Army as well. Mr. Rumsfeld is more muted in his criticism of President George W. Bush, who he goes out of his way to praise; however, he states that he wishes Mr. Bush would have been stronger in settling disputes among his lieutenants. The net result is that the reader begins to learn why interagency cooperation was an oxymoron in those years.

Mr. Rumsfeld tried to transform the U.S. military in the early years of his tenure by using the technological advantages of the United States to create a smaller, more deployable and more lethal force. Our early successes in overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq appeared to validate his view. Unfortunately, the enemy morphed and Mr. Rumsfeld admits that the asymmetric approach they took would require yet another transformation - that one led by Gen. David H. Petraeus. However, in the future, the Rumsfeld and Petraeus transformations may not to be mutually exclusive. We might need Mr. Rumsfeld’s force to beat the enemy’s conventional forces and the Petraeus approach to deal with the enemy when he goes to ground and fights nontraditionally.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps colonel who served as a pro bono special adviser to the deputy secretary of defense from 2003-05 and as a State Department senior governance adviser with a provincial reconstruction team in Iraq from 2009-10. He teaches at George Washington University.