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TYRRELL: Rumsfeld and Kissinger memoirs worth a read

Key insights into Iraq War and China from leaders on the scene

- The Washington Times - Friday, July 8, 2011

It is summer and time to read books. I recall the late editor of the editorial page of The Washington Post, the sainted Meg Greenfield, making fun of the idea of summer books, but I have long filed her quip away as a quip that was quipless. She could read books almost anytime she wanted, but busy people read when they have a special opportunity, and during summer break, I would like to remind them of good books to read. This summer there is an abundance of them.

Two books that have been compared justifiably with Dean Acheson's memoir from many years ago, "Present at the Creation," are by Donald H. Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger, two men of vast governmental experience who need no introduction. Mr. Rumsfeld's "Known and Unknown: A Memoir" covers his life in government service and should be interesting to all Americans because of what he says about the Iraq War but also because of what he says about the decisions in which he played a role, starting with service in Congress in the era of Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Kissinger's "On China" is fascinating for its historic sweep through an ancient civilization from its beginnings to the present, with some memoir thrown in, for Mr. Kissinger played a critical role in opening China to the world, and his firsthand accounts of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong struck me as particularly enlightening.

Mr. Rumsfeld's book, like that of Mr. Kissinger, and for that matter like that of Acheson, covers an enormous amount of ground, from service to Richard M. Nixon to his role as secretary of defense under George W. Bush. There is much material for comment, but allowing for limited space, I should mention only the Lie. That is that "Bush lied and others died." There is much evidence here to refute that claim, not the least of which is that if the Bush administration lied, so did many of the world's intelligence agencies. For that matter, so did Saddam Hussein, even to his generals. Mr. Rumsfeld reminds us of all this; he quotes people, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry, urging us to war; and he mentions much else, most tellingly the small Kurdish town of Khurmal.

In Khurmal, our intelligence indicated that before the war, terrorists were engaged in putting the finishing touches on weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, Secretary of Defense Colin L. Powell mentioned the town in his speech to the United Nations before our invasion, and by the time our troops arrived, the terrorists had fled, but not without leaving evidence of their grisly business. I have no doubt that in the years to come, overwhelming evidence will come that Mr. Bush did not dupe us.

Mr. Kissinger begins his book with a majestic rendering of ancient China that suggests that for thousands of years, China was different from the West. His contention, it seems to me, is that the emerging China is still different, with different goals than, say, the British Empire. He may be right. I hope he is. In the meantime, I am glad for the services of the American Navy and Air Force in particular. In later chapters, Mr. Kissinger is particularly interesting in recounting his relations with Chinese leaders.

"The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture" by dramatist David Mamet has fetched my attention, and I am willing to recommend it as a splendid read, though probably not the most satisfactory reason for giving up on liberalism and joining the right. Ever since Whittaker Chambers, the journey to the right by leftists has been entertaining and at times moving, and Mr. Mamet's journey is no different. He has read the right books and formed the right conclusions. He writes with wit and a sense of irony, yet as he derives wisdom from both Friedrich Hayek and Glenn Beck, I think I will await his further lucubrations on the matter to consider him a sage. Suffice to say, he is a great dramatist, and I would like to get to know him better.

Finally, Andrew Roberts has a brilliant history of World War II, "The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War." I recommend it. I have in my library dozens of World War II histories, from the very earliest by B.H. Liddell Hart. Now all have been rendered curiosities or unfinished works by Mr. Roberts' stupendous history of the war in the theaters of Asia, Africa and Europe. He writes beautifully and brings alive on the page the statesmen, generals and admirals, and ordinary soldiers and sailors. He left me thinking: What if in the place of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill we had had Barack Obama and David Cameron in 1939? Mr. Obama really would have had to be the Messiah.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His new book is "After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery."

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