Donald Rumsfeld has a few regrets -- but not many.
In his upcoming memoir "Known And Unknown," the Bush-era Pentagon chief lists some of them: claiming that the U.S. knew the location of Iraqi WMDs, not authorizing more troops after the invasion of Iraq, and not quitting after the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse scandal.
But for the most part, Rumsfeld remains defiantly self-righteous about his tenure as Bush's Defense Secretary -- defending his often-criticized decisions and blaming almost everyone else for mistakes that were made -- in the 800-page book, a copy of which was obtained by The Huffington Post. Notably missing from the book is any mention of Pat Tillman, the football star turned soldier whose death by friendly fire was covered up by the Pentagon.
And Rumsfeld has no regrets for the Iraq War, saying that the Mideast would be "far more perilous" with Saddam Hussein still in power and crediting Bush and an "aggressive, unrelenting offensive against the enemy" for preventing another 9/11. Rumsfeld finishes the book on a self-satisfied note, saying that President Obama has largely "kept in place the most contentious and widely derided Bush administration policies" -- terrorists are still not accorded POW status, Gitmo remains open, terrorist suspects are still being tried in military commissions rather than civilian courts, electronic surveillance and drone attacks continue. Obama's "latter-day support" of these Bush-era decisions, he asserts, "are the correct ones."
And he emphasizes his doubts about a full military engagement in Afghanistan, saying that he "did not see more U.S. troops as the solution to Afghanistan's many challenges." He adds, in a line that echoes that of current war critics: "Sending more troops to the village and valleys of Afghanistan would not resolve the country's long-term problems. In fact, they could exacerbate them by fostering resentment among a proud population and providing more targets for our enemies to attack."
Rumsfeld says Bush invited him into the Oval Office just 15 days after the 9/11 attacks, when the focus was on targeting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and ordered a review of war plans for Iraq. "Two weeks after the worst terror attacks in our nation's history, those of us in the Department of Defense were full occupied," writes Rumsfeld. Yet Bush called for "creative" options to militarily engage Iraq.
Rumsfeld reveals Hussein targeted his two daughters and Bush's two daughters for reprisal attacks and that he planned to pay $60 million to his agents to pull off the deed, according to an intelligence report. Pictures of Bush's daughters surfaced in the palace of Hussein's brutal son, Uday.
Rumsfeld twice tried to quit in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, which he says "left me feeling punched in the gut." Saying he felt his resignation would demonstrate accountability and help the administration move beyond the scandal, he gave letters to Bush, who refused and instead suggested firing Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But selfless Rumsfeld scotched that idea.
He claims Bush and Cheney repeatedly persuaded him to stay and even Bill Clinton once told him at a WWII memorial dedication that "no one with an ounce of sense thinks you had any way in the world to know about the abuse taking place that night in Iraq."
Rumsfeld now regrets his decision to remain on, calling it a misjudgment because it contributed to the drumbeat of "torture" maintained by "partisan" critics of the war and Bush. Interestingly, he thinks that all the pictures, which he says included Americans engaging in sexual and sadistic acts with other Americans, should have been released because it would have demonstrated it was the fault of a few bad apples.
Rumsfeld also proudly touts his opposition to the Pentagon ever using waterboarding, stripping or other brutal techniques during interrogations. As for his decision to allow tough techniques to be used on al-Qaida suspect Muhammed al-Qahtani, he claims he suspended such approval as soon as he learned the interrogation might be construed as mistreatment.
He defends most of his judgments during the war, including the oft-criticized decision not to pursue Osama Bin Laden when he was widely believed to be hiding in the Tora Bora region in Afghanistan. He says he deferred to the commander in charge, General Tommy Franks, to determine "whether attempting to apprehend one man on the run, whose whereabouts were not known with certainty, was worth the risks inherent in such a venture." He then claims that adding forces to Tora Bora risked an increase in casualties and more criticism from war critics.
Rumsfeld backs up his argument by claiming that previous Bin Laden sightings all proved to be false, including a Predator video feed of a tall, lanky man wearing white robes who intrigued military commanders until he started running, proving to be a young doppelganger.
Later, Rumsfeld changed his mind but, alas, he was too late. He asserts that he sent a memo to CIA director George Tenet arguing that the U.S. might be "missing an opportunity" in Tora Bora and that perhaps more troops should be brought in. And he says he made it clear to Franks that he would get the general more troops as quickly as possible if needed.
Noting that he only learned much later about a CIA operative's request for Army Rangers in the region, Rumsfeld says he never received such a request from Franks or Tenet and "cannot imagine denying it if I had." So, who's to blame for the missed opportunity to potentially nab the world's biggest terrorist? Rumsfeld blames a problem in the chain of command, poor information or imperfect memories.
As for the infamous intelligence failures about Iraq and WMDs, Rumsfeld defensively notes that history is rife with examples of flawed intelligence affecting national security decisions, from Vietnam and the Cold War to the Iranian revolution and Chinese missile deployments. Amid the drumbeat over WMDs in the prelude to the invasion, Rumsfeld believes he provides the voice of reason. Writing a note to himself, he once wrote "caution - strong case" but added "could be wrong."
Other players in the WMD drama, of course, come across as flawed characters, particularly Colin Powell. Disputing the "narrative" that later emerged -- how Powell was misled into making his false declarations in his UN speech -- he notes that the former Secretary of State was fully aware of all the intelligence.
"Powell was not duped or misled by anybody, nor did he lie about Saddam's suspected WMD stockpiles. The President did not lie. The Vice President did not lie... the far less dramatic truth is that we were wrong."
As for the decision to not send more troops to Iraq in the wake of the invasion, Rumsfeld accuses his accusers, including Powell. In conversations with the president and his staff, Powell "did not raise any questions about troop levels, the war plan or the number of troops in a postwar environment," despite media reports that Powell had made those arguments.
As for the widely-derided decision to disband the Iraqi Army, leading to chaos in the country, he blames Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Naturally, Rumsfeld wanted to retain the army, but Bremer "recommended a change of course."
And he mocks generals turned war skeptics Eric Shinseki and James L. Jones, angrily noting they disputed to him the claims made in a Washington Post story about their opposition but that they never asked the paper for a correction. He claims when Bush invited them, along with senior military officials, to the White House and directly asked them to offer their views, Shinseki and Jones remained silent. And he disputes accounts that Shinseki was pushed out or vilified by the administration. Of course, Rumsfeld believes the whole episode was unfair to him because it "bolstered this allegation that I was intolerant of views that challenged my own and that I punished those who put them forward."
(He even says that Bush made the right decisions after Hurricane Katrina, saying the military response was swifter than any previous handling of a natural disaster in American history.)
Fittingly, Rumsfeld starts the book with a description of his legendary meeting with Saddam Hussein, which he claims has been the subject of "gossip, rumors, and crackpot conspiracy theories." As President Reagan's Mideast envoy, Rumsfeld says he was sent to Baghdad because the country was the enemy of Iran and Syria, two nations that threatened the interests of the U.S., and "there was a clear logic in trying to cultivate warmer relations with Saddam Hussein's Iraq."
During the meeting, at which Hussein came across as "rather reasonable" while they sat at opposite ends of a gold and burgundy-upholstered table, they discussed the ongoing Iran-Iraq war and a U.S. proposal to funnel Iraqi oil through a pipeline to Jordan. Hussein repeated word for word a line Rumsfeld had used the day before in a meeting with another Iraqi official, leading the American envoy to believe that session may have been bugged. And Hussein gave Rumsfeld an unusual gift, a videotape containing three minutes of amateurish footage of Syrian brutality: people strangling puppies and young women biting the heads off of snakes.
In addition to his habit of putting a self-righteous spin on his regrets, Rumsfeld paints himself as the rare man of integrity during national scandals, from Watergate to Abu Ghraib.
He proudly claims he presciently noted in a memo to Nixon that the 1972 campaign team "must scrupulously avoid going 'over the line.'" And in a senior staff meeting at the White House the day after Woodward and Bernstein's first story about Watergate in the Washington Post , Rumsfeld asserts he defied his colleagues and demanded to get to the root of the problem, saying, "If any jackass across the street [at campaign headquarters] or here had anything to do with this, he should be hung up by his thumbs today."
Rumsfeld is dismissive in his attitude to Powell and Rice, whose decisions he constantly criticizes. Even before 9/11, he says Powell's State Department continually opposed his recommendation to reduce the numbers of American military forces in different regions. And he claims Powell helped cultivate the false image of battling the forces of unilateralism and conservatism, when in fact the Secretary of State rarely spoke out at meetings or opposed the president.
Rice is also portrayed as an unorganized control freak -- Rumsfeld claims she was indecisive and her staff was late in sending papers to meetings. And he bluntly states Rice and her staff lacked the interest and the skill to manage U.S. efforts in Iraq, saying that the decision to give her an operation role in Iraq was a "grievous mistake."
When Rice once pointed out that the pinstripes on his pant leg were worn off, Rumsfeld teased her by quipping that his wife could sew them back on, relishing in Rice's wide-eyed response.
He also snaps at Senator John McCain, calling him a man "with a hair-trigger temper and a propensity to fashion and shift his positions to appeal to the media."
And Rumsfeld, who was one of the first supporters of a Freedom of Information Act but came to believe it was being abused, reserves plenty of scorn for the media. Though he praises the New York Times's John Burns and Dexter Filkins for "some of the best reporting from the war."
As for the rest of the war coverage, he's got his daggers out -- the "irresponsible reporting" of widespread looting after the invasion was harmful to the troops. Though he regrets saying "Stuff happens!" about the looting, he says the media made too much of the phrase and spread "grossly false and harmful stories" about it.
He goes on at length about a piece by legendary columnist Jack Anderson that describes Rumsfeld's opulent office when he was President Nixon's anti-poverty czar. He claims he sent a four-page response to Anderson, correcting his mistakes, but the columnist refused to run a correction, saying that newspapers would drop his column if he did so. "The episode was like a body blow and left me with a deep caution of the press," he said.
Rumsfeld also drops some odd celebrity encounters, from he and his wife's friendship with Sammy Davis Jr. to his backstage Vegas meeting with Elvis Presley, who wanted to talk about the U.S. Army. And he movingly displays a vulnerable side, describing efforts by two of his three children to deal with drug addiction.
Rumsfeld plans to post some of his archive of notes and other primary source documents on his website, rumsfeld.com, which has attracted some criticism because it is believed to include classified documents.
But he makes no mention of WikiLeaks and its recent release of secret documents from the Iraqi and Afghan wars. Just imagine what he would have said about the whistleblower site if it had existed back then to make known the unknown.
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