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The Real Donald Rumsfeld

Douglas Feith has a piece in the Washington Post which contradicts the media's and some retired generals' persona of Donald Rumsfeld. Here's a portion:

Much of what you know about Donald Rumsfeld is wrong.

I worked intimately with Rumsfeld for four years, from the summer of 2001 until I left the Pentagon in August 2005. Through countless meetings and private conversations, I came to learn his traits, frame of mind and principles -- characteristics wholly at odds with the standard public depiction of Rumsfeld, particularly now that he has stepped down after a long, turbulent tenure as defense secretary, a casualty of our toxic political climate

I know that Don Rumsfeld is not an ideologue. He did not refuse to have his views challenged. He did not ignore the advice of his military advisers. And he did not push single-mindedly for war in Iraq. He was motivated to serve the national interest by transforming the military, though it irritated people throughout the Pentagon. Rumsfeld's drive to modernize created a revealing contrast between his Pentagon and the State Department, where Colin Powell was highly popular among the staff. After four years of Powell's tenure at State, the organization chart there would hardly tip anyone off that 9/11 had occurred -- or even that the Cold War was over.

Those of us in his inner circle heard him say, over and over again: Our intelligence, in all senses of the term, is limited. We cannot predict the future. We must continually question our preconceptions and theories. If events contradict them, don't suppress the bad news; rather, change your preconceptions and theories.

If an ideologue is someone to whom the facts don't matter, then Rumsfeld is the opposite of an ideologue. He insists that briefings for him be full of facts, thoughtfully organized and rigorously sourced. He demands that facts at odds with his key policy assumptions be brought to his attention immediately. "Bad news never gets better with time," he says, and berates any subordinate who fails to rush forward to him with such news. He does not suppress bad news; he acts on it.

In late 2002, Pentagon lawyers told Rumsfeld that the detainee interrogation techniques in the old Army field manual were well within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions and U.S. statutes. Detainee information could help us prevent another terrorist attack, and al-Qaeda personnel were trained to resist standard interrogations. So, with the advice of counsel, military officers at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, asked Rumsfeld to authorize additional techniques thought to fall safely within the bounds of the law. He did so.

Less than a month later, in December 2002, Jim Haynes, the Defense Department's general counsel, brought him the disturbing news that some lawyers in the military departments questioned the legality of the additional techniques. Rumsfeld did not brush off the questions or become defensive. In short order, he directed Haynes to revoke the authority for the new techniques. He told him to gather all the relevant lawyers in the department and review the matter -- and he would not approve any new techniques until that review was completed. It took almost four months.

I was impressed by how quickly Haynes brought the information to Rumsfeld and how Rumsfeld changed course upon receiving it. It seemed to me that if the country's leading civil libertarians had been in on the meetings with us, they would have approved of the way Rumsfeld handled the service lawyers' dissent. This story bears telling because when the cruel and sexually bizarre behavior at Abu Ghraib occurred many months later, critics inaccurately depicted Rumsfeld as disrespectful of laws on detainee treatment.

Read the entire piece.


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Comments (10)

This is from Doug Feith, th... (Below threshold)

This is from Doug Feith, the guy Tommy Franks called "the stupidest fucking guy on the planet". Great source.

Ah, the old "he's stupid" a... (Below threshold)

Ah, the old "he's stupid" argument. Good one, Frank. Discussion over. Everyone go home. Aren't you glad that active military is largely kept from forcing you to see a more balanced perspective? That while Rumsfeld isn't perfect, he's also not the complete idiot you and others like to portray him as? Many of us agree that Rumsfeld was gradually becoming less effective and his resignation was somewhat late, but don't let that stop you from dodging pertinent discussion with the "stupid" argument.

Hey Oyster what do you expe... (Below threshold)

Hey Oyster what do you expect from someone that voted for Speaker Stretch and her kind.

"Ah, the old "he's stupid" ... (Below threshold)

"Ah, the old "he's stupid" argument"

Actually, it's quite telling when the General and Commander in chief calls his own Under Secretary of Defense "the stupidest fu**ing guy on the planet"

But dismiss if you must, whatever keeps your dissonance at bay.

jp2, its a data point. Fine... (Below threshold)

jp2, its a data point. Fine. It carries some weight.

And Tommy Franks is an american hero, imo.

None the less, when one sets out to restructure a bureaucracy, the bureaucracy fights back. The structure may be right about some things, but it will wrong about a lot also.

Rumsfeld is an upstanding guy. Always has been. You are the one dismissing the argument because of the messenger.

I think the real von Rumsfe... (Below threshold)

I think the real von Rumsfeld is probably the guy reviled by the vast majority of our high level military command for his arrogance and willful disregard for reality. You know, the guys who had to try and make his underfunded, misguided and myopic strategy work.

Rumseld is not an idiot, tr... (Below threshold)

Rumseld is not an idiot, true. But when you wheel a guy out to his defense who has no credibility even with in the structure of the institution in which he worked, you are really grabbing at straws for a character endorsement.

Rumsfeld is the worst kind ... (Below threshold)
marz bar:

Rumsfeld is the worst kind of idiot, the kind that thinks he's a genius. Bad metacognitive skills - his confidence is his own judgment was misplaced.

He fought expanding the size of the Army when anyone could see that more troops would be needed. The troops have borne the burden of this misjudgment - long and repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Anybody who stands up to th... (Below threshold)

Anybody who stands up to the wack jobs in Congress and the Press has my sympathies. I admire his dedication and hard work, even if he was wrong in some of the decisions he made.

Hell, he led the most successful combat ops. in modern history, but nobody saw the insurgency coming like it did.

Alot of the bitchin' is hindsight/20-20/armchair quarterbackin'.

I have to laugh when blog c... (Below threshold)

I have to laugh when blog commenters like marz call Romsfeld "the worst kind of idiot." You want to match resumes with him?






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