Rumsfeld taps decades of documents for memoirWASHINGTON - If the memoir of Donald Rumsfeld, among the most powerful and controversial U.S. secretaries of defense, catches on with readers and critics, he could cite one of his many “Rumsfeld’s Rules’’: “The harder I work, the luckier I am.’’ When Rumsfeld began thinking about his book, “Known and Unknown,’’ he imagined a more typical Washington release: a quick, impressionistic story based on whatever he recalled.
Instead, he and a team of six aides worked four years on what became a 700-page narrative, with an additional 100-plus pages of end notes.
Dozens of books were consulted and thousands of documents reviewed, from White House memos to letters Rumsfeld’s parents wrote to each other during World War II. Rumsfeld’s sister Joan and former Secretary of State George Shultz were among the friends, family members and colleagues who came to Washington for conversations.
“I started thinking about this amazing archive I had,’’ he said during a recent interview. “The fact that I had it persuaded me that I ought to take advantage of it.’’
Rumsfeld is seated in a conference room at his office suite, where the walls document a long, high-level life of politics and history: a photograph of then-Representative Rumsfeld with President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s; a signed copy of President Gerald Ford’s swearing-in statement in 1974; a piece of shrapnel from the hijacked plane that struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. At 78, Rumsfeld had enough energy to narrate the audio edition of the book himself - eight days of recording, eight hours a day. He looks grayer, but otherwise little changed from his time as defense secretary under President George W. Bush, with his rimless glasses and quick, confident grin.
For much of his career in public office, Rumsfeld has been compiling information. As a Republican congressman from Illinois, he kept records on every vote he made and the reason for each decision. He held on to notes from presidential briefings and recorded thoughts and ideas into a Dictaphone. Rumsfeld has set up a Web site, www.rumsfeld.com (which goes live on publication day, Feb. 8), that allows visitors to link to the documents he used as source material.
During his interview, Rumsfeld showed samples, including eight pages of notes from a briefing Johnson gave in 1966 on the Vietnam War and White House papers from July 1975, when he was chief of staff under President Ford, with passages initialed by Rumsfeld’s then-assistant, Dick Cheney.
“It’s not a journal, it’s not a diary,’’ he said of the Ford White House notes. “It is a set of working documents that I’ve never edited. In fact, most I’ve never reread.’’
Another Rumsfeld Rule: “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.’’ As defense secretary, he was admired as daring and innovative by foreign policy hawks and others, and was a close ally of Vice President Cheney. But he was deeply disliked by opponents of the Iraq war, and many Democrats and even some former military leaders urged his resignation. He was an architect of the Iraq conflict, whose departure was announced after election day in 2006, as the war became increasingly unpopular and Republicans lost control of Congress.
Few words during his tenure stood out more than the response Rumsfeld offered in 2002 about the lack of evidence that Iraq was supplying terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because, as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know,’’ he said. “There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.’’
And so, with a wink, he called his book “Known and Unknown.’’ He explains that his comments have roots in war theory, philosophy and in science.
He says the idea of “known knowns’’ and “unknown unknowns’’ and so forth came up during intelligence briefings.
“I used the phrase in a Pentagon press conference one day, and that’s when it started rolling,’’ Rumsfeld said. “I titled the book that because I believe people will find there are things they didn’t know.’’
“Known and Unknown’’ will take on the most sensitive subjects, from the detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.