Donald Rumsfeld

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Donald H. Rumsfeld was both the youngest person to serve as U.S. Secretary of Defense, in the Administration (1975-1977), and the oldest, in the George W. Bush Administration (2001-2008).[1] He was among the most active and controversial Secretaries, especially directing the U.S. military after the 9-11 attack. After the 2008 Presidential election, he was replaced by his deputy, Robert Gates, who has continued as secretary in the Obama Administration.

Early career

He attended Princeton University on academic and NROTC scholarships (A.B., 1954) and served in the United States Navy (1954-57) as an aviator and flight instructor on the S-2 Tracker maritime patrol aircraft. In 1957, he transferred to the Ready Reserve and continued his Naval service in flying and administrative assignments as a drilling reservist until 1975. He transferred to the Standby Reserve when he became Secretary of Defense in 1975 and to the Retired Reserve with the rank of Captain in 1989.

In 1957, he came to Washington, DC to serve as Administrative Assistant to a Congressman, and then worked in investment banking.

Entry to politics

He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois in 1962, at the age of 30, and was re-elected in 1964, 1966, and 1968.

During his fourth term, Rumsfeld resigned from Congress to join the Nixon Administration. From 1969 to 1970, he served as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and Assistant to the President.

From 1971 to 1972, he was Counsellor to the President and Director of the Economic Stabilization Program. According to a recording between Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and H.R. Haldeman, Nixon was considering firing Rumsfeld from the White House staff, as the center of a group of internal antiwar advocates.[2]

In 1973, he left Washington, DC, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, Belgium (1973-1974). As a consequence, he was not associated with the Watergate activities, but he had a closer relationship with Nixon than was generally realized. Nixon respected him as the only senior staff member that had ever run for elective office. [3]

Ford Administration

In August 1974, he was called back to Washington, DC, to serve as Chairman of the transition to the Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. He then became Chief of Staff of the White House and a member of the President's Cabinet (1974-1975).

Dick Cheney was his deputy, regarded as hard-working and freeing Rumsfeld from minor details. He took an increasing role in intelligence policy. [4]

He served as the 13th U.S. Secretary of Defense, the youngest in the country's history (1975-1977). In 1977, Mr. Rumsfeld was awarded the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


From 1977 to 1985 he served as Chief Executive Officer, President, and then Chairman of G.D. Searle & Co., a worldwide pharmaceutical company. The successful turnaround there earned him awards as the Outstanding Chief Executive Officer in the Pharmaceutical Industry from the Wall Street Transcript (1980) and Financial World (1981). From 1985 to 1990 he was in private business.

Mr. Rumsfeld served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Instrument Corporation from 1990 to 1993. General Instrument Corporation was a leader in broadband transmission, distribution, and access control technologies. Until being sworn in as the 21st Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld served as Chairman of the Board of Gilead Sciences, Inc., a pharmaceutical company.

Advisory roles

Before returning for his second tour as Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld chaired the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States[5], in 1998, and the U.S. Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization,[6] in 2000.

During his business career, Mr. Rumsfeld continued his public service in a variety of Federal posts, including:

  • Member of the President's General Advisory Committee on Arms Control (1982 - 1986);
  • Special Presidential Envoy on the Law of the Sea Treaty (1982 - 1983);
  • Senior Advisor to the President's Panel on Strategic Systems (1983 - 1984);
  • Member of the U.S. Joint Advisory Commission on U.S./Japan Relations (1983 - 1984);
  • Special Presidential Envoy to the Middle East (1983 - 1984);
  • Member of the National Commission on Public Service (1987 - 1990);
  • Member of the National Economic Commission (1988 - 1989);
  • Member of the Board of Visitors of the National Defense University (1988 - 1992);
  • Member of the Commission on U.S./Japan Relations (1989 - 1991); and
  • Member of the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission (1999 - 2000).

Civic roles

While in the private sector, Mr. Rumsfeld's civic activities included service as a member of the National Academy of Public Administration and a member of the boards of trustees of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the National Park Foundation, and as Chairman of the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships, Inc.

George W. Bush Administration

As Secretary of Defense, he was, with the President, the National Command Authority, in the direct line of command for to the Unified Combatant Commands created by the Goldwater-Nichols Act.

Within the Administration, he was one of several key decisionmakers on national security, who sometimes fought over authority, including Vice-President Dick Cheney and White House advisers, as well as the first Bush Administration U.S. Secretary of State, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell. Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, thought the relationship was especially bitter; Armitage believed Rumsfeld wanted to invade Iraq with a small force, in part, to demonstrate rejection of the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine. [7]

As the only secretary to return to the position many years later, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the influential Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., considered him the toughest secretary the U.S. had ever had, since Rumsfeld had nothing to lose. [8]

Strategic view

Before taking office, Rumsfeld had recommended regime change in Iraq. [9]

He was concerned with what has been called "lawfare", or the "judicialization of international politics", which, according to Jack Goldsmith, a law professor and eventually Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, was a "potentially powerful check on American military power." Goldsmith, who shared the concern, came to the Department of Defense as Special Counsel. [10]


Rumsfeld tended to be distrustful of the United States intelligence community, especially the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1998, he chaired the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which took the position that the intelligence community took too much of a Cold War view, and did not give sufficient concern to rogue states. [5] In more than one case, he preferred a "top-down" approach to intelligence: begin with his best impression of the likely policy of an adversary, and then look for evidence to support that hypothesis. This approach has, indeed, been useful as a check on conventional intelligence analysis, but it can also distort a view, if the assumption is also made that the absence of evidence for a hypothesis does not disprove the hypothesis.[11] Proponents of the "absence of evidence" approach, however, point out that the adversary is often deliberately secret, and worst-case thinking can be prudent.

He created the Office of Special Plans, under Douglas Feith, specifically to make independent assessments of unprocessed intelligence reports.

9-11 attack

Rumsfeld was in the Pentagon Building when it was hit by American Airlines Flight 77. His immediate reaction was to rush to the crash site and assist in rescue efforts; his security staff insisted he go to a command post, but he insisted in staying in the building, sending a deputy to a secure facility.


One of his major thrusts was making the military smaller, lighter and more flexible, within a general framework that has been called the "revolution in military affairs", or, in his preferred term, "transformation". Some of his reforms were effective and some were not. He

“put special emphasis on the importance of more horizontal, decentralized structures that share and leverage the information necessary for effective and timely decision-making, as opposed to the bureaucratic stovepiping that dominated U.S. national security institutions during the Cold War[12]

The restructuring of the United States Army from organization around divisions to smaller brigades was very much part of this.

His emphasis was very much on high technology, including some that pushed the state of the art, the budget, or both, such as the Army's Future Combat Systems and the Air Force's F-22 Raptor, two programs that have been cut back by his successor. Part of the cuts had to do with paying for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a very strong advocate of special operations, although he tended to overemphasize the direct action and direct support to foreign forces, rather than their longer-term training and force development roles.

Management style

Many considered him a micromanager, or at least very concerned with being in control. GEN Tommy Franks, the commander in the Middle East on 9-11, who had a sometimes stormy relationship that, on balance, he considered positive. At his initial meeting, with the Unified Combatant Commanders in February 2001, Franks observed that Rumsfeld listened more than talked, but "imparted authority." Franks thought "Rumsfeld knows what he wants. The rest of us will know soon enough." [13]

LTG Mike DeLong, USMC, who was Franks' deputy, found Rumsfeld infuriating on the first occasion when he briefed him, but eventually built a strong relationship, speaking daily to Rumsfeld for two years. [14] When Franks went to Qatar to command the forward echelon, DeLong stayed in Tampa, often taking Rumsfeld's assignments.

Afghanistan War

Franks found him extremely impatient over the delays in putting special operations forces into Afghanistan, after the bombing had started on October 7, to the point, a week later at which he asked Rumsfeld to select a new commander if Rumsfeld had lost confidence in him,[15]

Iraq war

Planning phase

During the planning, Rumsfeld constantly emphasized reducing the force size and the speed of advance. LTG Greg Newbold, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed him with the contingency plan of the time, which called for up to 500,000 troops, was far too large; Rumsfeld thought that no more than 125,000 would be needed. Newbold later said he regretted he did not say, at the time,

Mr. Secretary, if you try to put a number on a mission like this, you may cause enormous mistakes. Give the military the task, give the military what you would like to see them do, and let them come up with it. I was the junior military man in the room, but I regret not saying it[16]

He came to like Franks' nontraditional plan and supported it.

Major combat phase

Rumsfeld constantly pressed for more speed and less force. He approved Franks' request to start the ground war 24 hours earlier, before the major air bombardment, because the Iraqis were moving forces into the oil fields, to defend or destroy them.[17]

Stabilization phase

Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet wrote of a November 11, 2003 meeting to consider the situation in Iraq. CIA had raised a concern over the increasing insurgency. Tenet said Rumsfeld, at first, deferred to CIA. When a CIA briefer mentioned "insurgency", however, Rumsfeld challenged the use of the term, and was shown how it met the three official characteristics of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nevertheless, according to Tenet, the message from the Oval Office was "no one in this administration will make any reference to an insurgency." [18]

Rumsfeld said to John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, that he was not supposed to say "terrorists" because it might prejudge people who might be tried. "I can say it is terrorist-like activity. Lawyers, they're dreadful."[19]

Retirement and legacy

Rumsfeld was one of the most controversial Secretaries of Defense in the history of the United States, and one of the most polarizing members of the Bush cabinet. His management of the Iraq invasion and occupation has been criticized widely. In 2006, several retired US generals called on Rumsfeld to resign.[20] Although President George W. Bush continued to support Rumsfeld as his Secretary of Defense through 2006, Rumsfeld submitted his resignation November 6 of that year, one day before mid-term elections in the US in which the president's Republican Party suffered a crushing defeat. After the election, Bush announced Rumsfeld's departure. He was replaced by Robert Gates.

Early in 2011, Rumsfeld published the memoir Known and Unknown: A Memoir about his entire career. The book received scathing reviews from both politically liberal and conservative critics who viewed his treatment of his period as Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush as an exercise in historical revisionism.

Liberal reviewers claimed Rumsfeld tried to minimize his responsibility in the mismanagement of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Jonathon Powell, former chief of staff to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, called the book “mean spirited.” He complained that Rumsfeld blames everyone else for all the mistakes, while absolving himself of all blame.[21] British Law Professor Philippe Sands QC of University College, London, described the tone of the book as “bitter” and accused Rumsfeld of a “lack of attention in detail and a mind lacking in rigour.”[22] Conservative critics also rejected the book for Rumsfeld’s failure to accept responsibility for his policy mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan dismissed it as “an extended effort at blame deflection.”[23] Noonan rebuked Rumsfeld for his self-serving use of policy memos:

Most memos prove nothing. It is disturbing that so many Bush-era memoirs rely so heavily on them.

Adam Garfinkle described the book in conservative magazine National Review as a “snow job of blizzard scale festooned with [many] logical curiosities.”[24]


  1. Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Department of Defense
  2. Mann, pp. 1-4
  3. Mann, pp. 5-7
  4. Mann, James (2004), Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, Penguin, ISBN 0670932999, pp. 59-61
  5. 5.0 5.1 Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, July 15, 1998
  6. Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization
  7. Thomas Ricks (2006), Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Penguin, p. 102
  8. Bob Woodward (2004), Plan of Attack, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 074325547X, pp. 263-264
  9. Letter from the Project for a New American Century to President Bill Clinton. Dated January 26, 1998. Retrieved May 7, 2008.
  10. Jack Goldsmith (2007), The Terror Presidency, W.W. Norton, ISBN 9780393065503, pp. 38-39
  11. Michael Isikoff, David Corn (2006), Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the selling of the Iraq War, Crown, ISBN 0307346811, pp. 107-108
  12. Robert D. Kaplan (July/August 2008), "What Rumsfeld Got Right", The Atlantic
  13. Tommy Franks with Malcolm McConnell (2004), American Soldier, Regan Books, HarperCollins, ISBN 0060779343, pp. 229-230
  14. Michael DeLong with Noah Lukeman (2009), Inside CENTCOM: the Unvarnished Truth about the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Regnery, ISBN 0895260204, pp. 44-45
  15. Franks, pp. 300-301
  16. COBRA II, p. 4
  17. Woodward, p. 402
  18. Tenet, George (2007). At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061147784. , pp. 437-438
  19. Woodward, p. 407
  20. Cloud, David S., Eric Schmitt. More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld's Resignation, The New York Times, 2006-04-14. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
  21. Powell, Jonathon. Known and Unknown: a Memoir, New Statesman, 2011-03-07. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
  22. Sands, Philippe. Known and Unknown by Donald Rumsfeld – review, The Guardian, 2011-03-05. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
  23. Noonan, Peggy. The Defense Secretary Who Let Bin Laden Get Away, Wall Street Journal, 2011-03-11. Retrieved on 2011-03-28.
  24. Garfinkle, Adam. Wrestling with History, National Review, April 4, 2011. Retrieved on March 28, 2011.