How A Defense Secretary Works: Inside The Turbulent Mind Of Donald Rumsfeld

The Long March
Associated Press

Editor’s note: The Long March will be closed for inventory the month of August. We regret any inconvenience this causes our loyal customers. In an effort to keep you reasonably content and focussed, we are offering re-runs of some of the best columns of the year. We value your custom and hope you will stick around for . . . the Long March

I spent a few hours on Wednesday reading through hundreds of memos just released by the National Security Archive that were written by Donald Rumsfeld in his first two years as President Bush’s defense secretary.

Some are just bizarre. (He wondered if he could get Jamie McIntyre, then of CNN, to throw a $100 bill at him during a press conference.) Some are petulant — he really dislikes the briefing papers given to him by the Joint Staff, and is mad when someone shows up late to a meeting. And he seems to spend an awful lot of time reading emails full of advice from Newt Gingrich, even on weird minor stuff like the state of the Pentagon library (Dec. 29, 2001).  

But most of all what strikes me is how hard he was working to get his arms around the Pentagon, and even his own job. What committees and boards is he a member of by statute, he asks. Why does the Navy have so many medical officers? (No one really knows.) Where does all the money go? Who keeps track of it? Why don’t his assistants keep track of commitments he makes in meetings, especially on personnel matters?  Why does he feel undermined by career bureaucrats? (See Nov. 29, 2001) Why does he always have to ask for his schedule? And what happened to his dentist appointment? (See Nov. 28, 2001)

We also see additional evidence that in December 2001, with Kabul taken, Rumsfeld turned his attention to Iraq. I mentioned this in my book Fiasco, but it is always good to see additional evidence. See, for example, the memo of Dec. 29, 2001, asking for background information on that country’s Kurdish and Shiite populations. On Christmas Day 2001, Gingrich was writing to Rumsfeld about the need to conduct war games involving Iraq. On Dec. 29, Rumsfeld told his top subordinates that he found Gingrich’s note “very interesting.”

Overall, I came away feeling a twinge of sympathy for Rumsfeld, whom I generally think was an awful secretary of defense — surprisingly slow on decision-making, and quite AWOL on Iraq after the summer of 2003.

Btw, if you want to search for your own name, go to the National Security Archive’s page and then click on the upper right hand corner, which offers a PDF that is much more friendly to search.

Recent commentary on the F-35 fifth-generation fighter has centered around its firepower and stealth capabilities, but a recently released demonstration video depicts the fighter jet in a pleasantly different light.

Read More Show Less

Comedian Steve Carell will be starring in an upcoming Netflix show about the new Space Force that's being described as a "workplace comedy."

Yeah, that's right. The Office, but in freaking space.

Read More Show Less
George Washington takes command of the Continental army. (Mount Vernon via Smithsonian)

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch; Flatiron Books (413 pages, $29.99)


New York City has seen dark times, but in the spring and early summer of 1776 the outlook was especially grim. The Revolutionary War was in its early, chaotic days, the British fleet sailed en masse toward the city, and in a desperate defensive measure, General George Washington ordered thousands of his Continental troops into lower Manhattan. Almost a third of the city's citizens fled, and Washington's filthy, untrained and undisciplined soldiers quartered themselves in the elegant houses left behind. They were hungry, cold and scared, and they numbed their fear with drink, gambling and prostitutes. They were about to face the greatest military force in the world, outgunned and outmanned, fighting for a country that hadn't been created yet.

In hindsight, America's victory against the British seems like one of history's inevitabilities, but in the beginning it was anything but. And had a small group of pro-British conspirators had their way, the Glorious Cause might have lost its essential leader — George Washington — to imprisonment, execution or assassination.

Read More Show Less
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., center, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are disagreeing with President Donald Trump's sudden decision to pull all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Lindsey Graham essentially laid the deaths of the unknown number of U.S. soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Manbij, Syria, on Wednesday at the feet of President Donald Trump during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Bloomberg News reports.

Read More Show Less