November 7th, 2006 was a black day in recent history. Not necessarily because of the results of the midterm-elections themselves but since in the aftermath Donald Rumsfeld had to resign his position as secretary of defense. And yet, though he knew for sure that he was sacrificed only to satisfy the public need for a scapegoat he was loyal to the president up to the last moment.
During his term in office he had his decisive share in starting and promoting the conversion of the United States armed forces from a traditional cold war „steel“ army focussed on deterring few, but strong and rational enemies into a high-tech force able to meet the threats of a multipolar world consisting of plenty of failed and rogue states often led by accredited loonies while at the same time keeping in mind that there are still potential big enemies like rising China.
Already the fall of the supposedly invincible Taliban within a few weeks was astounding, given the widespread warnings that Afghanistan has always been unconquerable. But the defeat of the Iraqi military, at this time still one of the strongest armies of the Middle East, by a comparatively tiny expedition force – which was even hampered by the own NATO allies – nearly without losses had hardly an equal in recent history. While it was the final proof that Rumsfelds reforms were a striking success it is possible that the free world will realize their real value not until many years have gone by.
That Rumsfeld had to defend and enforce these reforms against a strong opposition by people who were fearing for their jobs or who were at least unable to adjust themselves to the new challenges of the 21st century is even more impressive as he himself is not a young man any more. Though it may sound paradox he can be described as unique combination of a gentleman conservative and a radical revolutionary who, though not being a „real“ neocon himself, provided the neocons with the military tool needed to pursue their strategy of global democratization.
That many critics of his approach never understood what his reforms were about is no surprise as expressions like „network centric warfare“ definitely are too complicated for the average MSM guy or other less bright heads. But that even people who once liked being seen with Rumsfeld when everything went fine now blame him for developments who are beyond his or anyone elses control is, to be honest, slightly disappointing. All the more it is important not to forget his merits. Thus this site is intended to pay tribute to maybe the best defense secretary the United States ever had.
Perhaps not as important as his work as secretary of defense but by far more entertaining is Donald Rumsfelds second job as one of the worlds leading suppliers of high-quality bon mots. Contrary to most politicians in the defense and security branch he is able to fight his wars not only with weapons but also with words. Especially during his first years in the Bush administration as „Old Rumsfeld“ the collection of his quotes contained more usable material than many professional comedians produce in their whole lifetime. With his unrivaled combination of stunning bluntness and sarcastic ready wit he is one of the very few politicians where it is fun listening to.
Listed below is my personal and thus very subjective „Best Of Rummy“. Let’s hope that now, without the further need for the annoying nuisance of diplomatic considerateness, the master will add some more gems within the years to come.
Public enemy No. 1
And if it’s only to shock the PC crowd back in Old Europe the „dead or alive“ rhetoric was worth it! The statement about his preferences concerning the wellbeing of Osama Bin Laden was the big bang that made me a Rummy fan. Still today just to remember the disgusted reactions among the anti-Bush loonies draws a smile in my face.
Reporter: „Mr. Secretary, is bin Laden alive or dead apparently now? And if he is alive, is the United States winning the war on terrorism?“
Rumsfeld: „Charlie, the answer to the question „Is he alive or dead“ — the answer is yes, he is alive or dead.“
„Well, the president’s policy is dead or alive. And, you know, I have my preference.“
„We do know of certain knowledge that he is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead.“
„Well, first of all, we don’t know if he’s in a cave. When I get up in the morning, I picture him in a cave. But he may not be in a cave.“
„I mean, let’s face it. They weren’t exactly baking cookies in those caves.“
No more Mr. Nice Guy
As a matter of fact a secretary of defense is by definition forced to care about unpleasant things like war and death and the methods necessary to win the former by causing the latter, subjects which are usually avoided by politicians who prefer being photographed hugging little children. Thus Rumsfelds willingness to irritate those who take such photographs by putting things straight can’t be valued high enough.
„As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.“
„Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.“
„I’m hopeful that some will surrender. I suspect some won’t, and I suspect the result from that will be that the opposition forces will kill them.“
Reporter: „What are you trying to do with those bunker busters?“
Rumsfeld: „Kill people.“
Reporter: „I meant what do you hope to find when you go to the place you dropped the bombs?“
Rumsfeld: „Dead people.“
Reporter: „What about the criticism from human rights organizations for using the cluster bombs, they’re calling for a halt – could you explain the tactical rationale for using them?“
Rumsfeld: „They are being used on front-line al Qaeda and Taliban troops to try to kill them, is why we’re using them, to be perfectly blunt.“
„Our task, your task… is to try to connect the dots before something happens. People say, ‚Well, where’s the smoking gun?‘ Well, we don’t want to see a smoking gun from a weapon of mass destruction.“
On the edge of philosophy
When Rumsfeld speaks about things we know or should know or might know or don’t know this is sometimes accompanied by false reports he might get senile. But this is utter nonsense, caused only by the inability of his audience to follow abstract issues if they are delivered in sentences longer than three to five words. If one really concentrates on what he says it becomes obvious that it’s mostly brilliant and often of near philosphical quality.
„I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started.“
„If I said yes, that would then suggest that that might be the only place where it might be done which would not be accurate, necessarily accurate. It might also not be inaccurate, but I’m disinclined to mislead anyone.“
„There’s another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something does exist does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn’t exist.“
„I think what you’ll find, I think what you’ll find is, whatever it is we do substantively, there will be near-perfect clarity as to what it is. And it will be known, and it will be known to the Congress, and it will be known to you, probably before we decide it, but it will be known.“
„I don’t know what the facts are but somebody’s certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know.“
„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 we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.“
Rumsfeld on Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld may not do quagmires but he knows perfectly well how to do self irony, something hardly found in living politicians and even less in dead ones. That’s also why he is wrong by stating that he was not right when he said he’s sweet and lovable. He definitely is.
„I don’t do quagmires.“
„I shouldn’t get into … this is diplomacy, and I don’t do diplomacy.“
„Oh goodness … I shouldn’t say ‚I don’t think so‘, although that’s what I think.“
„I don’t know what I said, but I know what I think, and, well, I assume it’s what I said.“
„„I’m not into this detail stuff. I’m more concepty.“
„I am not going to give you a number for it because it’s not my business to do intelligent work.“
Now, settle down, settle down. Hell, I’m an old man, it’s early in the morning and I’m gathering my thoughts here.“
„Once in a while, I’m standing here, doing something. And I think, „What in the world am I doing here?“ It’s a big surprise.“
Reporter: „Sir, there’s a widespread perception in this town that when it comes to the Iraqis and the Palestinians, you are a hard-liner. Are you comfortable with that? And –„
Rumsfeld: „Look at me! I’m sweet and lovable.“
„I did say one thing that was probably not right, when I said I was sweet and lovable.“
Meet the press
Seeing how Rumsfeld transforms boring press conferences into a perfect late night show is always big fun. Even if he tells someone that he won’t tell him anything thanks to the entertaining way he does it it’s difficult to be angry about him. If there wouldn’t be any other reason to become a journalist being able that way to lay hands on a ticket for a Rumsfeld live performance would already be one.
„If I know the answer I’ll tell you the answer, and if I don’t, I’ll just respond, cleverly.“
„You will only received direct, honest answers from me, and they’ll either be that I know and I’ll answer you, or I don’t know, or I know and I won’t answer you. And that’ll be it.“
„I think we ought to have a new rule: You can ask two questions, and then we can pick the one we want to answer.“
„If I said that there is another alternative to that, and yet I couldn’t say what it might be, then I would feel that you would be – feel unfulfilled again and – and that would bother me deeply.“
Reporter: „Mr. Secretary, I’m very sorry, but I am really confused.“
Rumsfeld: „Don’t be sorry“.
Reporter: „I am really, really confused here.“
Rumsfeld: „Don’t be. We will help you. We are here to help you.“
Reporter: „It’s apparent that that decision to strike was not in line with what we have been led to believe about the war plan. Was the intelligence you got fragile enough where you felt you had to go at that moment and not start with, say, shock and awe or some other phase of the war?“
Rumsfeld: „Well, Dick, calibrate me, but the first thing I’d say is I don’t believe you have the war plan – a fact which does not make me unhappy.“
Rules of engagement
As an experienced politician Rumsfeld learned in decades what the political business ist really about. And he knows how to put these experiences into words so that all people who are thinking of a political career can learn a lot from them.
„I have benefitted greatly from criticism and at no time I have suffered a lack thereof.“
„In politics, every day is filled with numerous opportunities for serious error. Enjoy it.“
„Don’t begin to think you’re the President. You’re not. The Constitution provides for only one.“
„Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance.“
„Reduce the number of lawyers. They are like beavers – they get in the middle of the stream and dam it up.“
„Don’t think of yourself as indispensable or infallible. As Charles De Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.“
“Napoleon was asked, „Who do you consider to be the greatest generals?“ He responded saying, „The victors.“”
„Success tends to go not to the person who is error-free, because he also tends to be risk-averse. Rather it goes to the person who recognizes that life is pretty much a percentage business.“
„Beware when any idea is promoted primarily because it is ‚bold, exciting, innovative, and new.‘ There are many ideas that are ‚bold, exciting, innovative and new,‘ but also foolish.“
Words of wisdom
But also if one’s plans don’t lead directly into the Oval Office Rummy has got some general tips & tricks which are also useful in everyday life. Listen carefully and you might avoid a lot of trouble.
„If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.“
„The way to do well is to do well.“
„If in doubt, don’t. If still in doubt, do what’s right.“
„Learn to say ‚I don’t know.‘ If used when appropriate, it will be often.“
“It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.”
The dear colleagues
As a secretary of defense one meets a lot of interesting people. Some require loyalty. Some don’t. And the complicated part ist to distinguish between those two groups. Rumsfeld does not only know how to do that, he also finds the right words to tell them to which group they belong.
„Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said.“
„Secretary Powell and I agree on every single issue that has ever been before this administration except for those instances where Colin’s still learning.“
Reporter: „Secretary Rumsfeld, can you give us — or maybe even General Pace — can you give us any idea of what’s happening –„
Rumsfeld: „What do you mean „even General Pace“? [to the general] You don’t have to take that from him!“
„We do have a saying in America: if you’re in a hole, stop digging ….. erm, I’m not sure I should have said that.“
„You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe.“
This post is meant to be sort of a guestbook. So who ever has some friendly words for Donald Rumsfeld or knows some other good Rumsfeldism resources please feel free to leave them here. The comment section will be moderated (what means if necessary brutally censored :-). Who’s got a problem with that, don’t cry! There are zillions of places in the internet where they appreciate some decent Rummy bashing. But here we’re going to celebrate him.