Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006, kicked off the book tour for his memoir, “Known and Unknown,” at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on February 9. Rumsfeld had Michael Beschloss, the author of 8 books on US Presidents, to moderate the discussion.
The title “Known and Unknown” is a wink and nod to Rumsfeld’s much ridiculed answer about Iraqi plans to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. At a press conference in 2002, Rumsfeld said, ““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.”
In a private conversation with Secretary Rumsfeld while he is signing my book, I asked him about his current thoughts about Israel in light of the recent monumental changes in the Middle East. He said, “If I was Israel, I would be worried with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Rumsfeld spent much of the public part of the program defending Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Curiously, he admitted that Bush never directly asked Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condileezza Rice, or himself if he should invade Iraq. “He knew that if we thought he was wrong we would have voiced our objections,” said the former Secretary of Defense.
“The Iraqi army had fired more than 2000 missiles at American and British planes that were patrolling the no fly zone,” said Rumsfeld. “What is they had killed someone?”
Rumsfeld insisted, “Saddam Hussein and his family were offered safe passage out of the country, but Saddam refused. There was no regime change after Bush senior invaded Iraq so I think he did not think that this Bush would force him to go.”
In his list of good results from the Iraq invasion, Rumsfeld revealed for the first time, “Omar Kadafi of Libya told the United States that he abandoned his nuclear program after the United States invaded Iraq.”
He surmised that Kadafi did not want to suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein. “He even offered us the opportunity to inspect his nuclear arsenal,” stated Rumsfeld.
Bizarrely, Rumsfeld mentioned that the John Hopkins Smallpox Study “Dark Winter” influenced his decision to go to war. This study found “If Smallpox virus was released into three locations that 800,000 would die and many more would be infected.”
An audience member requested that Rumfseld, who also served as Secretary of Defense under President Ford, to explain the difference between the Iraq and Vietnam Wars. Rumsfeld replied, “We never feared that the Vietnamese would attack America.” Rumsfeld ignored my question -What is the role of Intelligence Services now that they have been proven horribly wrong about 9/11, Iraqi WMDs, and the uprising in the Middle East?
When he went to meet Bush, Rumsfeld never expected that Bush would ask him to become Secretary of Defense. He joked, “I was old man. Joyce (his wife) was telling friends at our 50th high school reunion that this was our rural period.”
When asked by Beschloss about Bush’s intelligence, Rumsfeld first went into a long tangent about the fact that the public considers all Republic Presidents from Eisenhower to Bush stupid. He reminded the audience that Ford, possibly the finest athlete to live in the White House, was considered clumsy.
“Bush is intelligent. He asked penetrating questions. He worked his way with foreign leaders so that they would do constructive things for the US,” he finally answered.
He applauded Bush for implementing the surge in Iraq at a time when Congress was ready to vote the war out of existence. “When the rebels saw the additional troops, they knew that Bush meant business and was not going to give up. They fell into line.”
The audience did learn one interesting statistic about the Department of Defense. Rumsfeld disclosed that the department employs 10,000 lawyers. The Defense Authorization Act ballooned to 574 pages in 2006 from 74 pages in 1976, when he was Secretary of Defense the first time.
Rumsfeld surprisingly mentioned only Democrats as political heroes. They were Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. He did not list well known Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Kelsey Grammer as his friends in the entertainment business, but Sammy Davis Jr. and Elvis Presley.
Rumsfeld left the crowd wanting more. Many complained that Beschloss was much too deferential to Rumsfeld. He did not ask questions about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, or waterboarding.
Beschloss explained, “After he served as Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara never spoke in public again for thirty years. I also wanted to cover different ground than the Diane Sawyer interview.”
There was only one protester outside of the National Constitution Center. She had to stand about 100 feet from the entrance of the building. Maybe, the cold stifled dissent.