Byline: Lyric Winik
Donald Rumsfeld vanished from public life before resurfacing with a new book that takes the blame--for almost nothing. Our sources beg to differ.
Most cabinet secretaries tend to fade away, but Donald Rumsfeld has become more obscure than most. Unlike former secretary of state Colin Powell, he does not show up on Sunday talk shows or travel the country giving lucrative motivational speeches before packed arenas. He hasn't set up a consulting shop, as have former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, national-security adviser Stephen Hadley, and homeland-security secretary Michael Chertoff. As a private citizen, he has retired to his sprawling house on Maryland's Eastern Shore and his farm in Taos, N.M., gone on lunch dates with old colleagues and friends, and, at 78, suffered through the ordinary maladies of creeping age, including several operations to repair various joints. He has, in fact, made so little news that in February 2009 the Washington publication Roll Call devoted an entire item to his patient wait on a sidewalk for a D.C. bus. By the time the bus arrived that icy morning, it was so packed that Rumsfeld, smart card in hand, silently walked away.
Now Rumsfeld is finally taking his finger off the mute button. He has a page on Facebook, a regular Twitter stream, and, noisiest of all, a new memoir, Known and Unknown. As details of the book have trickled out, it's become clear that, far from producing a Robert McNamara-style mea culpa, Rumsfeld has his combat boots on. The book is a feisty, score-settling recounting of everything from his battles with Rice's "failing" management of the National Security Council to his exasperation with Powell for implying that the administration misled him about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "There was no one in the administration who had even a fraction of his experience in intelligence matters, including CIA director Tenet," Rumsfeld writes. "Powell was not duped or misled by anybody." The book has already drawn blood from some of Rumsfeld's targets, including John McCain, who last week responded by saying: "Thank God he was relieved of his duties." But above all, what is most likely to rankle many in Washington--and overshadow the real accomplishments of Rumsfeld's five decades of public service--is that while he can mercilessly point out others' flaws, he allows himself far more, shall we say, nuance.
It's not surprising that as Rumsfeld's reappraisal makes the rounds, many of his former aides and advisers are reevaluating him, privately asking what went right and what went wrong. There are a few theories. One, according to several top deputies who spoke to NEWSWEEK, is that he was too deferential to his generals. "When things go badly, when do you start second-guessing your generals?" asks one high-ranking civilian aide. "The common criticism of him was that he didn't listen to his generals, that he micromanaged and imposed his will, but when people look back on this period, they may see that a number of the problems resulted from Rumsfeld not wanting to interfere in professional military judgments."
Rumsfeld eventually allows for such a possibility, but only 21 pages from the end of his book. Otherwise, he spares many generals from criticism, including Tommy Franks, the Iraq War commander who practically filed his retirement papers the moment the first U.S. tank left for Baghdad. Failings are attributed mostly to the amorphous "senior Army leadership." Others at the Pentagon have their own stories of Rumsfeld's deference to the chain of command. During one meeting about the Guantanamo Bay military-detention center in his vast, windowed conference room, Rumsfeld gestured to Army Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, Gitmo's early operational commander, and said, "I want you to call me every morning." The shiny table was crowded with four-star generals who were clearly rankled that Rumsfeld would give a direct …