In an effort to promote his new book, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, facilitated a discussion with conservative supporters and colleagues. Hosted by The Heritage Foundation and moderated by Heritage president, Edwin Feulner, Mr. Rumsfeld addressed an array of opinion and fact in his book.
While Secretary Rumsfeld’s career began as congressman in 1962 and wound through various political and business roles, the majority of the discussion focused on his role from 2001-2006 in the Bush administration. When Rumsfeld tendered his resignation, Vice-President Dick Cheney stated that, “the record speaks for itself: Don Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had.”
The informal Q&A compared the Department of Defense during his tenure to current Secretary Robert Gates’ job, most notably on the department’s performance and dependability. Secretary Rumsfeld stated that, “things take years to develop [in defense] and you’re left with what your predecessor didn’t do”, insinuating that you cannot compare consecutive DoD leaders.
However, he did speak say “our defense capability is better than ever” because of President Bush’s idea of transforming defense. He said as the enemy strays further away from detection, “our government [is required] to be able to do things we weren’t previously able or allowed to do.”
The notion of what is known and unknown, which serves as the book’s title, became Mr. Rumsfeld’s defense through the remainder of the conversation. He said that we have to learn from intuition and intelligence, but also learn to be surprised.
“They [intelligence] could tell us what they knew and what they didn’t know, and what they thought they knew; but they couldn’t tell us what they didn’t know they didn’t know”
Though intelligence is rarely perfect, Secretary Rumsfeld said that the Bush administration knew that defense was understaffed by about 25 percent in terms of senior positions. He said that while it is tough to find the best person for senior positions, not filling vacancies “is like trying to pick up a piano with one hand, you can’t do it. It’s terribly difficult and inexcusable.”
Because of Secretary Rumsfeld’s significant role in the US insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan and the development of a democratic Middle East, those in attendance felt they deserved an understanding and assessment after eight years’ involvement. Without criticizing his own colleagues, he questioned the current administration for their foreign policy and relationship with President Karzai of Afghanistan.
Arguing that Afghans have been given a chance for democracy, albeit expedited, he said, “Karzai is all they have and we [Obama administration] haven’t recommended anyone better, so why publicly criticize him?” Rumsfeld ended the conversation with praise of Afghan and Iraqi citizens and said, “I wish them well.”