I am in the process of reading an autobiography by Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush during the Iraq War. His book, “Known and Unknown, a Memoir” is interesting since it chronicles an era I am old enough to have experienced firsthand. I am including my brief review in the category for conservative books.
Mr. Rumsfeld has an extensive government career, as well as being the CEO of J. D. Searle, the pharmaceutical giant, and Gilead Sciences, Inc., developer of an AIDs treatment drug. He was a Naval Aviator, elected to the House of Representatives from the state of Illinois at age 30, held various cabinet positions during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, where he served his first stint as Secretary of Defense… the youngest ever, then returned at age 68 to again serve as Secretary of Defense at the request of President George W. Bush. I have always thought of Mr. Rumsfeld has being extremely bright, and extremely maligned.
Of course he writes with the benefit of hindsight, and attempts to correct, at least in his view, the mischaracterizations heaped upon him and President Bush in connection with the Iraq war. But several messages are apparent:
First of all, the incompetence we see at the lower levels of government, Postal Service, IRS, Educational System, are evident at the highest levels as well. Many of the problems associated with the Iraq War, and the reconstruction period that followed, were the results of gross incompetence, corruption, and finger pointing between the Departments of Defense, State, the CIA, the National Security Council, and the Office of Iraqi Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. You would think with the money the Government is paying, it should be able to attract the best and the brightest. Sadly, it isn’t so. The leaders are most often just political hacks.
Then there are the lawyers. Always the lawyers. President Obama is a lawyer. His wife, Michelle, is a lawyer. Secretary of State Clinton is a lawyer. All the Judiciary, naturally, and the majority of those in both houses of Congress are lawyers. Few have ever had any business, military, or administrative experience. Mr. Rumsfeld notes that in the interim between his first service in the 70’s and his return in 2001, “There were now a breathtaking ten thousand lawyers, military and civilian, involved at nearly every level of the chain of command across the globe. The number of laws and regulations relevant to the Defense Department had exploded correspondingly.”
Of course this emphasis on the legality of warfare hampered us in Iraq, in the prosecution of prisoners at Guantanamo, and is still hampering our success in Afghanistan through the very restrictive rules of engagement. “Besides contending with enemy bullets and bombs, the men and women in our nation’s military and intelligence services must also navigate legal traps set by our enemies, by some of our fellow citizens, by some foreigners, and even by some members of Congress and the United Nations.”
Philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.” In his auto biography Mr. Rumsfeld liberally points out his mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others. But before we can benefit from his experience, we must be willing to address the root causes; incompetence, buck passing, political expediency. There is little evidence to indicate that we have done so.
The title to Mr. Rumsfeld’s book can be translated roughly as; there are things we know, there are things we don’t know, there are things we know we don’t know, and then there are things we don’t know we don’t know. The latter is by far the most crucial, and the most common among today’s political leaders.
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