For such a wholesale exporting of secretarial responsibility to make even clinging sense to anyone who was paying attention at the time, storylines have to be crimped, contradictions muffled, selective amnesia and strategic omission employed, and press innuendo borrowed for prompts and otherwise absent evidence. The result is an 815-page snow job of blizzard scale, festooned with more logical curiosities than can possibly be listed here, let alone described in detail. (The memoir is even longer if one includes the www.rumsfeld.com website, wherein Rumsfeld has posted an electronic hernia’s worth of memos and other documents — of which more in a moment.) So just a few examples must suffice to give the flavor of the narrative.
Rumsfeld contends that Condoleezza Rice made a mess of the NSC job because she tried to bridge opposing views for the president rather than force him to decide up or down on discrete options. She simply refused, says Rumsfeld, to take his suggestions for improvement. When it suits his purpose, he speaks of going often to the president and getting his unstinting support, but when things did not go his way it seems not to have occurred to him that, as in this case, Rice was doing what the president asked her to do. So, too, with the role of the press: When it wrongly attacks Rumsfeld, he excoriates it; when it makes false claims about his principal competitors, he embraces it as opportunity and convenience dictate.
Want a contradiction? Rumsfeld complains to the president that Powell and especially Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage are leaking against the Pentagon; Powell retorts that Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, is leaking against the State Department. Rumsfeld denies the possibility: If the Pentagon leaked he’d know it, and it can’t leak, he argues, because he told it not to. But a few chapters earlier he cites the voluminous leaks of Army brass over his virtuous cancellation of the Crusader artillery system. When Pentagon leaks reflect well on Rumsfeld’s brave purposes, they exist; when they run counter to those purposes, they don’t.
There is also a person who does not exist for all practical purposes: Dick Cheney becomes a virtual nowhere man as of January 2001. As close as the two were, and as much a part of the memoir as Cheney is in previous decades, Rumsfeld claims he didn’t talk much with the vice president during his time as George W. Bush’s secretary of defense. This claim, too, lacks verisimilitude, but then, because he was Rumsfeld’s best friend in the administration and his Oval Office protector, no good purpose would be served by discussing Cheney’s relationship with the president.
A key issue, of course, is what Rumsfeld knew about Jerry Bremer’s early May 2003 decision to dissolve the Iraqi Army and when he knew it. Rumsfeld, Sergeant Schultz–like, claims he knew nothing, yet the documents suggest otherwise. There is, in particular, an insightful memo by the late Peter Rodman that audited the decision trail on this issue, and which shows that the NSC affirmed, not once but three times, that the Iraqi Army was not to be disbanded. In the heat of the messy moment, Bremer changed course, and there is strong evidence that Rumsfeld knew what was happening and approved it, without telling the president, Rice, or any other principal. The evening before the decision was announced, Rumsfeld’s assistant, Larry Di Rita, spoke with the secretary by phone about it from Baghdad. Rumsfeld seems to remember none of this.