Rumsfeld lashes out at John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, and others

Bush's former secretary of defence is still swinging

Rummy’s still swinging

Photograph by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Donald Rumsfeld is still at war. In his new memoir, Known and Unknown, George W. Bush’s former defence secretary takes aim at fellow Republicans. And one is blasting him back. Rumsfeld writes that Republican Sen. John McCain, who criticized him for sending too few troops to Iraq, had a “hair-trigger temper and a propensity to fashion and shift his positions to appeal to the media.” McCain, who had argued for a “surge” in the number of troops, went on Good Morning America this week to respond: “I respect secretary Rumsfeld. He and I had a very, very strong difference of opinion about the strategy that he was employing in Iraq, which I predicted was doomed to failure.” And, he added, “Thank God he was relieved of his duties and we put the surge in; otherwise we would have had a disastrous defeat in Iraq.”

Others may be weighing in as well. Rumsfeld also takes on the image of Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state, as a voice of dissent in the Bush cabinet. “The media image of Powell battling the forces of unilateralism and conservatism may have been beneficial to Powell in some circles, but it did not jibe with reality. The reality was that Powell tended not to speak out at National Security Council or principals meetings in strong opposition to the views of the president or of his colleagues.”

Rumsfeld devotes five rather condescending pages to critique another cabinet colleague, Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser and later secretary of state. He portrays her as a young, inexperienced academic who didn’t know her place. “She and her staff did not seem to understand that they were not in the chain of command,” he writes. He is most troubled by what he describes as her management style of trying to “bridge” differences rather than presenting the president with the unvarnished differences of opinion among cabinet members. He blames her background as provost of Stanford University, where “mollifying faculty members by trying to find a middle ground [is] not uncommon.” Her approach meant that fundamental differences among cabinet members “remained unaddressed and unresolved by the president,” he complains. It probably didn’t help that she and Rumsfeld clashed in style. She was “polished, poised and elegant,” and, he writes, “I decidedly was not.” When he wore a pinstriped suit dating back to the Ford administration, she pointed out to him that the pinstripes had worn off above the knee. When he joked that perhaps his wife could sew them back on, he recalls, “Condi’s eyes widened.”

There is little self-criticism in the book—though Rumsfeld admitted in an interview with Diane Sawyer that “it’s possible” his decision on troop levels was wrong. Instead, Rumsfeld argues that the Obama administration’s failure to undo many Bush-era security policies proves that they were the right decisions. But he does allow one point of criticism. During 9/11, after working for 11 hours straight after one of the planes hit the Pentagon, his spokeswoman, Torie Clarke asked Rumsfeld if he had called his wife of 47 years to let her know he was unharmed. He had not. “You son of a bitch,” she blurted out. Writes Rumsfeld: “She had a point.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.