Donald Rumsfeld on Principles & Values

Secretary of Defense (Pres. Bush Cabinet)


OpEd: Worldview is black-and-white; decisionmaking secretive

Don Rumsfeld and Colin Powell [distrusted each other]. The two had dissimilar styles: Colin was a cautious consensus builder in international politics, and Don was confrontational. Don rarely saw shades of gray on an issue, while Colin almost always saw nuances. This, of course, reflected their different roles, but it was a matter of personality and worldview as well. Don's more black-and-white view of the world sometimes accorded more closely with that of the President in the early days, particularly after 9/11.

The other major challenge with Don was his secretiveness in running the Pentagon. He claimed to delegate decision making to lower levels, but then didn't always ratify what his lieutenants had done. The people who worked for him were fearful of his wrath. The atmosphere in the Pentagon was one where nothing was really settled until the secretary had opined.

For the most part we managed the tensions between us. Still, on a few occasions, Don and I did tangle in front of others.

Source: No Higher Honor, by Condoleezza Rice, p. 20-21 , Nov 1, 2011

Rumsfeld's Rules: for business and government

Washington DC is sixty square miles surrounded by reality.
  • Find ways to decentralize. Move decision-making authority down and out. Encourage a more entrepreneurial approach.
  • Prune. Prune businesses, products, activities, and people.
    Source: Known and Unknown, by Donald Rumsfeld, p.811 , Feb 8, 2011

    Scouting builds perseverance despite distractions

    Some young boys have never focused on something for more than a few minutes until they tried to build their first fire on a campout or learned to tie a bowline knot. Boy Scouts help cure this form of restlessness. The combination of difficult tasks and harmless competition can ignite in a young boy the characteristic of perseverance. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told me, "Scouting requires perseverance. When presented with the many distractions and activities--friends, sports, academics- there are many reasons to quit Scouting, but those who stick with it don't regret it. Certainly, I never have. I remember writing my father while he was aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during WWII. I wrote that I was considering leaving the Boy Scouts. He wrote back and told me I could certainly do so, but he added: "After all, quitting is easy. You quit one thing. Then you quit another. And, pretty soon, you're pretty good at quitting.' Needless to say, I stuck with Scouting--to my benefit."
    Source: On My Honor, by Gov. Rick Perry, p.137-138 , Feb 12, 2008

    1973-4: Advised Nixon politically during Watergate scandal

    Rumsfeld was appointed ambassador to NATO and was thus in Europe in 1973 and 1974, as the Watergate scandal crested and Nixon resigned. However, Nixon's secret White House tape recordings portray a more complex reality. Rumsfeld was not entirely divorced from Nixon's political operations. There is no sign that Rumsfeld was involved in any of the illegalities of Watergate, but he was willing to offer Nixon other low-level help of a not particularly exalted nature--some dirt on political enemies, some covert ties with a prominent pollster.

    Indeed, when Nixon first considered naming Rumsfeld NATO ambassador in the summer of 1971, the appointment was delayed until after the presidential election. "He has done some good political stuff. NATO's fine, but it pulls him out of politics. He's an operator," Nixon said about Rumsfeld. In short, the secret White House tape recordings demonstrate that Rumsfeld was not nearly so marginal a figure in Nixon's political apparatus as he was later portrayed.

    Source: Rise of the Vulcans, by James Mann, p. 5 , Sep 7, 2004

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    Page last updated: Mar 13, 2021