Donald Rumsfeld appeared at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia Wednesday night on the first stop of his book tour. The former Secretary of Defense under both Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush has a new memoir, Known and Unknown. Hundreds gathered to hear an overview of Rumsfeld’s long experience with White House politics.
The discussion started at the end. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss began the hour-plus talk with Iraq. After Donald Rumsfeld argued that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the unstable Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had undermined the whole of the Middle East, Beschloss questioned if President Bush had ever asked Rumsfeld if America should go to war.
“I don’t know that he asked Colin Powell or Condi Rice or the Vice President,” said Rumsfeld. “We had frequent meetings and discussed various aspects of the situation. The President did what a president has to do – he made the decision. I assume that he assumed that everyone in that group would have argued vehemently if they disagreed. Which no one did.”
Then Rumsfeld tripped through the years, starting with his run for congress in 1962, working with the Nixon and Ford administrations, and coming back to the White House in 2001. The quietly respectful audience applauded once during the interview, after Rumsfeld expressed his pride in the people serving in the armed forces.
Rumsfeld said America is not as equipped for an ideological warfare as it is for ground warfare. “For whatever the reason–we are not skillful in engaging in a competition of ideas,” he said. “We recognize the overwhelming majority of Muslims are fine people. They are not radicals. There’s a small minority of Muslims that have engaged in terrorist acts. We’re reluctant to take up that debate and compete with those ideas. They’re not reluctant.”
Four people outside the National Constitution Center held a protest, claiming Rumsfeld was responsible for the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, a subject which was not addressed inside.