I’ll go way out on a limb and predict that Donald Rumsfeld’s newly released memoir, Known and Unknown, will not outsell Harry Potter.
Who, after all, really wants to read an 800-page tome that purports to detail, with all deliberate spin, his disastrous Pentagon prosecution of the Iraq war? Certainly not Rumsfeld’s critics, because they already know he’s loathe to admit error. And certainly not grassroots Republicans, because they’d rather pretend that the war team’s duplicities and incompetence never happened in the first place. The neocons and military brass who worked closely with the Defense secretary probably won’t buy it, either; in all likelihood, they’ll simply visit the bookstore and look up their names in the index, just to see if Rummy blamed them for everything while absolving himself. (Yup, he did.)But since he’s due to flak his book Wednesday night at the National Constitution Center – indeed, since he’s now resurfacing after three years in private exile – I figured that I should at least check it out. Since the top Bush alumni seem determined to expose themselves to renewed scrutiny (W.’s memoir is out, Dick Cheney’s is coming soon), the least I can do is oblige them. I did attempt to read Rummy’s new ruminations. I managed to sustain interest for a couple hours. But, at that point, it became clear that virtually any other leisure activity, including a winter swim in the Schuykill River, would have far greater beneficial value.Rummy hasn’t changed, of course. Here he is refighting old turf battles that nobody except a few dozen insiders could possibly care about, while repeatedly insisting that everybody except him screwed up. He blames Paul Bremer for screwing up the peace in post-invasion Iraq; he blames George W. Bush for letting Bremer screw up the peace (Rumsfeld says he wanted to personally oversee postwar Iraq, but Bush “wouldn’t cotton to the idea”); he blames Colin Powell for allowing leakers to run wild in the State Department; he blames CIA chief George Tenet for giving him bad intelligence; he blames Gen. Tommy Franks for not sending enough troops to Tora Bora during the hunt for Osama bin Laden; he blames “senior Army leadership” for not pushing hard enough for adequate troop strength in Iraq…on the printed page, this stuff got old real fast. It’s classic retroactive cover-your-butt bureaucratese.No need to detail the Rumsfeld memoir any further. Why should we believe any of it, given his track record on veracity? As Thomas Ricks, the Pulitzer-winning war correspondent, wrote in his book Fiasco, “The defense secretary’s vulnerability wasn’t that he made errors, it was that he seemed unable to recognize them.”Here’s all you need to know about Rumsfeld, in four easy episodes:1. During a Meet the Press gig in February 2005, he stated: “The truth was, you can’t know how long (a war) will last…No one in any war has ever been able to predict that. People who do predict it make a terrible mistake, because they set expectations based on nothing but hope.” Then, in the summer of 2006, he told a Senate committee, I’ve never painted a rosy picture…and you’d have a dickens of a time trying to find instances when I’ve been excessively optimistic.” And yet, here was Rumsfeld himself, shortly after the Iraq war began, way back in April 2003: “It could last six days, six weeks, I doubt six months.”2. During a 2006 appearance in Atlanta, Rumsfeld said he had never publicly declared that he knew the location of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. (A questioner in the audience said to Rumsfeld, “You said you knew where they were,” to which Rumsfeld replied, “I did not.”) And yet, here was Rumsfeld speaking to ABC News way back on March 30, 2003: “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, and east, west south, and north somewhat.”3. In a Sept. 2003 interview with Sinclair Broadcasting, the questioner told Rumsfeld, “Before the war in Iraq, ypu stated the case very eloquently and you said, I remember this, it was done very well, you said they (the Iraqis) would welcome us with open arms.” In reponse, Rumsfeld said, “Never said that…Never did. You may remember it well, but you’re thinking of somebody else. You can’t find anywhere me saying anything like either one of those two things you just said I said.” And yet, here was Rumsfeld, in a PBS interview seven months earlier, responding to a question about whether the invading Americans would be welcomed: “There is no question but that they would be welcomed. Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites.”4. In another Meet the Press gig, in June 2005, Rumsfeld said that, prior to the Iraq invasion, he had given Bush a list of “15 things that could go terribly wrong,” such as oil fields being set afire, and refugees flooding the roads. But when host Tim Russert asked whether he had included, on his itemized list, the dangers of a robust insurgency that could kill American troops, Rumsfeld (he of the vaunted razor-sharp intellect) offered this reply: “I don’t remember if that was on there.”All told, John McCain got it right last week when he offered this early assessment of the Rumsfeld oeuvre: “Thank God he was relieved of his duties.” I doubt that quote will show up as a promotional blurb on the back of the paperback edition.——-Speaking of blasts from the past: If Ronald Reagan had lived as long as George Burns or Bob Hope, he would have celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday. But, given all the coverage, you probably know this already. What’s most fascinating is the chasm between the real (pragmatic) Reagan that we know from the historical record, and the mythical, air-brushed Reagan that conservatives persist in celebrating. I walked the chasm in a Sunday newspaper column.