The Skeptics

Rumsfeld vs. Rice, Re: Meetings

A lot of interesting stuff is left out of both Donald Rumsfeld’s book and the memos that he posted online to accompany it. No mention is made of the episode where Rumsfeld purged officials deemed insufficiently loyal from the post-invasion planning cell he set up for Iraq. There’s no trace of his use of Newt Gingrich as an adjunct war planner for the invasion. The same goes for Richard Perle’s resignation as Chairman of the Defense Policy Board after revelation of his conflicts of interest.

But Rumsfeld does not hide his view that Condoleeza Rice did a terrible job running the National Security Council. As I discussed in my last post, Rumsfeld, who had of course served as Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense in the Ford Administration, has strong ideas about how governmental processes ought to work. His critique of Rice, laid out in chapter twenty four, has two parts. First, he dislikes how she organized and ran meetings. More substantively, he believes she did poor job forcing decisions and steering policy.

It’s not clear whether Rumsfeld ever shared the latter concern with Rice or the President.* He certainly let them know about the first. Between 2001 and 2005, when she moved to State, he sent her a raft of memos (some footnoted on page 328), suggesting improvements. He eventually had subordinates track her compliance with his requests, even though she had acceded to few of them, and showed the results to the President (see the May 24, 2004 memo discussed below). The memos are worth reading for their pithy abrasiveness alone. Most copy other principals. Here’s a partial summary.

May 4, 2001: Rumsfeld complains to Powell and Rice that someone drafted defense-related talking points for the President without consulting his staff.

July 27, 2001: Rumsfeld suggests principals (top national security officials) and NSC (essentially the same group plus the President) meetings on Iraq to force a decision on policy. To drive home the urgency, he wrongly predicts that Iran will have nuclear weapons within five years, further unsettling the region. He writes in the book (p. 419) that Iraq policy was “adrift” at the time, which goes to show that sometimes having no policy is better than having one.

September 25, 2001: Rumsfeld complains to Rice that she is cutting him out of conversations with his Russian counterpart.

October 10, 2001. Following up on a complaint he raised two weeks before, Rumsfeld informs Rice that though she has asked him not to bring assistants to NSC meetings, he is going to do it anyway. She and Cheney have assistants there, he points out, so it’s only fair.

November 12, 2001: As U.S. forces drive the Taliban from power, Rumsfeld complains to Rice and Powell about their public statements that “we don’t want to take Kabul.” That decision, he writes, should be made by the military commander or conveyed to him by Rumsfeld after an NSC meeting. His entire final paragraph reads, “What in the world is going on?”

December 5, 2001: Rumsfeld writes Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley, about an NSC paper on prisoners taken in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld notes they have not discussed the issue in a meeting, complains that the paper seems to posit that the NSC makes policy, which is improper, and says that NSC papers should never mention the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the two bodies have no direct legal relationship.