Donald Rumsfeld, you could say, has had a remarkable career, stretching from a middle-class upbringing amid wealthier neighbours on the edge of Chicago, through Congress and high office in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including a spell as secretary of defense, a profitable excursion into business, and finally six tumultuous years heading the Pentagon under George W. Bush. Oddly, Rumsfeld begins his memoir with an out-of-sequence account of his 1983 meeting with Saddam Hussein as Reagan's Middle East envoy, infamous for the evident warmth with which the two greeted each other. Perhaps it is there because he always cherished meetings with celebrities; later in the book there's an encounter with Elvis. He has said in interviews that he didn't actually write much of this book, preferring to dictate his reminiscences and then edit the transcripts - a process that took four years. Given the care with which he navigates some of the more contentious stretches of his history, there is little reason to doubt that it did indeed take a lot of time. In describing his own experiences on 11 September 2001, Rumsfeld notes that, in a breakfast meeting with congressmen that very morning, he had warned of an impending event somewhere in the world that would be 'sufficiently shocking that it will remind the American people and their representatives in Washington how important it is for us to have a strong national defence'. Further emphasising his prescience, he mentions in the next paragraph that he had earlier sent Bush an essay on Pearl Harbor to alert him to the possibility of 'surprise'.
LRB 31 March 2011 | PDF Download