Book Review: Known And Unknown
For anyone wanting a review and analysis of many of the more pivotal events in U.S. history throughout the past 60 years, it would be found in former Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Donald H. Rumsfeld’s recently released book, Known and Unknown. From his commissioning as a naval officer and flight training to the final days of his second “tour” as the Nation’s SecDef, Mr. Rumsfeld has provided his perceptions of events that were, more often than not, based on firsthand accounts and personal experiences. Having served as SecDef under both President Gerald Ford (1975–77) and President George W. Bush (2001–06), Rumsfeld’s version of White House decisions works to provide a vivid perspective of actions taken by the Commander in Chief and the resultant effects. He cuts through a myriad of myths to give readers a measured account of how and why things happened. It will, undoubtedly, be of value to historians long after less-exhaustive memoirs of this same time period have been long forgotten.
Even the title of his book belies the true verbally active Secretary Rumsfeld and his proclivity to occasionally mix it up with members of the Pentagon press corps. It is, in fact, a reference to his 2002 statement as the buildup for war in Iraq proceeded:
There are known unknowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Equally memorable was a typical Rumsfeld response during one of his many press conferences. When asked about our progress in the war against terrorism, he replied:
We have done so much in the last two years and it doesn’t happen by standing around with your finger in your ear hoping that everyone thinks that’s nice.
Or when avoiding a question, “I’m working my way over to figuring out how I won’t answer that.”
Although several well-known persons in high-level positions (former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer to name a few) come under his magnifying glass, this review focuses more on Mr. Rumsfeld’s military-related decisions, issues relative to the security of the United States, operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and America’s global war on terrorism.
No matter what else is noted about his book, Rumsfeld’s success in transforming aspects of the American military is often forgotten. For example, he expanded U.S. Special Forces and massively increased the number and types of drones (unmanned aircraft systems) with precision guided missiles.
Rumsfeld, 78, writes that his biggest mistake having to do with Iraq (Operation IRAQI FREEDOM) was his failure to persuade President Bush to accept his offer to resign after the torture of Iraqi detainees by American military jailers at Abu Ghraib came to light in early 2004. Also, the Secretary denies that any of his military commanders ever asked for more forces and categorically rejects the stories that GEN Eric Shinseki was forced to retire because he testified before Congress just weeks prior to the invasion began that hundreds of thousands of troops would be required.
Some of the advice provided to the Secretary regarding military engagement in Iraq came from then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Jim Jones. On the dangers posed by Iraq, Gen Jones was among the most vocal. He was concerned that our operations there were, as he put it, “a high risk strategy without clear objectives or a discernible end state.” Mr. Rumsfeld recalls writing back to him, “I am working on the problem and certainly agree with your concerns.”
Regarding the conflict in Afghanistan (Operation ENDURING FREEDOM), Mr. Rumsfeld criticizes former Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet and GEN Tommy Franks (then-Commander, U.S. Central Command) over the handling of the Afghan fiasco at Tora Bora, where the United States seemingly botched its last known opportunity to apprehend or kill Osama bin Laden. In a note to Tenet, Rumsfeld recalls noting, “we might be missing an opportunity,” and wondering if more troops might be needed. When it later came to light that Bin Laden might have been cornered, the Secretary found it “surprising that Tenet had never called me to urge Franks to support their operation.”
And, should the rather thorny issues tend to indicate that the entire book is written in a somber tone, there are a few lighter moments described by the author. At one point, when the issue of the number of detainees at Guantanamo was being examined very closely, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Peter Pace, was being squeezed and pressured by combatant commanders and the SecDef so much that at one point “he showed up at a meeting wearing a flak jacket, a helmet, and a grin on his face.”
Introduced to Elvis Presley after a Las Vegas nightclub show, Mr. Rumsfeld once found himself speaking privately to the king of rock and roll. Rumsfeld wrote:
I imagine there weren’t a lot of people in Elvis’ normal circle with whom he could have had a serious conversation about the military. I was impressed that years after his service, he still cared so much about the Army. . . . it was a welcome reminder that patriots can be found everywhere.
As the former SecDef has indicated in recent interviews, the profits from sales of his book will go to wounded warriors and their families
KNOWN AND UNKNOWN: A Memoir. By Donald Rumsfeld.
Penguin Group, New York, 2011
ISBN 9781595230676, 832 pp.
$36.00 (Member $32.40)