Former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld was to release his new memoir yesterday, as he concedes his Iraq troop decisions may have been wrong while sparing no criticism of former colleagues.
In Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld defends his handling of the war and recounts his government career serving former US presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush.
He was reluctant to endorse Bush’s assessment that the decision to draw down US troops shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq was “the most important failure in the execution of the war.”
“I don’t have enough confidence to say that that’s right. I think that it’s possible,” Rumsfeld told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer. “We had [an] enormous number of troops ready to go in. They had — we had off-ramps, if they weren’t needed.”
“It’s hard to know. You know, the path you didn’t take is always smoother,” he said.
The former Pentagon chief’s comments came in his first television interview since leaving public life in December 2006 after a long and divisive tenure at the Pentagon.
They largely echoed his memoir, in which he laid blame for much of the failings and heavy bloodshed of the Iraq War on “too many hands on the steering wheel.”
Rumsfeld, who served as Bush’s defense chief for six years after holding the same job under former US president Gerald Ford in the 1970s, acknowledged that “in a war, many things cost lives.”
However, he had no regrets about his leadership of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — the latter now nearing its 10th anniversary.
He refused to echo the regrets of another domineering former US defense secretary — the late Robert McNamara — who came to describe the Vietnam War as “terribly wrong.”
“That’s not the case with Iraq,” Rumsfeld said.
“I think the world’s a better place with [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein gone and with the Taliban gone and the al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US was “incremental,” not rushed.
Rumsfeld said it was Paul -Wolfowitz, then a deputy secretary of defense and later a major architect of the Iraq War, who raised Iraq at the Camp David presidential retreat shortly after Sept. 11.
Just as in his book, Rumsfeld also ripped into some of Bush’s closest advisers, saying former US secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell lacked experience and showed poor management skills respectively.
Asked whether he admired his ex-boss’s father, former US president George H.W. Bush — under whom he did not serve — Rumsfeld replied curtly: “No, I was kind of disappointed in him.”
Rice had “never served in a senior administration position,” a lack of experience that hampered her ability to organize critical meetings, Rumsfeld said.
He said Powell — Bush’s first top diplomat — “did not, in my view, do a good job of managing the people under him,” calling leaks out of the US Department of State “unhelpful.”
Rumsfeld said Powell, along with other top Bush advisers and officials, truly believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction when he made a presentation to the UN Security Council in February 2003 — and never spoke up during meetings with the president to raise objections about the war.
“There’s a lot of stuff [in] the press that says Colin Powell was against it, but I never saw even the slightest hint of that,” he said.