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Three life rules from Donald Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld published his memoir, “Known and Unknown” in 2011. His latest book, “Rumsfeld’s Rules” suggests he still has lessons to share after a lifetime in politics and business.

The book is a collection of advice that he started collecting through a habit taught to him by his schoolteacher mother. He has about 300 or so in the book.

“If I didn’t know a word she’d say, 'Well write it down and look it up,'" he says. "Then I started writing down various other thoughts and rules and anecdotes.”

The anecdotes Rumsfeld recounts are pulled from his time in office with the Bush, Reagan and Nixon administrations.


Three of many Rumsfeld Rules you can find in the book, and the stories behind them.

It’s easier to get into something than it is to get out.

“I thought of that when I was President Reagan’s Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed in Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we’re such a big target. And I also, over the years, came to the conclusion over the years that the United States really wasn't* organized, trained and equipped to do nation-building.”

Rumsfeld says this was on his mind as the United States entered Afghanistan and Iraq, but there was "mission creep."

“When you do something, then someone wants you to do something else and then something else and over time, the mission, historically, creeps into something else that was initiated at the outset.”

But in the end, “it’s not easy for countries to evolve and grow, but I think that both of those countries are a whale of a lot better off today than they were before.”

“I’ve been mistaken so many times, I don’t even blush for it anymore.” – Napoleon

“You see things that don’t turn out the way you hoped.”

Monitor progress through metrics.

“I think that history over time will probably be a better judge than you or I, but I’ve been struck by the amount of criticism that the Bush administration has received and President Bush personally and the attempts to assign blame to him and I think it’s probably not going to sort out that way.”

He says President Bush’s decision to enter Iraq is “something that over time will be better understood.”


AUDIO EXTRA: Kai Ryssdal asks Donald Rumsfeld about a reputation for not tolerating dissent.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a typographical error. The text has been corrected.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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You are correct. He said "wasn't."

Shame that this guy does not understand history. Bush's legacy vis a vis Iraq will hardly be a positive in 50 or 100 years when objective historians rule on it. The basic problem is that one country cannot invade another sovereign nation (and despite the brutal Saddam, they were sovereign) without just cause, casus belli, and Iraq was not a threat to the U.S.A.

Obama has failed in looking forward and not back. The U.S. should allow the courts to decide whether Bush et. al. are guilty of war crimes. If not, case closed.

The article quotes Rumsfeld as saying:

"And I also over the years came to the conclusion over the years that the United States really was organized, trained and equipped to do nation-building."

To my ear, he clearly says:

"And I also over the years came to the conclusion that the United States really wasn't organized, trained and equipped to do nation-building."

I guess, in the grand scheme of things, this is a small point. But the quote in the article is clearly wrong. Indeed, he says the opposite of what you have him saying.

I meant to add that I created an account just sound off on how surprised I was at how well you interviewed Mr. Rumsfeld. He rarely is made to face the music by a largely sycophantic media. Thanks!

Mr. Rumsfeld has gotten his way for decades by ridiculing, undermining, talking over, or otherwise repressing anybody who stands in the way of his pursuit of power and self-aggrandizement. (And I'm not even talking about the actual war crimes committed in places such as Abu Ghraib or Guatanamo, for which he bears direct responsibility.) It takes not just intelligence but courage to engage someone so well versed in the arts of intimidation. Mr. Ryssddal succeeded, and he has my appreciation.

Kai, in addition to driveway listening, there are other NPR "moments," like yelling at the radio.

Thank you for the opportunity with your Donald Rumsfeld interview. I feel so much better now. BTW, next time ask Mr. Rumsfeld how, as Searles chairman he managed to get aspartameNutraSweet to market without any government oversight? A lot of folks, myself included, believe that so-called "sweetener" does more harm than good –– and does Mr. Rumsfeld drink Diet Coke or other such products?

I didnt feel sorry for him at all. I feel sorry for us that men like him aren't brought to justice. Who really cares about his words of wisdom, he's a criminal. His twisting and denial of the events of the Bush administration was beyond ridiculous and very typical of those folks- it gave me flashbacks of when they held office. There aren't enough journalists like Kai Ryssdal with the balls and the smarts to take these people to task and focus on the truth. My compliments to Kai. Excellent job!

I listened to the audio 5 times, and I think this quote from Rumsfeld (below) is NOT CORRECT:

The quote states:

"And I also over the years came to the conclusion over the years that the United States really was organized, trained and equipped to do nation-building."

I think Rumsfeld REALLY says:

"And I also over the years came to the conclusion over the years that the United States really wasn't organized, trained and equipped to do nation-building."

Those that have access to the original should make very, very sure that the quote in the article is right.

Hi there - 

You are totally correct. We fixed up the text, and added a correction.

Thanks for keeping us honest.

Kim Bui, Digital Editor, Marketplace.

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