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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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i dont agree about this, but its just a politic so everybody can make a argument. thanks
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I would not urinate on Rummy if he were on fire. As a Nam veteran I think he should be tried and executed (not necessarily in that order), not given free air time to push his book. He is responsible for the worst attrocities in recent American History. But the 4 Horsemen of the Apocolypse (Rumsfeld, Crystal, Wolfowitz and Cheney) seem to have done well for themselves since leaving office, so I guess that is the new American way...cause death and destruction then write a book and get even richer. The man is a liar and no one should ever believe a word he says.

Two years ago almost to the day Mr. Ryssdal had Henry Kissinger on peddling a book. Though not as fawning in tone as most of his colleagues in the mainstream media Ryssdal left Kissinger's shield of impunity intact and made no mention of his well-documented role for over a decade as the architect or enabler of wanton mass murder and destruction, including the assassination of individuals, in multiple regions across the globe and being wanted for questioning in a number of countries.

In comparison Rumsfeld is small fry who carried out his activities in relatively plain sight unlike, say, Nixon's and Kissinger's secret bombing of Cambodia.

"Whoa" is an appropriate handle. So where are those well documented cases of Kissinger's role again? I can show you well documented evidence at the VA hospital in Los Angeles, where I was last year. Yes I'm a Vet who was onboard the USS Peleliu (LHA-5), headed over to Beirut when that attack on US Marines occurred. Back to my well documented evidence: you need only to get out from behind your computer and visit your local VA hospital to get a first hand glimpse of this SOB's role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You want to see a live horror show? Just hang out long enough to witness these brave men and women who's faces, and many times entire bodies are disfigured-never mind the horrible trauma and PTSD resulting... And BTW, Obama ratcheted up the forces in Afghanistan because Rummy's administration failed to properly carry out their mission the first time around. Any fool could see that the "target" was within reach in late 2001 when we went over to Afghanistan right after 9/11. The "mission creep" Rumsfeld speaks of was the Bush administration's doing. History shows that Iraq is still a mess without essential services, and Afghanistan is just waiting for us to leave so they can continue going about their dysfunctional ways. So Kai let Rumsfeld off easy, compared with what countless veterans would like to tell this arrogant ass.

I was disappointed that Marketplace was going to give Rumsfield the opportunity to be on the show. However, Kai did a magnficent job.

Hundreds of thousands dead. More than 4,000 American military dead. Tens of thousands of seriously maimed American soldiers, a trillion dollars wasted--and this pompous, patronizing maniac wants to share HIS life lessons with me??? Rummy, you can take your life lessons and...well you know the rest.

Thank you Kai for being one of the few members of the press who have been willing to hold any of the Bush crony's feet to the fire. Well done, sir.

Wow, NPR did it! the best interview with Rumsfeld ever... ever... Kai was the best, wow, PHD dissertations will written on this short interview for years to come. I know more about that war than I have ever known before. Rumsfeld has no idea of what went on, he thinks it is ok if hundreds of thousands die from your hand if they might have died from another. Why does NPR make it so hard to follow this interview? Why don't they have people looking at this interview every day analyzing it, digging deeper? Dont they know what we have here?

Clearly our own personal biases play in to how we perceive this story. I am a bit shocked though that Rumsfeld supporters are angry about (alleged) journalistic unfairness. Momentarily, let's compare the injustices of (1) an uncomfortable six minute interview, versus (2) leading nations into war based on, at worst, fabrication...and at best, incompetent interpretations. Give me the journalist any day. Shame on the warmonger masquerading as an author.

And another thing. If Donald Rumsfeld was wrong about Iraq, was he wrong about aspartame aka NutraSweet aka AminoSweet? I'm a little surprised at those puzzled how this interview had anything to do with the economy. Where do you think the money to pay for wars come from? Thin air?

Thank you to Kai for a great interview. Interviews such as these are the reason I contribute to our public radio affiliate.

I listen to marketplace to learn about the market and economy. Please tell me how this interview was relevant? Is Kai looking for a raise at NPR or preparing to run for congress and needs to make his politics clear? He certainly accomplished that. I'll never be fooled into thinking that Marketplace is an a-political show again.

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