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.
Log in to post253 Comments


I had to pull off the road to listen to your interview
with Donald Rumsfeld. Poor bastard thought he was
gonna be promoting his book. I have listened to your
show on my way home from work daily and always enjoy
your way of cutting to the chase. Thanks on behalf of all
rational Americans for questioning the former secretary
on his role in the Iraq fiasco. Hold your head high in pride
for having the guts to ask the him the questions the rest of
the media failed to ask on behalf of the soldiers who lost their
lives for going to war in Iraq when we all knew it should have
been Afghanistan to begin with. Thank you.

Congratulations Kai- you make it even harder for me to listen to NPR after hearing your "balanced" interview with Rumsfeld. I guess I'll have to keep searching to find reporting where it's not necessary to factor in the station's political agenda.

Kai Ryssdal's interview was brilliant, completely exposing Rumsfeld for who he is--an unconscious hypocrite and a narcissist.

Those who are critical of Mr. Ryssdal's interview are just like Mr. Rumsfeld, who not only is oblivious of his own defects and actions, but tries to blame just the current administration but also the Clinton administration for Iraq and Afghanistan. The man's denial and stupidity rendered me speechless. I had to pull to the side of the road to hear this one out.

I am Donald Rumsfeld's age, and have witnessed a lot of crap in my life. This one took the cake!

Thank you Kai for never losing your cool, never losing your professionalism, and for having the courage to say the Emperor has no clothes.

Mr Ryssdal's interview showed not only bias, but it was inappropriate in the context of this show. This show is a report. Mr Ryssdal's job on this show is to be a reporter, not an advocacy journalist. Nor an entertainer for the percentage of the audience with visceral dislike of anything Bush.

If Ms. Clinton were on the show to hawk a memoir, would Mr Ryssdal badger her about missing details, such as Madison Guaranty, Monica Lewinsky, or Benghazi?

If you have no real interest in a book, or any respect for the author, don't have the author on the show. Don't act smarmy.

Shocking! After more than four years, I almost forgot Marketplace and rest of the mainstream media could ask hard questions. Whether or not you like Rumfeld, this interview was more telling about the politics of Kai Ryssdal. I think Kai acted like a bully. Obviously some people like to see a bully being bullied but it simply didn’t sit well with me. I liked the tough questions, but this interview was dripping with a politics bias. It is shameful. These same hard questions are rarely asked with equally controversial people to whom Marketplace or Ryssdal agree politically. Prove me wrong.

Stanford, Las Vegas, NV

Kai, Thank you so much for holding "The Donald II's" feet to the fire. Your brave interview showed him for the prevaricating dolt that he is. Just wish that it could have come at a time when something could have done about him. Great job!

Got this account just to voice my amazement at your Rumsfeld interview. I could not believe what DR was saying and I was very glad to hear you call him out on it. That was the best journalism I have seen in a long, long time. Thank you!

Secretary Rumsfeld's comments have left me in disbelief. How can a leader who has been proven so wrong by facts and hindsight display such an utter lack of self examination? I don't know if it was his unflinching unwillingness to accept responsibility for his role in manipulating us into an unwarranted war in Iraq or his inconceivable attempt to repaint himself as the hapless advisor who urged caution. Either way, it is no surprise that history will remember him and his bookend Cheney as the Machiavellian twins who first duped George Bush and then us.

Kai - you have my vote for holding him to account.

R Stephen, Portland, OR

I’m struggling with last night’s show because you asked Donald Rumsfeld hard & direct questions (questions clearly on many listeners minds) and it was indeed a good interview, but it was out of context for your program and not why I tune in. I want to say WOW Kai, good job like everyone else, but asking Mr. Rumsfeld to apologize for where we are today seemed like an opportunistic move and not aligned with your normal cadence of questioning or thematic reporting. I’ll continue to listen to your program because it keeps me informed and has value, last night’s interview however did not.

Wow Kai! You've restored my faith in unbiased journalism at a time when everybody seems to want to side with one party or the other, instead of seeking the truth. I've always been a fan of your work. But this time, chapeau, that's what interviewing is all about: polite, focused questioning.

History has already made up its mind about the Rumsfeld, Rove and associates... And no propaganda book will change that, this time.

Well done!


With Generous Support From...