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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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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.

You want apolitical - try the news (sarc). What amazes me is those that take talking head opinions as 'fact' and when looking at facts, cry 'opinion'.

Hoskee, I know, you know, how much those wars cost and projections of PTSD and amputee care drive it to many trillions. PLUS all these wars...paid for with tax cuts for the rich. Lesson how not to run a country or economy

Thank you. The question at hand is 'how dare he?' and you managed to bring it up with aplomb and greater statesmanship than this over-stationed narcissist has ever mustered. My bleak outlook quailed, shielding its eyes, in the momentary light of your reasonable challenges to an unreasonable personage. Thank you, Mr. Ryssdal.

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.

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