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 post219 Comments


I am so tired of this despicable scoundrel, bereft of accountability, getting airtime anywhere, that when I heard the lead-in that he was to be interviewed on your show for his book, I almost pulled over to throw-up. I thought I was going to have to time my evening commute differently going forward so as to boycott Marketplace. And then....Kai Ryssdal to the rescue. To those who have commented above that Kai "went after Rumsfeld," I would say, NO S#%T! Somebody needs to. It is the responsibility of journalists to hold public officials accountable for their actions, which is what Kai did this evening. This is not irresponsible journalism, this is the very essence of journalism at its best. The previous commenter lost all credibility by using the word integrity to describe Rumsfeld, who is arguably responsible for the meaningless deaths of thousands.

I think these comments represent the listeners' personal bias more than Kai Ryssdal's. So, along those lines, let me say: "Way to go Kai!" You were polite yet direct and unyielding. That could be a definition of professional journalism.

Rumsfeld should be in prison, not selling books. His answer deserved a challenge

Donald Rumsfeld's interview on Marketplace today was absolutely unbelievable. Really. Is one of his rules not to believe your own spin? I thought Kai handled the interview very well. To let Rumsfeld get away with the falsehoods and innuendo he was spouting would have been a travesty.

I was so outraged by this interview I had to create an account and voice my comments. First, this 'interview' was a poorly disguised attack by someone with obvious political bias. So much for fair and balanced reporting... Second, I am so sick of people who look at the past and think they could have made every correct and perfect decision. Those of us who has never been Sec of Def or POTUS has NO IDEA how tough those roles are. If you think you can do better, get off you computer and go get yourself elected. Maybe you will be fortunate enough to get to serve all of the critics and haters who can't wait to cast the first stone at you! Thirdly, Marketplace has lost this listener for good.

Just to address the second point, I think all of the Bush-haters in npr-land have been seething over the Iraq war since day-one. So it isn't a question of looking back and pointing out the obvious. It WAS a question of seeing our country headed into a horrible mess clearly for greed; all of the gop-voters being commandeered to support it by some false moral high-ground, and watching helplessly as troops went over in droves to their death and dismemberment. Also the economy went in the tank and all the world grew to hate us. Meanwhile these guys go on book tours selling memoirs that cover this exact time period without a flicker of understanding that many people strongly felt BACK THEN that we had NO justification, and only had less as the years passed. I remember 2003, and it sounded like transparent BS to me then and now. I think conveniently and anonymously criticizing those in power is annoying as well, and all politicians have their opponents, but many people feel that that war was more than just a well-meaning miscalculation--it was a coldly calculated disregard for the blood it would cost to have another buddy in the Arab world; blood for oil, etc. THAT's why lefties hate Bush for all eternity, and that's why those old guys will always get grilled when they turn up for press junkets (in Latin America it's worse, they wait till the old bastards turn 80, then throw them in jail).

I too was moved to create an account for this interview. Cynthia, Mr. Rumsfeld is a criminal and Mr Rysdall gave him a fair and balanced chance at redemption. I hope Kai does run for office, he has great courage and a great patience for dealing with a difficult situation. You really should listen to more of this kind of program.

Kai! You were great with Rumsfeld! Thank you for trying to get him to acknowledge and apologize
for his crimes.

I love market place, and this interview had me cheering at the top of my lungs. This was not an ambush. Rumsfeld wrote a book about rules for leadership. If he did not think there would be push back in light of the foreseeable catastrophe that occurred under his leadership, he is living in an alternate universe. He was called out in an intelligent and professional way. Go Kai!!!

The last thing I need is to learn life or decision rules from this guy who started a war in Iraq resulting in hundreds of thousands of lives lost.
Gosh, what does his book look like? Machiavelli's rules of power?


With Generous Support From...