Donald Rumsfeld

American politician and businessman, twice U.S. Secretary of Defense

Donald Rumsfeld (9 July 193229 June 2021) was the 21st United States Secretary of Defense, serving from 2001 to 2006, succeeded by Robert Gates. He also served as the 13th Defense Secretary in 1975–1977 under President Ford, and in other roles under various presidents.

[T]he only way there's going to be followers, is if the leader is doing things that have merit, that are persuasive to others. Why else would someone follow somebody if they didn't think the individual was doing something worthwhile, going in the right direction?


It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.
There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.


  • It's a difficult thing today to be informed about our government even without all the secrecy.
    • As quoted in The Chicago Tribune (13 April 1966)


  • It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.
    • Rumsfeld's Rules" January 12, 1974 [2]
  • Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance.
    • "Rumsfeld's Rules" January 12, 1974 [3]


  • Pearl Harbor Post-Mortem:
    In some future hearing, I am going to say that I do not want to be sitting before this panel in a modern day version of a Pearl Harbor post-mortem as to who didn't do what, when, where and why. None of us would want to have to be back here going through that agony.
    • Donald Rumsfeld's Unclassified Memo — July 23, 2001
  • Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.
The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, or vice versa.
  • Department of Defense news briefing (12 February 2002)
  • Variant:
  • Now what is the message there? The message is that there are no "knowns." There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.
It sounds like a riddle. It isn't a riddle. It is a very serious, important matter.
There's another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist. And yet almost always, when we make our threat assessments, when we look at the world, we end up basing it on the first two pieces of that puzzle, rather than all three.
  • I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn't believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny -- "The sky is falling." I've never seen anything like it! And here is a country that's being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they're free. And all this newspaper could do, with eight or 10 headlines, they showed a man bleeding, a civilian, who they claimed we had shot —one thing after another.
    From the very beginning, we were convinced that we would succeed, and that means that that regime would end. And we were convinced that as we went from the end of that regime to something other than that regime, there would be a period of transition. And, you cannot do everything instantaneously; it's never been done, everything instantaneously. We did, however, recognize that there was at least a chance of catastrophic success, if you will, to reverse the phrase, that you could in a given place or places have a victory that occurred well before reasonable people might have expected it, and that we needed to be ready for that; we needed to be ready with medicine, with food, with water. And, we have been.
    Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here.
  • I don't believe anyone that I know in the administration ever said that Iraq had nuclear weapons.
    • At a hearing of the Senate's appropriations subcommittee on defense (14 May 2003)
  • Today we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?
But no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
  • [ Osama bin Laden is] either alive and well or alive and not too well or not alive.
    • DoD News Briefing October 07, 2002 [4]
  • I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?
    • Written on a memo in reference to the treatment of Guantanamo prisoner and to the way he worked in his office as Secretary of Defense, 2002. Reported in The Washington Post, 24 June 2004.[5]
  • We're so conditioned as a people to think that a military campaign has to be cruise missiles and television images of airplanes dropping bombs, and that's just false. This is a totally different war. We need a new vocabulary. We need to get rid of old think and start thinking about this thing the way it really is.
    • on CBS' Evening News, October 9, 2001 [6]
  • We know where they [Iraq's WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat....I would also add, we saw from the air that there were dozens of trucks that went into that facility after the existence of it became public in the press and they moved things out. They dispersed them and took them away. So there may be nothing left. I don't know that. But it's way too soon to know. The exploitation is just starting.
  • I didn't advocate invasion...I wasn't asked.
    • Responding to George Stephanopoulos about whether he would have advocated an invasion of Iraq if he had known that no weapons of mass destruction would be found there, ABC News This Week, November 20, 2005 [7]
  • seems to me that it's up to all of us to try to tell the truth, to say what we know, to say what we don't know, and recognize that we're dealing with people that are perfectly willing to, to lie to the world to attempt to further their case and to the extent people lie of, ultimately they are caught lying and they lose their credibility and one would think it wouldn't take very long for that to happen dealing with people like this.
  • As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe -- it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment.
    • "Troops put Rumsfeld in the hot seat". CNN. 2004-12-08. Retrieved on 2006-04-07. 
    • Responding to the question "Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?"
  • I shouldn't get into ... this is diplomacy, and I don't do diplomacy.[8][9][10]
  • We do have a saying in America: if you're in a hole, stop digging ..... erm, I'm not sure I should have said that.[11][12][13]
  • What we are seeing is not the war in Iraq. What we're seeing is slices of the war in Iraq.[14][15][16]
  • Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet.
    • Regards upcoming elections in Iraq[17], January 14, 2005.
  • It recalls to mind the statement by Winston Churchill, something to the effect that: I have benefited greatly from criticism, and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof. [18]
    • During the Nomination of Robert Gates for the next U.S. Secretary of Defense, November 8, 2006
  • It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog. [19]
  • Those who follow orders to commit such crimes will be found and they will be punished. War crimes will be prosecuted. And it will be no excuse to say, 'I was just following orders.' Any official involved in such crimes will forfeit hope of amnesty or leniency with respect to past action.
    • Pentagon briefing, March 20, 2003 [20]
  • Oh, Lord. I didn't mean to say anything quotable.
    • Interview with Associated Press Friday, September 7, 2001 [21]
  • Let's hear it for the essential daily briefing, however hollow and empty it might be. We'll do it.
    • Meeting with Media Pool Bureau Chiefs October 18, 2001 [22]
  • There will be good moments, and there will be less good moments.
    • April 7, 2004, in reference to the 2004 spring uprising in Iraq [23]
  • I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know, and that's a good thing.
    • Talking to reporters about whether President Bush knows about equipment inadequacies in Iraq[24]
  • Pieces of intelligence, scraps of run down leads and you run down leads, and you hope that sometimes it works.
    • DoD News Briefing May 01, 2002 [25]
  • And there is, I am certain, among the Iraqi people a respect for the care and the precision that went into the bombing campaign.
    • DoD News Briefing April 09, 2003 [26]
  • Stuff happens.
    • DoD News Briefing on the issue of looting and chaos in Baghdad, Saturday, April 11, 2003 [27]
  • I suppose the implication of that is the president and the vice president and myself and Colin Powell just fell off a turnip truck to take these jobs.
    • In response to Jeffrey Goldberg's question to comment on accusations that the "Jewish lobby" maneuvered the administration into war. The New Republic, October 8, 2007. [28]

Bureaucracy to Battlefield Speech, (September 10, 2001)

  • The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America. This adversary is one of the world's last bastions of central planning. The adversary is closer to home. It's the Pentagon bureaucracy. Not the people, but the processes. Not the civilians, but the systems. Not the men and women in uniform, but the uniformity of thought and action that we too often impose on them.
  • The technology revolution has transformed organizations across the private sector, but not ours, not fully, not yet. We are, as they say, tangled in our anchor chain. Our financial systems are decades old. According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions. We cannot share information from floor to floor in this building because it's stored on dozens of technological systems that are inaccessible or incompatible. To that end, we're announcing today a series of steps the Department of Defense will take to shift our focus and our resources from bureaucracy to battlefield, from tail to tooth.
  • Some might ask, how in the world could the Secretary of Defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people? To them I reply, Today, I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.
  • A new idea ignored may be the next threat overlooked. A person employed in a redundant task is one who could be countering terrorism or nuclear proliferation.
  • But keep in mind the story about the donkey, the burro, and the ass. The man and the boy were walking down the street with the donkey and people looked and laughed at them and said, "Isn't that foolish—they have a donkey and no one rides it." So the man said to the boy, "Get on the donkey; we don't want those people to think we're foolish." So they went down the road and people looked at the boy on the donkey and the man walking alongside -- "Isn't that terrible, that young boy is riding the donkey and the man's walking." So they changed places, went down the road, people looked and said, "Isn't that terrible, that strong man is up there on the donkey and making the little boy walk." So they both got up on the donkey, the donkey became exhausted, came to a bridge, fell in the river and drowned. And of course the moral of the story is, if you try to please everybody, you're going to lose your donkey.
  • It's about professionalism, and it's also about our respect for ourselves, about how we feel about seeing GAO reports describing waste and mismanagement and money down a rat hole. We need your help. I ask for your help. I thank all of you who are already helping. I have confidence that we can do it. It's going to be hard. There will be rough times. But it's also the best part of life to be engaged in doing something worthwhile.


  • The natural state of man is to want to be free. To have opportunities. To have choices.
    • On Arab Spring, Rumsfeld, that he wasn't surprised by popular uprisings of Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia.[29] March 9, 2011.
  • And the only way there's going to be followers, is if the leader is doing things that have merit, that are persuasive to others. Why else would someone follow somebody if they didn't think the individual was doing something worthwhile, going in the right direction?

Quotes about Rumsfeld

  • About 10 days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon, and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the joint staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments... I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”... he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.”
  • Mohammed al-Qahtani's torture, which was directly authorized by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, included forcing him to urinate on himself, months of isolation, sleep deprivation, and blaring loud music, even when he was in the hospital. "They strip-search him and briefly make him stand nude," the interrogation log recounts matter-of-factly. "They tell him to bark like a dog and growl at pictures of terrorists.
    • Amy Goodman Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times (2008)
  • Cheney and Rumsfeld were inveterate schemers whose cynicism about going to war was exceeded only by their ineptitude in conducting it.
  • The warfare in Syria is a follow-on to the attacks on Iraq and Libya. We may recall General Wesley Clark’s claim in March 2007 that shortly after 9/11 a Pentagon official had shown him a Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz list of seven Middle East and North African countries that were scheduled for attack and regime change. Iraq and Libya, both on that list, have been attacked and transformed into U.S.-destroyed states with new or unsettled leadership. The United States has been supporting regime change forces in Syria as far back as 2011, but the job has not been completed, in part because of Russian support for president Assad. Truce efforts by the U.S. and Russia have regularly broken down because the U.S. still aims at regime change and supports the rebel forces that Russia targets, many or most of which are Al Qaeda- or ISIS-related and whose victory would mean another Libya-like failed state.
    • Edward S. Herman, “U.S. Political and Moral Disarray”, Z Magazine, December 2016, pp. 15-17.
  • In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Donald Rumsfeld and his aides murdered two million villagers. And when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation. And so Kennedy was killed, and al-Qaida wasn't present at that time, but rather, those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing. And the war continued after that for approximately one decade. But after it became clear to you that it was an unjust and unnecessary war, you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, Rumsfeld.
  • We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement — that's the kindest word I can give you — of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously. I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history.
  • Here's what I can tell you about Don Rumsfeld. You're never going to get any credit. And you'll only know how well you're doing if he gives you more work. If that happens, you're doing fine.
    • Dick Cheney, U.S. Vice President, Quoted in Bob Woodward's State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, Simon & Schuster, 2006
  • Donald Rumsfeld said that his mission in the War Against Terror was to persuade the world that Americans must be allowed to continue their way of life. When the maddened king stamps his foot, slaves tremble in their quarters. So, standing here today, it's hard for me to say this, but The American Way of Life is simply not sustainable. Because it doesn't acknowledge that there is a world beyond America.
  • Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk was on the mark... in November 2002, he wrote, “Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 11 September. If the United States invades Iraq, we should remember that.” On many psychological levels, the Bush team was able to manipulate post-9/11 emotions well beyond the phantom of Iraqi involvement in that crime against humanity. The dramatic changes in political climate after 9/11 included a drastic upward spike in the attitude—fervently stoked by the likes of Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and the president—that our military should be willing to attack potential enemies before they might attack us. Few politicians or pundits were willing to confront the reality that this was a formula for perpetual war, and for the creation of vast numbers of new foes who would see a reciprocal logic in embracing such a credo themselves. President Bush’s national security adviser “felt the administration had little choice with Hussein,” reporter Bob Woodward recounted in mid-November 2002. A quote from Condoleezza Rice summed up the approach. “Take care of threats early.” Determining exactly what constitutes a threat—and how to “take care” of it—would be up to the eye of the beholder in the Oval Office.
  • Rumsfeld told a group of senior Pentagon aides, “I never again want our army to arrive somewhere and meet the CIA on the ground.” To a gathering of top generals in “the tank,” the Joint Chiefs' secure conference room, he was even more succinct: “Every CIA success,” he told them, “is a DoD failure.”
    • Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine (2006)

The Coming Wars - What the Pentagon can now do in secret, by Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, January 16, 2005


(Complete text)

  • George W. Bush... his national-security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities’ strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security state... The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as “facilitators” of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney... The President’s decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books — free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A.
  • Bush and Cheney may have set the policy, but it is Donald Rumsfeld|Rumsfeld who has directed its implementation ... [Rumsfeld's] reappointment as Defense Secretary was never in doubt... In interviews with past and present intelligence and military officials, I was told that the agenda had been determined before the Presidential election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld’s responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively placed under the Pentagon’s control. The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.
  • The President’s decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books—free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees. (The laws were enacted after a series of scandals in the nineteen-seventies involving C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders.) “The Pentagon doesn’t feel obligated to report any of this to Congress,” the former high-level intelligence official said. "...They’re not even going to tell... the regional American military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
  • Rumsfeld will no longer have to refer anything through the government’s intelligence wringer,” the former official went on. “The intelligence system was designed to put competing agencies in competition. What’s missing will be the dynamic tension that insures everyone’s priorities—in the C.I.A., the D.O.D., the F.B.I., and even the Department of Homeland Security—are discussed. The most insidious implication of the new system is that Rumsfeld no longer has to tell people what he’s doing

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