So last night, I had the opportunity to join a number of other people to listen to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talk about his book, Known and Unknown, his career, current events, and basic messages he wants to impart through his book and through the appearances he is making as part of his book tour. A few observations:
1. Rumsfeld is as sharp as a tack. Anyone would hope to be as mentally fit at age 78 as he is.
2. Unlike many celebrity authors, it is clear that Rumsfeld was an active and involved author. I received my copy of his book today, and perusing it, I find that much of what he discussed in his talk last night, and much of the specific verbiage that he used, can be found in the book. The book also reads like Rumsfeld speaks. Either Rumsfeld had the services of the greatest ghostwriter in history, and had a complete mind-meld with that ghostwriter, or his book is very much his own. I am betting on the latter. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the former Defense Secretary didn’t have help in putting the book together, but it does mean that he was no absentee author.
3. The presence of a website with documentation is laudable.
4. Rumsfeld remains very conversationally effective, and has a strong command of the material he seeks to convey. Of course, he was discussing his life, his career, and policy issues he played a very strong role in influencing, but again, his mental acuity is very impressive.
5. As might be expected, the fact that Rumsfeld actually seeks to defend himself from the multi-year chorus of criticism that he has received for the work he did as Secretary of Defense raises hackles on the part of those who believe that the very idea of Donald Rumsfeld seeking to defend himself is positively appalling. Of course, as Ben Domenech writes, Rumsfeld gets an unfair rap from a number of his critics, and is therefore entirely justified in setting the record straight. Was he perfect? No; no public servant is. In the course of his long career, Rumsfeld made errors. Some of them small, some of them big. But over the past several years, we have heard more about Rumsfeld’s errors than we have heard about Rumsfeld’s perspective. Those interested in having a robust and healthy debate over Rumsfeld’s legacy ought to welcome the publication of his book, and the former Secretary’s relation of his side of the story.
6. One of the key points that Rumsfeld sought to make during his talk was that a number of Bush Administration policies that were attacked by Democrats in general, and Barack Obama and his 2008 campaign team in particular, have been continued under the Obama Administration. This includes, of course, the application of robust executive powers. It also includes–for all the talk of closing it down–reliance on the prison in Guantanamo Bay to keep suspected terrorists confined. As if on cue, we see this story. Why, it is almost as though Donald Rumsfeld knows a lot about how government in general–and the foreign policy/national security establishment in particular–works and operates.
7. As for the key message that Rumsfeld seeks to impart, it is to urge people to serve their country. This will surprise Democrats used to hating Rumsfeld, but the public figure who inspired him to spend so many decades serving the country was none other than Adlai Stevenson. He repeatedly urged his audience to read Stevenson’s address to Rumsfeld’s Princeton graduating class, and held it up as exemplary in its ability to give purpose to those in search of one.
I was reading Herodotus until Rumsfeld’s book arrived. I look forward to getting back to it, but I also look forward to reading Known and Unknown. I hope and trust that Herodotus, wherever his spirit resides, won’t mind too terribly if I make him wait a little bit until I am able to examine in full how Donald Rumsfeld has decided to tell the fascinating story of his life and career.