Revisiting 'Rumsfeld's Rules' of 1974

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Rumsfeld had been the Secretary of Defense — the youngest in
history — under President Ford. Previously, he had advised
President Nixon on Nixon’s ill-fated price controls program, while
he was part of Nixon’s Office of Economic Stabilization. He left
Washington in 1973, just as the Watergate scandal was breaking,
to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Ford brought him back in
August, 1974, to serve as the chairman of his transition team. On
the day before Ford left office, he awarded Rumsfeld the Medal of
Freedom. To say that Rumsfeld is a Washington insider is to say
the obvious. He is arguably the supreme Washington insider today.

the United States seems to be preparing to start a war with Iraq,
I think it is time to review a few of Rumsfeld’s rules. This war,
if unsuccessful in reducing the terrorist threat to the United States,
will become an expensive quagmire for the U.S. military and the
U.S. taxpayer. Afghanistan has already become such a quagmire. Our
troops are there for an indefinite stay. Our man in Afghanistan,
Karzai, was nearly assassinated last week, yet we know little or
nothing about who was behind the assassination attempt. It came
out of nowhere. To imagine that this threat will go away is naive.

imagine that an extended stay in Iraq will be any less risky or
less costly is also naive. Like B’rer Rabbit in the Joel Chandler
Harris story, President Bush is about to smash the nation’s collective
fist into the tar baby of the Middle East. We will not get out easily.
B’rer Osama will be the winner, as I hope to explain.


January, 2001, when Rumsfeld once again took over as Secretary of
Defense, the Defense Department posted his list of rules on its
Website. If you search for "Rumsfeld’s Rules" on Google,
first link is to the Defense Department’s site

see this message underneath the section, "Press Advisory."

Rules Now Available on the Web."

you click on this link, you
are taken to a PDF file

you read:

Rules are no longer available on line from the Department of Defense."

me to suggest a reason for this disappearance. These rules are an
old-time Washington insider’s insights into how to operate as a
Presidential advisor, and also how to survive. Rumsfeld is a survivor.
His list
of posts indicates a career of supreme partisan survivorship.

He may eventually become a member of the American Talleyrand Society,
joining the list with Elihu Root, Henry Stimson, John Foster Dulles,
and John J. McCloy.

I don’t think he will make it into this select group. First, Democratic
Presidents have avoided him like the plague when they have been
in office, unlike Root & Co., who enjoyed bipartisan office-holding.
Second, he is now widely perceived as the man who has provided the
rationale for President Bush to invade Iraq. If that adventure proceeds
as announced and then turns sour, as the Afghanistan adventure is
now turning sour, Bush will lose in 2004. Rumsfeld will then go
into retirement as an also-ran in the Talleyrand sweepstakes. He
will be regarded as a Republican partisan who served in high positions
in three losing Administrations — Nixon’s, Ford’s, and Bush’s. (He
was a relatively minor player in Reagan’s, holding seven forgettable
positions, which indicates edge-of-the-loop status.)

not that the Pentagon thought that by removing the document from
its site, this would somehow kill it. The Web is too fecund for
that. But something odd happened to the document a year ago. According
to a Website that specializes in PDF, the most widely used document
format for the Internet, Rumsfeld’s rules were updated on September
11, 2001. Even more incredibly, the
"Doc Info" data file indicated that this document had
been updated one hour before the plane hit the Pentagon

after September 11, the document was removed from the Pentagon’s
site. The PDF Website has posted the
Feb. 20, 2001 version of "Rumsfeld’s Rules."

the Iraq adventure turns out badly, which is likely, Rumsfeld’s
rules will eventually come back to haunt him. I begin with some
early principles.


  • In the
    execution of Presidential decisions work to be true to his views,
    in fact and tone.
  • Know
    that the immediate staff and others in the Administration will
    assume that your manner, tone and tempo reflect the President’s.

is perceived, correctly, as the Iraq war’s defender and chief cabinet-level
spokesman. There are minor figures within the Administration who
are also strong promoters, but they do not have Rumsfeld’s visibility
or his high office.

Iraq warhawks are the heirs of the earlier Iraq warhawks, who were
the source of Bush, Sr’s policy of luring Saddam Hussein into attacking
Kuwait. Someone
high in the State Department told our Ambassador to Iraq, April
Glaspie, to tell Saddam Hussein in July, 1990, that Bush did not
care if Iraq invaded Kuwait.

spiritual and intellectual heirs of the policy-makers in the second
half of 1990 are in power today. The policy has not changed: eliminate
Iraq as a power in the Middle East. Prior to August, 1990, the U.S.
was content to play England’s ancient game of the balance of power:
Iran vs. Iraq. This strategy eventually led Britain into two world
wars and the loss of the Empire. It will not do any better for us.

does not directly threaten the United States. There is no evidence
that it has weapons of mass destruction, according to Scott Ritter,
who was the head of the United Nations’ inspection team. Ritter
wrote recently:

bear personal witness through seven years as a chief weapons inspector
in Iraq for the United Nations to both the scope of Iraq’s weapons
of mass destruction programs and the effectiveness of the UN weapons
inspectors in ultimately eliminating them.

we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding
the disposition of Iraq’s proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain
a 90—95 percent level of verified disarmament. This figure
takes into account the destruction or dismantling of every major
factory associated with prohibited weapons manufacture, all significant
items of production equipment, and the majority of the weapons
and agents produced by Iraq.

the exception of mustard agent, all chemical agent produced by
Iraq prior to 1990 would have degraded within five years (the
jury is still out regarding Iraq’s VX nerve agent program — while
inspectors have accounted for the laboratories, production equipment
and most of the agent produced from 1990—91, major discrepancies
in the Iraqi accounting preclude any final disposition at this

same holds true for biological agent, which would have been neutralized
through natural processes within three years of manufacture. Effective
monitoring inspections, fully implemented from 1994—1998
without any significant obstruction from Iraq, never once detected
any evidence of retained proscribed activity or effort by Iraq
to reconstitute that capability which had been eliminated through

direct contrast to these findings, the Bush administration provides
only speculation, failing to detail any factually based information
to bolster its claims concerning Iraq’s continued possession of
or ongoing efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. To
date no one has held the Bush administration accountable for its
unwillingness — or inability to provide such evidence.

of Defense Rumsfeld notes that "the absence of evidence is
not evidence of absence."

am convinced that President Bush is really the brains behind his
Iraq policy, which is why I think it will fail to achieve its stated
objective, namely, to reduce the threat of terrorism in the United
States. When it comes to his policy on Iraq, this is a case of a
son’s desire to settle an old score for his father, who is accurately
perceived as a man who did not eliminate his enemy when he had the
opportunity. Bush, Sr. said that the coalition’s goals did not include
the removal of Hussein, only the removal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
Bush, Jr. has countered with this argument: "Nuts to any coalition."
So, the American taxpayers, not Saudi Arabia, will foot the economic
bill for this one. Our ground troops will foot the bill in blood.

for any American-approved replacement ruler in Iraq, he will have
Karzai as a role model.


  • In our
    system leadership is by consent, not command. To lead, a President
    must persuade.

public opinion polls reveal that almost two-thirds of the American
public does not think that the President has clarified his position
on why this war is necessary.
This is a political banana peel
if the war goes badly. It will justify a fickle public’s reversal
of judgment.

before the blood is flowing, two-thirds of the public is willing
to send the volunteer army — not the sons and daughters of the middle-class
— to war in Iraq. Incredibly, only half think it’s worth it if there
will be substantial American casualties. This indicates that well
over 10% of those polled think that we can topple Saddam without
suffering substantial casualties.

49% thinks we should invade even if there will be substantial casualties
for Iraqi civilians. Again, 49% thinks that it’s worth invading
even if the war takes years and we must occupy Iraq for years. But
two-thirds thinks the President should wait for the approval of
our allies. (There is no approval by our allies, other than Tony
Blair, who is facing criticism from within his own party)

Democrats are not saying much about the war. It is not a major election
issue. It is not even a minor election issue. This indicates that
Bush will get his war. But unless he clarifies why Americans must
fight, the public reserves the right to change its mind and blame
him for the blood. I think a bloody war followed by a bogged-down
recovery phase are a safe bet. At that point, the Democrats will
start criticizing Bush’s handling of the nation-building process.
This will be an issue in 2004.


  • The price
    of being close to the President is delivering bad news. You
    fail him if you don’t tell him the truth. Others won’t do it.

truth is this: there is no case for Iraq as being in possession
of weapons of mass destruction. Yet the United States is about to
launch an attack on Iraq on the basis that someday, Iraq might have
such weapons.

State of Israel sent jets over Iraq in 1981 and blew up a nuclear
power plant. The justification was that the plant could someday
produce plutonium, which could be used to build a nuclear weapon.
But Israel did not send in ground troops. We will have to.

can find a strong defense of Israel’s 1981 action on a
Website devoted to defending Jonathan Pollard
, the convicted
American spy who gave Israel American military secrets. The site
reprints a 1995 article that identifies Pollard as the original
source of the information that Iraq had an unconventional weapons
program prior to the Gulf War. We read:

Peres, currently calling most of the shots in the Rabin government,
was, after all, the man who bitterly attacked Begin for bombing
Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981. It is this mind-set which is so
troublesome when the vital question of ensuring our safety arises.
Among all the doubts, Pollard emerges as a truly great Jewish
hero. He passed on information to try and save Israel from its
enemies — information which was Israel’s due."

Bush is about to launch a war based on a revived, unsupported version
of Pollard’s argument regarding Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

leads me to another of Rumsfeld’s rules, which he attributes to
Shimon Peres.

  • If a problem
    has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact, not to
    be solved, but to be coped with over time.

Bush knows that an American President has only so much time. He
may have only until January 20, 2005. His father ran out of time.
Saddam Hussein is still in power. A perceived family score must
be settled.


  • Remember
    the public trust. Strive to preserve and enhance the integrity
    of the office of the Presidency. Pledge to leave it stronger
    than when you came.

desire to strengthen the office of President is being enacted into
law, day by day. The war against terrorism is the justification
domestically for an ongoing reduction of our liberty. Mr. Rumsfeld
fully understands the nature of this process.

  • "It
    is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once."
    (David Hume)

shooting war will silence the political opposition for as long as
the war seems to be going well. Nothing strengthens the Presidency
more than a war, unless the war becomes a stalemate or a defeat.
But it’s a big gamble to start a war. It assumes that the war will
be easy to win.

predict that "bring the boys home by Ramadan" will not
be possible. As Rumsfeld said long ago,

  • It is
    very difficult to spend "federal (the taxpayers’) dollars"
    so that the intended result is achieved.

there is an alternative:

  • Presidential
    leadership needn’t always cost money. Look for low- and no-cost
    options. They can be surprisingly effective.


  • If in
    doubt, don’t.
  • If
    still in doubt, do what’s right.

view: it is not a wise policy for the President of the United States
to follow Jonathan Pollard’s recommended military strategy — an
attack on Iraq — based on Mr. Pollard’s assessment regarding Iraq’s
alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. It also isn’t
right. I remind Mr. Rumsfeld:

  • In politics,
    every day is filled with numerous opportunities for serious
    error. Enjoy it.

I would not enjoy it. But I know what he meant. If you don’t enjoy
it, resign. He does not resign.


  • "The
    oil can is mightier than the sword." (Senator Everett Dirksen,

this country’s foreign policy needs is more oil cans and fewer oil


  • If you
    get the objectives right, a lieutenant can write the strategy.
    (General George Marshall)

objectives are not right — not morally right, and not strategically
right for the United States. There are no known weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq. Pollard is in jail, because what he did was
morally wrong. His strategic analysis was equally flawed.

  • "No
    plan survives contact with the enemy." (Old military axiom)

is an axiom, not a corollary. Someone in Washington should pay closer
attention to the fact that Saddam Hussein is a secularist and therefore
the sworn enemy of Osama bin Laden and his radical co-religionists.
Removing Saddam Hussein will create a crisis of rule in Iraq. So
will a series of assassinated puppets. This will be grist for Osama’s

  • Look for
    what’s missing. Many advisors can tell a President how to improve
    what’s proposed or what’s gone amiss. Few are able to see what
    isn’t there.

tell you what’s missing: a realization that war with a terrorist
group is not like war with a nation. The head of state of a nation
understands that the rule of tit-for-tat governs warfare. This is
why neither side used chemical weapons in World War II. It is also
why, historically, nations at war do not resort to assassination
of the rival nation’s head of state. Assassination produces tit-for-tat.

strategic problem comes with terrorists. First, they tend to be
martyrs. Second, their leaders are not easily targeted, for they
hide. They do not make public appearances. Third, if the terrorist
organization doesn’t claim responsibility for its act of terrorism,
its leader may escape tit-for-tat.

Saddam Hussein is replaced by the United States, assassination will
become the wave of the future. His successors will not survive.
The Karzai attempt last week was the first salvo. It will not be
the last.

the West’s inability to deal with assassination becomes obvious
to Islamic terrorists, the likelihood of an escalation of assassination
increases dramatically.


  • "The
    test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two
    opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain
    the ability to function." (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

rule now governs Mr. Rumsfeld. This is the nation’s problem. He
is still functioning.


  • It is
    easier to get into something than to get out of it.

one is going to bite Bush and his advisors. It is going to bite
the Republican Party in 2004.


are about to enter a new phase of the war on terrorism. This phase
will increase the confidence of Islamic terrorists that the Great
Satan is ready to remove secular leaders in Islamic states. This
message will also get through to secular leaders of Islamic states.
It will place them in between the U.S. military and the Islamic
Koranists. It will produce a common enemy: the United States, which
is already viewed by the Arabs as a client state of Israel.

I began saying last September, "the action is the reaction."
To undermine secular leaders in Middle Eastern Islamic states is
a reaction on Bush’s part that will strengthen the hand of the radicals.

is now time for the Commander-in-Chief to scrap both the military
analysis and the military response recommended by Jonathan Pollard.
The sooner that Mr. Rumsfeld becomes convinced of this, the better.

12, 2002

North is the author of Mises
on Money
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