By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld

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Once considered among the best and brightest of his generation, Donald Rumsfeld was exceptionally prepared by successful careers in politics and business to assume the Pentagon’s top job in 2001. Yet six years later, he left office as the most controversial Defense Secretary since Robert McNamara, widely criticized for his management of the Iraq war and for his difficult relationships with Congress, administration colleagues, and military officers. Was he really the arrogant, errant, over-controlling Pentagon ...
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By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld

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Overview


Once considered among the best and brightest of his generation, Donald Rumsfeld was exceptionally prepared by successful careers in politics and business to assume the Pentagon’s top job in 2001. Yet six years later, he left office as the most controversial Defense Secretary since Robert McNamara, widely criticized for his management of the Iraq war and for his difficult relationships with Congress, administration colleagues, and military officers. Was he really the arrogant, errant, over-controlling Pentagon leader frequently portrayed—or as his supporters contend, a brilliant, hard-charging visionary caught in a whirl of polarized Washington politics, dysfunctional federal bureaucracy, and bad luck?

Bradley Graham, a longtime Washington Post reporter who closely covered Rumsfeld’s challenging tenure at the Pentagon, offers an insightful biography of a complex personality. In the tradition of Karen DeYoung’s Soldier and Bart Gellman’s Angler, By His Own Rules is a layered and revealing portrait of a man whose impact on U.S. national security affairs will long outlive him.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Thomas E. Ricks, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author of The Gamble and Fiasco
"Donald Rumsfeld is one of the most interesting and troubling figures of the Bush era, and Bradley Graham is the perfect writer to explore his reign at the Pentagon. Graham, a veteran military reporter, is scrupulously fair in weighing Rumsfeld's strengths and weaknesses. This is likely to be the definitive book on Rumsfeld, one that historians will turn to a century from now."

LA Times

“Among the handful of books likely to stand above mere topicality…What's particularly remarkable about the qualities Graham brings to this project is the extraordinary fair-mindedness with which he approaches his subject. He does not stint on analysis, but Rumsfeld's considerable virtues—flawless integrity and an unshakable lifelong commitment to civil rights, for example—are treated right alongside his overweening flaws: arrogance, a bullying intellect, tireless self-promotion. The result is an engrossing biography; its thorough, capacious reporting leaves those value judgments not absolutely required by the weight of evidence to the reader. There's a sturdy, old-fashioned quality to Graham's approach to his subject and this material, and the match works brilliantly. This is, in other words, a major—and highly important—American political biography.”

The Washington Post
“In this meticulously researched and compelling book, veteran Washington Post reporter Bradley Graham acknowledges these contributors to the national-security travails of the Bush years, but he highlights another as well: the secretary of defense's unwavering commitment to military transformation, his vision of a leaner, more lethal Department of Defense.”

Politico

“Donald Rumsfeld has been excoriated by both Democrats and Republicans for his handling of the Iraq war. This biography reveals a more nuanced picture than the conventional wisdom would suggest.”

Jamie Fly, executive director of The Foreign Policy Initiative
Washington Post reporter Bradley Graham chronicles the full span of Rumsfeld’s remarkable career in a surprisingly balanced and fair new biography….Graham does an excellent job of tracing the man’s meteoric rise in Washington, relaying insights from friends and associates about the famed Rumsfeld management style, which some call one of his biggest faults. —

Tom Mahnken, ForeignPolicy.com
“Journalists have produced many caricatures of Donald Rumsfeld, but no portraits. Until now, that is. Bradley Graham's By His Own Rules (PublicAffairs) offers a nuanced portrayal of the former defense secretary that is likely to serve as the definitive work for years to come.”

Bob Woodward, author of The War Within, State of Denial, Plan of Attack, and
Bush at War
“The first real, genuine, and mature biography of Rumsfeld—told with balance, empathy, and a toughness that Rumsfeld should appreciate. If anyone doubts that personality impacts and infects policy, read this excellent book. It is both fair-minded and blistering.”

Christopher Caldwell
…less a biography of Rumsfeld than a study of Rumsfeld as a Washington archetype: the operator, the insider, the bureaucratic infighter. It does cover Rumsfeld's life from childhood on…but only cursorily. At the book's heart is Rumsfeld's behavior in committee meetings and boardrooms, with the focus on the skirmishes that marked the gradual deterioration of the war in Iraq…authoritative and judicious
—The New York Times
Nathaniel Fick
…a careful, human portrait that avoids the predictable cheap shots while eviscerating Rumsfeld's style, many of his decisions and their effects.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal
Donald Rumsfeld, the most powerful and arguably the most controversial secretary of defense in U.S. history and the only person to hold the position under two presidents (Gerald Ford and George W. Bush), gets a full assessment from Graham (Hit To Kill: The New Battle Over Shielding America from Missile Attack), longtime military affairs reporter for the Washington Post. Graham covers Rumsfeld's life from childhood on, with the focus of course on his years in politics, from four terms as an Illinois Republican in Congress to his several positions under Ford, Nixon, and George W. Bush, and in private industry. The author conducted many interviews, including eight with Rumsfeld. His opinion? That Rumsefeld failed to expand the military to meet the challenges of the war in Iraq and that he neglected to plan effectively for postwar Iraq. Graham concludes that Rumsfeld will mostly be remembered for the American deaths in the Iraq war under his watch and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But he does not see Rumsfeld as a war criminal, as in Michael Ratner's The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld, nor as an appropriate fall guy. VERDICT This book would still have been thorough if slimmed down considerably. It will be of interest chiefly to policy wonks and academics.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
The Barnes & Noble Review
Few will be surprised to learn that Donald Rumsfeld's signature wrestling move was a body slam. His preferred version, euphemistically called the "fireman's carry," is neither subtle nor delicate, a creature more of the Rowdy Roddy Piper school of bruising than the staid and honorable Greco-Roman tradition. Throughout his successful wrestling career in high school, at Princeton, and in the Navy, Rumsfeld used the move to great effect; it made no difference that his opponents knew it was coming. "He was the most aggressive wrestler I ever saw," said a teammate who was struck by the way Rumsfeld would tear into the other guy from the whistle. One is tempted to divine from this an allegory for the future defense secretary's famously confrontational personality and management style, but it seems better merely to observe that of course this is how Donald Rumsfeld would wrestle. You should see him play squash.

Ah, Rummy. How mundane and predictable our public affairs have become without him! Unlike Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld has lately been absent from public view. He has not broken ranks with President George W. Bush, disowned the State Department, or taken the podium at safely unquestioning think tanks to criticize the new president's stewardship of the national defense. It does not diminish one's despair of Rumsfeld's catastrophic tenure at the Pentagon to observe that there is a measure of class in this. Two and a half years have passed since his dismissal as defense secretary, and even if new -- and festering -- crises now occupy our full attention, the time seems right to revisit him. Bradley Graham of the Washington Post has written the first serious biography, By His Own Rules, which is full of revealing anecdotes and insights, even if its sources are the usual Beltway backstabbers and its coverage tends to be broader than it is deep.

The wonder is that this is the first such book, for what biographer could resist so intriguing a subject? That ferocious squint; those performance-art press conferences; the busy hands; the rapid-fire memos ("snowflakes"); the bureaucratic tricks, like getting poor Colin Powell riled up before Cabinet meetings; the breathtaking arrogance and contempt for journalists and naysayers that hovered around the secretary like the very fog of war -- this is the stuff of a biography. Rumsfeld is a colossus, Wagnerian in his ambition, personality, and, ultimately, his failure, and he is worth trying to understand. Although the best assessment of his impact will come from historians, this is a very good start.

Younger readers will be struck by the precociousness of a man they have known only as a crusty old soldier. Rumsfeld successfully ran for Congress at 29, supporting civil rights, opposing the Vietnam War, and helping to draft the Freedom of Information Act. He threw his weight behind Representative Gerald Ford in a party leadership struggle, a move that would improbably pay off years later when President Ford invited Rumsfeld to serve as chief of staff and then as the youngest defense secretary in history. Before that, Rumsfeld had left his job as counselor to President Nixon in 1972 to take the post of U.S. ambassador to NATO, putting him safely in Brussels when the Watergate gong sounded.

Although it is easy to write off the NATO move as lucky timing, Rumsfeld has displayed a lifelong probity that may explain his distance from Nixon's worst excesses. Graham is perhaps too hard on his subject in explaining this streak as a politically calculated effort to avoid scandal, for it lasted well throughout Rumsfeld's second stint at the Pentagon, which he surely knew was his last job. In one of the book's most fascinating passages, Graham excerpts a memo showing that Rumsfeld insisted on reimbursing the government for every personal flight, paid for his own meals, and, just in case he missed something, wrote an annual check to the Treasury for $5,000. He also avoided conflicts of interest between his former business career and the moneybag defense contractors who wooed his department. If ex-Halliburton CEO Cheney was both corrupt and awful, Rumsfeld was just awful.

Three bona-fide calamities will forever be associated with his name: the decision to invade Iraq, the mismanagement of that war's aftermath, and the torture of prisoners by American personnel. Graham is sufficiently critical of Rumsfeld as to the latter two, but not the first. Rumsfeld was not the loudest proponent of war, but he certainly did his bit, and, perhaps more important, hired and supported duty-free dreamers like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle. He ignored the State Department's postwar planning advice and displayed an unshakable commitment to trimming the armed forces, even as it became clear to everyone else that more troops were needed in Iraq. (The "surge" has largely vindicated his critics' view.) And on torture, Graham echoes others who have convincingly drawn a line from Rumsfeld"s approval of "harsh interrogation methods" for Guantánamo detainees to that man standing on a box with wires running from his hands. The Economist put it best when its cover featured that photograph under the text, "Resign, Rumsfeld."

Surprisingly, this most unequivocal of men emerges from his own biography as a walking contradiction. Rumsfeld was a radical reformer who approached change cautiously, and an arrogant jerk who charmed in polite company. He terrorized his underlings but hadn't the heart to fire anybody. He delegated and micromanaged. The biggest contradiction, though, is not one that Rumsfeld embodies but one that he inspires. Looking back now at the famous picture of him scowling dangerously as he strode through Iraq in his dusty combat boots, it's hard to shake an involuntary sense that he is exactly the kind of warrior -- fearless, aggressive, a fighter, not a uniter -- we want guarding the wall when the next attack comes. It feels both shameful to admit this and dishonest not to. And yet if that is the secret instinct, experience now tells us what a giant mess of things such a person can make. --Michael O'Donnell

Michael O'Donnell has written for Bookforum, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. He recently completed a clerkship for a federal judge and is now an attorney in private practice in Chicago.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586484217
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 6/22/2009
  • Pages: 832
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Bradley Graham has spent more than twenty-five years at The Washington Post in various reporting and editing assignments focused on military and foreign affairs. The author of Hit to Kill: The New Battle Over Shielding America From Missile Attack, he lives in Washington, D.C.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 A Bit of a Rascal 15

Chapter 2 Developing His Own Tune 39

Chapter 3 Tough Enough 73

Chapter 4 Keep Your Eye on Rummy 107

Chapter 5 A Politician in the Corporate World 143

Chapter 6 A Friendly Hawkish Guy 171

Chapter 7 Operating from the Outbox 199

Chapter 8 Lots of Battlefronts 237

Chapter 9 A Defining Moment 281

Chapter 10 Iterative Planning 323

Chapter 11 Too Many Hands on the Wheel 377

Chapter 12 Long, Hard Slog 417

Chapter 13 The Thought of Resigning 449

Chapter 14 Framework for Iraq 487

Chapter 15 Second Thoughts 531

Chapter 16 A Period of Continuous Change 563

Chapter 17 Toward the Abyss 593

Chapter 18 Not Well Enough or Fast Enough 631

Epilogue 663

Acknowledgments 683

Notes 687

Bibliography 749

Index 771

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