Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this review of Donald Rumsfeld's memoir "Known and Unknown" misstated the length of time between his being passed over as a 1976 running mate for Gerald Ford and his being forced out as George W. Bush's defense secretary. The events were 30 years, not 20 years, apart. The review also incorrectly described Eric Shinseki as a former Army secretary. Shinseki was the Army's chief of staff. This version has been corrected.
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Gwen Ifill reviews Donald Rumsfeld's memoir, "Known and Unknown"

Donald Rumsfeld came to the Pentagon with a plan to transform the Defense Department. Then America went to war with Iraq.

Rice, by contrast, was exceedingly loyal in Rumsfeld's estimation; she just wasn't competent - as either national security adviser or secretary of state. Meetings, he said, were disorganized, and she refused to force a decision from the president. "The core problems the NSC faced resulted from the effort to paper over differences of views," he writes.

Rumsfeld recounts more than one tense confrontation with Rice and traces much of his discontent to her. "I don't want four hands on the steering wheel," he advised Bremer, who he discovered was talking daily to Rice.

"Human rights trump security," he quotes her as saying during a separate disagreement about U.S. relations with Uzbekistan. Rumsfeld begged to differ, but lost the argument.

There are other digs along the way. Rumsfeld apparently does not think as highly of President George H.W. Bush as he does of his son. ("It has always amazed me that [George H.W.] Bush's version of what took place has consistently been contrary to the facts," he writes of one Ford administration-era dispute.)

Rumsfeld has careful and consistent praise for only a few - chief among them George W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Richard B. Cheney.

The long friendship with Cheney - which began when both were very young men - has endured even though it was often the former vice president who delivered bad news. It was Cheney on the line when Rumsfeld learned he was being passed over for the 1976 vice presidential nomination, and it was Cheney calling again 30 years later, when Rumsfeld was forced out as secretary of defense.

Rumsfeld's major regret appears to be the handling of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when photographs surfaced showing U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqis held at the notorious Baghdad prison. Twice, he offered to resign. Twice, Bush said no. Rumsfeld writes that not leaving then was his biggest "misjudgment."

Throughout the book, which is organized a bit like a hopscotch game, Rumsfeld is intent on proving the Bush administration's pure intent. In his worldview, the news media and authors who recounted Bush's term in office have distorted almost everything - including the timing of the decision to go to war in Iraq after the 9/11 attacks; the responsibility for holding, interrogating and prosecuting detainees in Guantanamo Bay; and even the handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

History is determined by who gets to define it. So Rumsfeld patiently explains that the Bush administration did not practice "preemption," only "anticipatory self-defense." He provides hundreds of his own memos - archived on the Web - to back up his case. They may be exhaustive, but they are still Rumsfeld's interpretation of the world as he saw it. By the time every Bush administration veteran finishes defining and redefining history, surely someone is going to have to come up with a brand new dictionary.

Ifill is moderator of "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for "PBS NewsHour."


: A Memoir,

by Donald Rumsfeld.

Sentinel. 815 pp. $36

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