Fine Print

Rumsfeld vs. Rice: What's the role of a national security adviser?

Donald Rumsfeld came to the Pentagon with a plan to transform the Defense Department. Then America went to war with Iraq.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 2011; 7:11 PM

What's the role of the president's national security adviser?

There's an insider's view on Pages 324 to 330 in former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's 726-page memoir "Known and Unknown," which is backed up by several hundred declassified documents posted on his Web site,

Described by most reviewers as a critique of Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's national security adviser during his first term, a close reading of those pages and the accompanying documents reminds us again how personality clashes affect processes at the top levels of our government.

Let's start with the mundane elements, but ones that give you a sense of Rumsfeld.

On Jan. 23, 2001, three days after Bush's inauguration, Rumsfeld dictated a series of memos (which he eventually called snowflakes) to members of his personal staff. In a note to one secretary: "You ought not to say it's Dr. Rice if it is her secretary. You ought to be precise. Thank you."

To another: "Let's get the light in this room up, particularly in over the table."

And to Steve Cambone, his special assistant: "I think you always should have the current calendar on the plastic holder on the back desk behind me, even though I have one in my pocket. Then I will always be able to see it."

On Feb. 5, 2001, Rice sent a memo to Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying she wanted a brigadier general to serve on her National Security Council staff to work on U.S. nuclear deterrence strategy and interagency efforts to define the nuclear force structure.

Four days later, Shelton sent the memo to Rumsfeld for his information, adding, "We are working on it."

That afternoon, Rumsfeld sent Rice a memo saying that any NSC communication to the Pentagon, even to the Joint Chiefs chairman, should come through his office. "It is exceedingly difficult to manage the Pentagon without that clear understanding and procedure," he wrote.

In his book, Rumsfeld notes that Rice suggested she approve his official travel. "I certainly kept the national security adviser and the secretary of state informed of my travel plans," he wrote, but he added that he never acceded to her suggestion.

Petty issues aside, Rumsfeld wrote in the book that his concern with Rice's operation of the NSC arose from her tendency to bridge "differences between agencies, rather than bringing those differences to the president for decisions."

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