This article appears in the new September 2008 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.
These days, political memoirs come in three genres.
First, the “everyone around me was an idiot or a crook, but I was a really smart good guy.” Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s What Happened perfected the genre, assuring him the place in history previously occupied by Baron Munchausen.
The second borrows a line from the great Toby Keith, converting “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” from lyric to prose. Former CIA director George Tenet’s At the Center of the Storm will, for many a year, be foremost in that category.
The last is one that can recount history over decades of public service. It tells the story of important events from the viewpoint of a key participant in well-documented terms, like Churchill’s six-volume history of World War II.
In a small but elegant suite of offices near Farragut Square in downtown Washington, D.C., former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld is writing his entry in the third genre. Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” Rumsfeld knows history will be more kind to him than the daily press was, and not only because he will write it.
History — benefiting from the passage of time — is not the stuff of daily news reporting, which is tinged with the emotions of the day and the biases of the reporters. Donald Rumsfeld — once “Rumstud” to the adoring pressies — fell into disfavor over the Iraq war. In his retirement, he must take comfort from his record of achievement, a record that guarantees history’s verdict on him will be much kinder than the editorial page of the New York Times.
Rumsfeld resigned from his post after the 2006 election, presumably rather than face an inability to get anything done, wasting his time answering inanities in televised congressional hearings.
His offices are adorned with many memorabilia of four decades of public service. Five cabinet chairs — on which he sat as a five-time member of presidential cabinets — are scattered around. His favorite picture — an almost totally black satellite photo of North Korea at night, proving that nation’s near-Stone Age lack of development — hangs on a wall. Rumsfeld has a lot to write about.
Rumsfeld served in Congress and was both the youngest and oldest man to serve as Secretary of Defense, first for Gerald Ford (1975-1977) and then for George W. Bush (2001-2006). He was White House chief of staff for Ford, chaired the bipartisan U.S. Ballistic Missile Threat Commission in 1998, and the U.S. Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization in 2000. He’s been a special envoy to the Middle East (1983-1984), served on two presidential commissions on U.S.-Japan relations, and — among other things — has been one of the most successful chief executives in American industry, turning the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle from an endangered failing business into a sustained success.
Unlike Tenet, Rumsfeld wasn’t just “at the center of the storm.” Rumsfeld was in the center of the storm.
THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of things for Rumsfeld to write about. But what should he write? He could write about the financial engines that drive America, how they relate to the world and how they can thrive in the future. He could write a textbook on how the media, not the Democrats, are the Republicans’ opposition party. And he could write about the devolution of the Democratic Party, from the days of Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Sam Nunn to the present day of Harry “the war is lost” Reid and Dick “Gitmo is like a Nazi prison camp” Durbin. But he shouldn’t, and he likely won’t.
I don’t know what Rumsfeld will share with us, but I have a few hopes. Topics that are near and dear to his heart, that could add greatly to our understanding of the history of the past half-century. Things that will shape our world for decades to come.
First, Rumsfeld should write about how he has brought Ronald Reagan’s vision of an America defended against ballistic missile attack off the drawing boards and into reality.
In a September 2006 interview, Rumsfeld told me, “I was there in the White House when President Reagan made his announcement that evening about missile defense, and the wisdom of it is clearer every year, that weapons are increasingly more powerful and increasingly available. We owe it to our people to provide for their protection and their safety. To be willing to engage in a serious effort over a sustained period of time to develop the capabilities to deter and defend against a range of threats.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?