02.03.11

Rumsfeld's Lighter Side from New Book Known and Unknown

From his unromantic wedding proposal to his assessment of the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, the defense secretary’s new memoir isn’t just about foreign affairs. Read anecdotes.

While the bulk of Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir deals with weighty matters of war and peace, there are offbeat moments in Known and Unknown that provide glimpses of the Chicago native who twice ran the Pentagon. Here are a few:

· The day after graduating from college in 1954, Rumsfeld was back home in Illinois and told his parents he was going out. “I went to find Joyce and asked her to marry me,” he says of Joyce Pierson, whom he had stayed in touch with since high school. “There was little buildup, little suspense, and at ten o’clock in the morning, it wasn’t very romantic.” That’s an understatement.

· As a young congressman summoned to LBJ’s White House for a briefing in 1966, Rumsfeld challenged the president on the Vietnam War. “Why are the Viet Cong not convinced of our national will?...What is being done, or can be done, to convince them?” he asked. “I’ll tell ya what’ll convince ’em!” Johnson almost shouted. “More of the same like we’ve given ’em!” But LBJ later softened, saying, “Look, no man wants to end this war as badly as I do.”

· Rumsfeld’s first major encounter with the national media “left an indelible impression on me.” It was 1969, and he was running Richard Nixon’s Office of Economic Opportunity, when columnist Jack Anderson reported: “Anti-poverty czar Donald Rumsfeld has wielded an economy ax on programs for the poor. He has used some of the savings to give his own executive suite a more luxurious look, thus reducing poverty in his immediate surroundings.” The column made him seem “a stereotypical fat-cat Republican,” Rumsfeld fumed, and not a word was accurate, “with the exception of the correct spelling of my name.” Anderson declined to run a correction, even after Rummy gave him a tour of the office. The episode “left me with a deep caution of the press.” Rumsfeld later made what turned out to be a good career decision; he turned down Nixon’s offer to run the 1972 Committee to Reelect the President, or CREEP, many of whose members would go to jail in the Watergate scandal.

Speed Read of Rumsfeld’s Memoir

· When Rumsfeld was serving as Gerald Ford’s White House chief of staff, he asked his friend Dick Cheney to serve as his top assistant. Cheney “reminded me about a couple of arrests he had had for drinking and driving after he got out of college and was working on power lines in Wyoming.” Rumsfeld briefed the new president. “Do you think this is the guy you need for the job?” Ford asked. Rumsfeld said he did. “Then bring him aboard.” The rest, as they say, is history.

· After recounting how he lost his keys after a Washington Redskins game—and had to hitch a ride with a random couple in the parking lot, who were stunned to be rewarded with a tour of the Ford White House—Rumsfeld says he provided the president with a list of 23 potential candidates to head the CIA. The job went to George H.W. Bush, and gave rise to a “Rumsfeld Takes Out Bush” story line in which he was described as exiling a political rival. In fact, says Rumsfeld, he ranked the future president “below the line,” meaning “he was not on my personal short list of top recommendations.” Rummy grumbles that Bush endorsed the “myth” in his own book by quoting an unnamed former House colleague as telling him, “They feel you’ve been had, George. Rumsfeld set you up and you were a damned fool to say yes.”

· Rumsfeld seems to say he could have done a better job of handling Hurricane Katrina. He was not a fan of creating a Homeland Security Department—there were “bound to be unforeseen consequences” of creating a bureaucracy “in secrecy and haste”—and sounds miffed in a memo he wrote more than a year before the hurricane struck. “DoD currently will not be called until all of the first responders—sheriffs, police, FEMA, FBI, Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, etc.—have tried and failed…Then and only then will the phone ring at the Department of Defense…We know that DoD, whatever its ultimate role in homeland security, will always be called in late, [and] will be imperfectly equipped…” Rumsfeld concedes that “the most powerful nation in the world seemed unable to cope with high winds and floodwaters.” But ever the loyalist, he adds: “While some of the unfolding criticism was warranted, much of it was not.”

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.