Book of Wisdom

05.19.13

‘Rumsfeld’s Rules’ Review: Good Rules, Shame He Didn’t Follow Them

Plan properly, prepare for uncertainty—the former secretary of defense’s new book is full of great lessons for success in various fields. Just one problem, says comedian Dean Obeidallah: Google.

The Donald is back with a new book. Not Donald Trump, but the original cantankerous, ill-tempered Donald, who possibly has uttered the expression “You’re fired” with more glee than Trump. I’m speaking of Donald Rumsfeld—the man who served in several positions in the federal government, the most recent his “star turn” as secretary of defense under President George W. Bush.

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Donald Rumsfeld. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Rumsfeld new book is titled Rumsfeld’s Rules, and it promises you “leadership lessons in business, politics, war, and life.” It’s sort of like Game of Thrones meets The Secret.

In Rules, Rumsfeld offers numerous lessons to succeed in these various fields. But the No. 1 lesson I have gleaned from his book is: ignore your past and instead re-create yourself so you sound amazing. Rumsfeld has done just that by offering us rules to live by that paint him as a thoughtful, considerate person who is cross between Steve Jobs and Gandhi.

Not that I can blame Rumsfeld. Who would write a book highlighting their negative qualities or failings when offering suggestions for others to emulate?

Lets put it this way. If Jodi Arias wrote a book one day offering dating tips, I’m sure it would be filled with suggestions like “be a good listener,” “treat your partner as you want to be treated,” etc. It’s highly doubtful she would recommend you stab the person you are in a relationship with 29 times and then shoot them in the head.

But there’s one glaring problem with Rumsfeld following this formula for his book. It’s a little thing called Google. A quick search for “Donald Rumsfeld” will quickly highlight the disconnect between the “rules” Rumsfeld is advocating and his own prior actions.

As an aside, I must note that one of my favorite items yielded by a Google search for “Donald Rumsfeld” was his appearance on the Opie and Anthony comedy radio show three years ago, when he was promoting his last book. On the show, comedian Louis C.K. asked Rumsfeld pointedly: “Are you a lizard?” Rumsfeld laughed off the question but never responded directly. His evasiveness has fueled Internet speculation that Rumsfeld may indeed be a lizard.

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On Sunday's "Meet the Press," Donald Rumsfeld said that public trust in the Obama administration "is being eroded," and "that's a problem."

Now back to the book. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the rules Rumsfeld offers:

1. “Learn to say, ‘I don’t know.’” That is great sentiment. Of course, you wish Rumsfeld had said that when asked if Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Instead Rumsfeld told the media with the utmost confidence the weapons of mass destruction would be easy to find: “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat.”

Rumsfeld's Rules by Donald Rumsfeld
“Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life.” By Donald Rumsfeld. $18.19; Broadside Books; 352 pages. ()
The lessons Rumsfeld offers are pretty good ones, albeit often fortune-cookie philosophy. It’s just a shame he didn’t follow many of his own rules.

2. “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” If only Rummy had followed his rule so that our fighting men and women in the military had the armor they needed on their vehicles to protect them during the Iraq War. As I’m sure many recall, this point was brought home to then–Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld during a stop in Kuwait in 2004, when a soldier asked him why they had to dig through landfills to find armor to protect their vehicles instead of the military properly outfitting their vehicles. Rumsfeld’s response was one of his most famous quotes ever: “You go to war with the army you have—not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

3. “Don’t blame the boss; he has enough problems.” Of course, implicit in this rule is that you should take responsibility when you screw up. But did Rumsfeld follow his own rule? Well, when widespread looting occurred in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was toppled and his security forces were no longer in control, Rumsfeld could have acknowledged that he simply hadn’t planned for that contingency. Instead he shrugged it off, saying, “Stuff happens,” and then blaming freedom for the problems: “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.” But at least Rumsfeld didn’t blame his boss for his mistake.

4. “Plan for uncertainty.” In Rumsfeld’s defense, he did follow this rule during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, when he was instrumental in securing weapons for both sides in the conflict, including chemical and biological weapons for Saddam Hussein. When you think about it, this makes sense—why bet on just one horse in a two-horse race? Bet on both of them, right?

And the list goes on. Overall, the lessons Rumsfeld offers are pretty good ones, albeit often fortune-cookie philosophy. It’s just a shame he didn’t follow many of his own rules.

But on a personal note, I was so inspired by Rumsfeld’s Rules that I’m going to write a book explaining how I’m the greatest comedian in the world. I just hope you don’t Google my comedy act.