Constitution Daily

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Rumsfeld on Iraq: "The President did what a president has to do" (updated with video)

February 17, 2011 by Robin Morris


This past Wednesday, February 9th, in his first public speaking event since resigning as Secretary of Defense in November, 2006, Donald Rumsfeld spoke at the National Constitution Center with presidential historian Michael Beschloss. See Rumsfeld discuss why the U.S. invaded Iraq below and view the full event at

Rumsfeld was in Philadelphia to kick off his highly-anticipated book tour in support of Known and Unknown: A Memoir. More than 700 people turned out on a bitterly cold night to hear from the man who ran President George W. Bush’s Department of Defense from 2001 to 2006.

For a man known to inspire strong passions, Rumsfeld was a warm, funny and occasionally persnickety guest. Beschloss reminded the audience of why he is a bestselling historian; he ably drew out his guest who shared personal and political stories.

In 1954, just before graduating from Princeton University, Rumsfeld attended a speech given by Adlai Stevenson. Rumsfeld told the audience, "He gave the most eloquent and persuasive speech about public service that I had ever heard or will ever hear. All of us came away with a sense of responsibility. One of the things he said was that young people in the country had a responsibility to help guide and direct the course of our country; that the power of the American political system is virtually without measurement and that if America were to stumble the world would fall. And it had an impact on me."

Beschloss began the conversation at the end of Rumsfeld’s fifty year career—with the Iraq War. He told Beschloss, "I don't know that [President Bush] asked Colin Powell or Condi Rice or the Vice President. We had frequent meetings and discussed various aspects of the situation. The President did what a president has to do—he made the decision. I assume that he assumed that everyone in that group would have argued vehemently if they disagreed. Which no one did."

Signing books for the first time in his career, Rumsfeld encountered a line of more than 100 wrapped along the stage and windows. Guests were eager for his autograph and picture. Reminding people why he ran for president in 1988, he chatted, laughed and occasionally shared stories with guests until the last person exited.


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