Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Submit your questions for Donald Rumsfeld

February 2, 2011 by Dr. Steve Frank


Spending nearly half a century near the center of power, it helps to develop a thick skin. So perhaps it’s not surprising that one of “Rumsfeld’s Rules” is: “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.”

Donald Rumsfeld and George W. BushRumsfeld, of course, is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who will appear at the National Constitution Center on Feb. 9, as the first stop on a national book tour for Known and Unknown, his soon-to-be published memoir.

The choice of title suggests something Rumsfeld does know: that notwithstanding a decades-long career in public service that began during the Eisenhower years, what he will be remembered for are the five years, from 2001-2006, that he served as President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Defense, a tenure that spanned the 9/11 terrorist attacks and launching the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rumsfeld’s memoir, which has been embargoed before publication, is a 700-page narrative supplemented by 100 pages of endnotes, according to advance descriptions.  Its audience includes the verdict of history.

About the title

The book’s title alludes to a much-quoted explanation at a press briefing in 2002 for the lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because, as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.”

The book touches on Rumsfeld’s childhood in Illinois during the Great Depression and World War II, going to Princeton on scholarships, serving as a naval aviator and then getting his first political job on Capitol Hill in the 1950s. Rumsfeld went on to serve four terms in Congress during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

His executive branch service included key Cabinet positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including appointment as the youngest-ever Secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford. Rumsfeld returned to that job at age 68 as President Bush’s Defense Secretary. Nine months later came the 9/11 attacks.

Rumsfeld, who was replaced as Defense Secretary by Robert Gates after several generals called for his resignation, has said that his book addresses the controversies that surrounded his second tour of duty at the Pentagon. The Feb. 9 program can be expected to include discussion of such issues as Iraq War strategy and mistreatment of prisoners at the detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib, which occurred on his watch.

Submit your question

Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, will serve as Rumsfeld’s interlocutor for the program. But we hope to present questions from the audience and readers of Constitution Daily, as well.

To submit a question, and to respond to questions that other readers submit, simply comment on this post below.

Tickets for the event are still available by calling 215.409.6700 or by visiting credit Marion Doss

Sign up for our email newsletter