Donald Henry Rumsfeld (July 9, 1932 – June 29, 2021) was an American politician, government official, and businessman who served as Secretary of Defense from 1975 to 1977 under Gerald Ford, and again from 2001 to 2006 under George W. Bush. He is both the youngest and the second-oldest person to have served as Secretary of Defense. Additionally, Rumsfeld was a three-term U.S. Congressman from Illinois (1963–69), director of the Office of Economic Opportunity (1969–70), counsellor to the president (1969–73), the United States Permanent Representative to NATO (1973–74), and White House Chief of Staff (1974–75). Between his terms as Secretary of Defense, he served as the CEO and chairman of several companies. He died on June 29, 2021, at the age of 88.
I don’t do quagmires.
Remember where you came from.
If in doubt, don’t. If still in doubt, do what’s right.
If it were a fact, it wouldn’t be called intelligence.
Fact Don’t blame the boss. He has enough problems.
It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.
Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.
Learn to say ‘I don’t know.’ If used when appropriate, it will be often.
Don’t say ‘the White House wants.’ Buildings can’t want.
Treat each federal dollar as if it was hard earned; it was – by a taxpayer.
Public servants are paid to serve the American people. Do it well.
Think ahead. Don’t let day-to-day operations drive out planning.
Be precise. A lack of precision is dangerous when the margin of error is small.
Don’t speak ill of your predecessors or successors. You didn’t walk in their shoes.
Don’t necessarily avoid sharp edges. Occasionally they are necessary to leadership.
If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much. Donald Rumsfeld Doing May Much
If the staff lacks policy guidance against which to test decisions, their decisions will be random.
If you foul up, tell the President and correct it fast. Delay only compounds mistakes.
Enjoy your time in public service. It may well be one of the most interesting and challenging times of your life.
First rule of politics: you can’t win unless you’re on the ballot. Second rule: If you run, you may lose. And, if you tie, you do not win.
I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won’t last any longer than that.
Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn’t exist.
Reduce the number of lawyers. They are like beavers – they get in the middle of the stream and dam it up.
Know that the amount of criticism you receive may correlate somewhat to the amount of publicity you receive.
Let your family, staff, and friends know that you’re still the same person, despite all the publicity and notoriety that accompanies your position.
Amidst all the clutter, beyond all the obstacles, aside from all the static, are the goals set. Put your head down, do the best job possible, let the flak pass, and work towards those goals.
Test ideas in the marketplace. You learn from hearing a range of perspectives. Consultation helps engender the support decisions need to be successfully implemented.
The Secretary of Defense is not a super General or Admiral. His task is to exercise civilian control over the Department for the Commander-in-Chief and the country.
Leave the President’s family business to him. You will have plenty to do without trying to manage the First Family. They are likely to do fine without your help.
“Those who made the decisions with imperfect knowledge will be judged in hindsight by those with considerably more information at their disposal and time for reflection.”
In our system leadership is by consent, not command. To lead a President must persuade. Personal contacts and experiences help shape his thinking. They can be critical to his persuasiveness and thus to his leadership.
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
The Federal Government should be the last resort, not the first. Ask if a potential program is truly a federal responsibility or whether it can better be handled privately, by voluntary organizations, or by local or state governments.
“When surprise occurs, such as when the economy enters an unexpected recession or a conflict begins seemingly out the blue, the natural reaction is to immediately ask who made the “obvious” mistake. It is much easier to believe that our leaders are incompetent than to accept the less pleasant reality that ours is a world where uncertainty and surprise are the norm, not the exception.”