Donald Rumsfeld on Afghanistan War: “It’s not combat, as such”

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
Donald Rumsfeld on Afghanistan War: “It’s not combat, as such”

Politics Confidential

Donald Rumsfeld made a habit of collecting adages to live by over the course of his decades-long government career. His collection began as a stack of index cards, which then transformed into a White House document dubbed “Rumsfeld’s Rules” by President Ford, and has now evolved into a book.

Most of Rumsfeld’s new book Rumsfeld’s Rules focuses on lessons in leadership, but it also sheds new light on the early days of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.”

The former secretary of defense reveals in the book that he doesn't recall the National Security Council ever having a formal discussion “to consider the consequences and costs of a long-term and large-scale military presence” in Afghanistan.

When asked by Politics Confidential about the apparent lack of decision-making, Rumsfeld qualifies that U.S. military operations in Afghanistan are a unique situation: “Well, it's not combat, as such. It's different than a World War II combat or a Korean War combat. It's even different from the beginning of the attack on Afghanistan, when the Taliban were defeated within a matter of weeks.”

Rumsfeld is reflective about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says he regrets how drawn out the conflicts have been.

“I think the motivation was proper, the problem is, the Department of Defense…is not organized and trained and equipped to nation build,” Rumsfeld says. “We can create an environment that a country has a chance.”

While he believes that both Iraq and Afghanistan now have a chance to build stable futures, Rumsfeld says he was against the decision to occupy Iraq long-term from the beginning.

“The president was elected and he gets to decide things,” Rumsfeld says. “I personally favored a more rapid transition to Iraqi control…Don't leave the impression that you can run a country that you can't run.”

Rumsfeld also says he disagreed with Bush’s decision to give the name “War on Terror” to the United State’s fight against Islamist extremists.

“I was uncomfortable with the word war, because it suggested that it was going to be one with bullets and the Department of Defense would be the lead on it,” he says. “The ‘Global War on Terror’ I felt was not a perfect characterization of what we were engaged in. And I thought we'd do better against it if we'd willingly identify who the enemy was. And the enemy is not terror, the enemy is radicals, a small minority, or some minority in that faith that is determined to impose their will on other people.”

Rumsfeld says he has no doubt his critics will denounce the book and say he didn’t live by the rules he professes, but that doesn’t bother the former Secretary of Defense, known for his combative and unforgiving leadership style.

“Dogs don't bark at parked cars,” Rumsfeld says, quoting one of the adages from his book. “If you do something, somebody's not going to like it. Somebody's going to like it, but somebody isn't going to like it.”

To hear more about Rumsfeld’s rules, and his defense of the rules that are proving controversial, check out this episode of Politics Confidential.

ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, Hank Disselkamp, and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this episode.