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The 'Rumsfeld Rules' of Public Discourse

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The 'Rumsfeld Rules' of Public Discourse

The 'Rumsfeld Rules' of Public Discourse

The 'Rumsfeld Rules' of Public Discourse

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6457639/6457640" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Like him or not, Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of this country's more colorful defense secretaries. He will be remembered for his quirky sayings - and his strong language. "Stuff happens," during looting in Baghdad after the 2003 American invasion...or his complex philosophy involving "known knowns" and "known unknowns." We hear some of Rumsfeld's most memorable words from his time as Secretary, and Michele Norris and Melissa Block lay out some of the famous "Rumsfeld Rules."

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Finally this hour, Donald Rumsfeld's departure marks the end of an era at the Pentagon and the end of a unique relationship between the defense secretary and the press. Through unprecedented terrorists attacks on the U.S., two wars and their aftermaths, Secretary Rumsfeld has not shied away from reporters, and there have been some memorable moments.

Here are some of them, beginning with the ever-present question about Osama bin Laden.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Secretary of Defense): Charlie, the answer to the question is he alive or dead. The answer is yes, he is alive or dead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUMSFELD: As we know, there are known knows. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns. The ones we don't know we don't know.

Here is a country that's being liberated. Stuff happens and it's untidy and freedom's untidy and free people are free to make mistakes. The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase. And you see it 20 times. And you think, my goodness, were there that many vases.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUMSFELD: I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest and it just wan henny penny, the sky is falling. I've never seen anything like it.

It's essentially a matter of physics. It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the army of desire. It's a mater of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.

Those reports have been flying around about four months after I assumed my post in 2001. I have no plans to retire.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Well, now that Donald Rumsfeld is resigning, it's worth remembering that he leaves behind a long legacy as a public servant and an author of sorts. Buried in the desks of many government workers lies a 12-page document called Rumsfeld's Rules. It's a pithy list of dos and don'ts written by a young Rumsfeld back in 1974. He's updated it since.

It was based on his experiences as chief of staff for President Gerald Ford.

BLOCK: The document has become a survival guide in Washington. It's provided upon arrival to many political newcomers of both parties. Here are a few samples of Rumsfeld advice.

NORRIS: It's easier to get into something than to get out of it.

BLOCK: Learn to say I don't know. If used when appropriate, it will be often.

NORRIS: Don't blame the boss. He has enough problems.

BLOCK: Keep your sense of humor. As General Joe Stilwell said, the higher the monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind.

NORRIS: You will launch many projects but have time to finish only a few.

BLOCK: And finally, be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance.

NORRIS: Those are some of Donald Rumsfeld's rules for survival, rules that many in Washington might continue to follow even after he's gone.

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