In Sometimes-Brusque 'Snowflakes,' He Shared Worldview, Shaped Policy
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007; A01
In a series of internal musings and memos to his staff, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld argued that Muslims avoid "physical labor" and wrote of the need to "keep elevating the threat," "link Iraq to Iran" and develop "bumper sticker statements" to rally public support for an increasingly unpopular war.
The memos, often referred to as "snowflakes," shed light on Rumsfeld's brusque management style and on his efforts to address key challenges during his tenure as Pentagon chief. Spanning from 2002 to shortly after his resignation following the 2006 congressional elections, a sampling of his trademark missives obtained yesterday reveals a defense secretary disdainful of media criticism and driven to reshape public opinion of the Iraq war.
Rumsfeld, whose sometimes abrasive approach often alienated other Cabinet members and White House staff members, produced 20 to 60 snowflakes a day and regularly poured out his thoughts in writing as the basis for developing policy, aides said. The memos are not classified but are marked "for official use only."
In a 2004 memo on the deteriorating situation in Iraq, Rumsfeld concluded that the challenges there are "not unusual." Pessimistic news reports -- "our publics risk falling prey to the argument that all is lost" -- simply result from the wrong standards being applied, he wrote in one of the memos obtained by The Washington Post.
Under siege in April 2006, when a series of retired generals denounced him and called for his resignation in newspaper op-ed pieces, Rumsfeld produced a memo after a conference call with military analysts. "Talk about Somalia, the Philippines, etc. Make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists," he wrote.
People will "rally" to sacrifice, he noted after the meeting. "They are looking for leadership. Sacrifice = Victory."
The meeting also led Rumsfeld to write that he needed a team to help him "go out and push people back, rather than simply defending" Iraq policy and strategy. "I am always on the defense. They say I do it well, but you can't win on the defense," he wrote. "We can't just keep taking hits."
The only man to hold the top Pentagon job twice -- as both the youngest and the oldest defense secretary -- Rumsfeld suggested that the public should know that there will be no "terminal event" in the fight against terrorism like the signing ceremony on the USS Missouri when Japan surrendered to end World War II. "It is going to be a long war," he wrote. "Iraq is only one battleground."
Based on the discussion with military analysts, Rumsfeld tied Iran and Iraq. "Iran is the concern of the American people, and if we fail in Iraq, it will advantage Iran," he wrote in his April 2006 memo.
Rumsfeld declined to comment, but an aide said the points in that memo were Rumsfeld's distillation of the analysts' comments, though he added that the secretary is known for using the term "bumper stickers."
"You are running a story based off of selective quotations and gross mischaracterizations from a handful of memos -- carefully picked from the some 20,000 written while Rumsfeld served as Secretary," Rumsfeld aide Keith Urbahn wrote in an e-mail. "After almost all meetings, he dictated his recollections of what was said for his own records."
In one of his longer ruminations, in May 2004, Rumsfeld considered whether to redefine the terrorism fight as a "worldwide insurgency." The goal of the enemy, he wrote, is to "end the state system, using terrorism, to drive the non-radicals from the world." He then advised aides "to test what the results could be" if the war on terrorism were renamed.
Neither Europe nor the United Nations understands the threat or the bigger picture, Rumsfeld complained in the same memo. He also lamented that oil wealth has at times detached Muslims "from the reality of the work, effort and investment that leads to wealth for the rest of the world. Too often Muslims are against physical labor, so they bring in Koreans and Pakistanis while their young people remain unemployed," he wrote. "An unemployed population is easy to recruit to radicalism."
If radicals "get a hold of" oil-rich Saudi Arabia, he added, the United States will have "an enormous national security problem."
The memos delve into issues beyond Iraq and terrorism. In a memo to national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley in July 2006, Rumsfeld warned that the United States is "getting run out of Central Asia" by the Russians, who are doing a "considerably better job at bullying" than Washington is doing to "counter their bullying."
As public discontent and congressional questioning grew in 2006, his final year at the Pentagon, a series of snowflakes revealed a man determined to counter the chorus of media criticism in one- or two-line zingers to staff members about specific articles.
"I think you ought to get a letter off about Ralph Peters' op-ed in the New York Post. It is terrible," he writes on Feb. 6, 2006. In a Feb. 2 New York Post column, Peters decried "chronic troop shortages in Iraq" while the Pentagon buys "high-tech toys that have no missions."
On March 10, he commanded J. Dorrance Smith, the assistant defense secretary for public affairs, to craft a "better presentation to respond to this business that the Department of Defense has no plan. This is just utter nonsense. We need to knock it down hard." A Washington Post-ABC News poll that month found that 65 percent of Americans thought that Bush had no plan for victory.
On March 20, Rumsfeld ordered a point-by-point analysis of the seven "mistakes" columnist Trudy Rubin wrote about in the Philadelphia Inquirer and a response to her essay -- which he wanted to see before it was sent out. Rubin wrote that the war had "gone sour."
"Please have someone find precisely when I said 'dead-enders' and what the context was," he ordered Smith in September 2006.
A November 2006 editorial in the New York Times that said the Army was ruined "is disgraceful," Rumsfeld wrote to Smith. The editorial said that "one welcome dividend" of Rumsfeld's departure was that the United States would "now have a chance to rebuild the Army he spent most of his tenure running down."
Rumsfeld later reprimanded his staff, writing, "I read the letter we sent in rebuttal. I thought it rather weak and not signed at the level it should have been." He then instructed staffers to prepare an article about the Army. "We need to get that story out," he wrote on Nov. 28, 2006, a Tuesday. He ordered a draft by Friday.
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