Skip to content

Rumsfeld Ran the Pentagon His Way

Even with the Obama administration in office for nearly six months, the ghosts of the Bush presidency continue to fascinate writers and the public.

In his new book “By His Own Rules,— former Washington Post reporter Bradley Graham takes an in-depth look at one of the most controversial and polarizing figures of the George W. Bush White House: former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Subtitled “The Ambitions, Successes and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld,— the book focuses its attention on Rumsfeld’s role in the Bush administration, specifically his planning and execution of the war in Iraq. Graham covered Rumsfeld as the Post’s Pentagon reporter during this period.

“I thought there was much more that could be said about how he operated and why he operated the way he did as secretary,— Graham said. “No matter how you felt about Rumsfeld, there was no denying that he had become as Bush’s secretary the most consequential Pentagon leader since [Robert] McNamara, as well as the most controversial.—

The book’s introduction details the end of Rumsfeld’s time as secretary, describing his resignation in 2006.

“The question of whether to keep Rumsfeld had dogged Bush and his senior advisers for months,— the intro reads. “It had been raised after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in early 2004 and several months later in the wake of Bush’s reelection. It had come up again as the Iraq War worsened during 2005, and once more in the spring of 2006 when a number of retired generals stepped forward to appeal for Rumsfeld’s dismissal.—

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book, though, is the early chapters, in which Graham discusses Rumsfeld’s childhood and adolescence — particularly as a wrestler.

“To understand Rumsfeld, you have to understand his approach to wrestling,— he says. “He developed his own signature move called the firemen’s carry,— which “involves a wrestler taking hold of an opponent’s arm, then dropping down, grabbing a leg, picking the opponent up off the mat — like a fireman carrying somebody out of a house — and bringing him down.—

“It’s a risky move, but is very effective when done right. All of that is very typical Rumsfeld,— Graham said.

Graham goes on to describe Rumsfeld’s high school and college years, touching on his becoming an Eagle Scout, joining a Princeton University eating club and courting his eventual wife, Joyce.

Rumsfeld’s election to the House of Representatives signaled his establishment as a new brand of Republican. Graham says Rumsfeld desired to shake up and change the structure of every organization he became a part of. He describes Rumsfeld as a “radical conservative.—

“Never met an organization he didn’t want to change,— he said. “You don’t usually see a conservative coming in and wanting to shake things up.—

“By His Own Rules— is not the first book on Rumsfeld or the Bush White House, and it will not be the last. However, Graham has crafted what could be the definitive look at Rumsfeld’s second tenure at the Pentagon. (Rumsfeld, of course, also served as secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977.) It presents the story plainly and cleanly, even when the events it describes remain murky.