Inside Media: "By His Own Rules"

July 26, 2009

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

What does William Shakespeare have in common with Donald Rumsfeld?

Like so many of the playwright’s characters, Rumsfeld’s life is "a fascinating and tragic tale," according to Bradley Graham, author of "By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld."

The former Washington Post Pentagon reporter said the classic definition of tragic is someone who has traits that make him great but whose traits also lead to his undoing.

"I think that’s very much what happened to Donald Rumsfeld," Graham said.

Graham interviewed several sources for the book, from childhood friends to Rumsfeld himself, and discovered that the former Secretary of Defense had aspired to become president of the United States. Hoping to succeed President Ronald Reagan, Rumsfeld attempted a bid for office in the late 1980s.

Years later, when President George W. Bush chose Rumsfeld to head the Defense Department, he quickly started making enemies — from top military brass, to a number of people on Capitol Hill.

"Rumsfeld came into office with this mission to transform the U.S. military, but he came in treating people so abruptly," Graham said. After his first six months, "articles began appearing that said Rumsfeld might not be long for the job. What saved him was the fact that we went to war."

The Iraq War transformed Rumsfeld’s image overnight, and his popularity soared.

"He became the voice of America at war," Graham said. "His bluntness and intelligence served him very well in news conferences. He was extremely popular, and Bush even named him Rumstud." 

The initial aftermath of the war and the country’s extended occupation in Iraq would prove to be Rumsfeld’s Achilles heel. But Graham said it would be wrong to blame all of what went wrong in Iraq on Rumsfeld, because senior military advisers and Bush also played significant roles.

"There’s a lot of blame to go around," he said.

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