[Readings] Evidence of Absence, By Donald Rumsfeld | Harper's Magazine

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[Readings]

Evidence of Absence

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“Snowflake” memos by Donald Rumsfeld, written during his 2001–2006 tenure as U.S. secretary of defense, from among nearly 2,000 documents he released in February. “Snowflake” is the term Rumsfeld used for notes intended to spur further ideas.

february 8, 2001
February 7th Condi, Dick Cheney, and I went to the State Department for the Wednesday lunch. The table was set elegantly, and there were silver covers over each of our four places. We all teased Colin about being so elegant at the State Department. When we took the silver metal covers off, underneath was a plain paper bag with our sandwich in it. It was a classic ruse.

may 21
subject:
To Discuss with P.
Known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.
The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
The three charts showing what we knew and when we knew it, and the importance of recalling this when reading intel.

may 29
subject:
Important Countries
We ought to give some thought to picking eight or ten important countries, asking ourselves what we think we would like them to look like five or ten years from now, and then fashioning plans to achieve that. Certainly Ukraine would be one of them.

august 4
rumsfeld’s rules

Anyone who gets a star in the U.S. armed forces almost certainly has the capability to do one or more things exceptionally well. The things they do well may not be the things the Pentagon currently has them doing and may not be the thing you are working on with them. Nonetheless, keep in mind they do do some things exceptionally well.

september 21
subject:
Saddam Hussein
At the right moment, we may want to give Saddam Hussein a way out for his family to live in comfort.

october 11
subject:
Quote
“Before the thugs, go the liars.” Hitler had to fashion a concept of racial superiority to achieve his goal of power. Communists fashioned the concept of economic communism and socialism, so that they could justify seizing power.

march 6, 2002
In Desert Storm we used ten aircraft for one target. In Operation Enduring Freedom we used one aircraft for two targets. That means ten aircraft can do twenty targets, whereas ten aircraft did one target. That is a 20-to-1 factor of improvement in U.S. military capability since Desert Storm.

may 10
subject:
Spending Money
When people spend their own money on themselves, they are careful about how much they spend and about what they spend it on. If people spend their own money on others, they are careful about how much they spend, but not as careful about what they spend it on. If people spend other people’s money on themselves, they are not careful about how much they spend, but they are careful about what they spend it on. If people spend other people’s money on other people, they are not careful about the amount of money they spend, nor are they careful about what they spend it on. That is government.

june 14
subject:
Perspective
Some see a glass as half full; some see a glass as half empty. I see a glass that is at the halfway mark—but that is not what is important. What is important is what is the trend line—is it going up or down?

february 18, 2003
subject:
Talk to Gen. Myers
I want to talk to Gen. Myers in the Round Table about starting to cooperate with countries that are more likely to cooperate with us during a crisis, rather than countries we have historically cooperated with but which may not be willing to cooperate with us.

february 3, 2004
subject:
Arguments That Have Been Made
—Didn’t build legitimate international coalition— nonsense; thirty-four nations.
—Rushed to war—not so. Last resort.
—President said “out by June 30”—he never said it. Sovereignty passes June 30, if we are fortunate. We will be there considerably after that.
—Pressured analysts—not so. No evidence of it. Intel Committee attests to that. Kay attests to that. Tenet attests to that.
—Imminent danger—not said by the President. “Gathering danger.”
—Bypassed traditional intelligence screening process—not so.

june 1
At the WWII Memorial event, President Clinton walked over, stuck out his hand, shook my hand, and said, “Mr. Secretary. No one with an ounce of sense thinks you had any way in the world to know about the abuse taking place. Don’t worry about it. You will get through this.”

january 19, 2006
subject:
Value of Information
In war, information, intelligence, and knowledge are more important than bullets.

april 19
subject:
Talk to POTUS about Democracy.
I want to talk to the President sometime about the word “democracy” and the balance between rapid pace toward free systems and a more measured pace.

may 15
subject:
Conversation with the President and Condi
When I talk to the President and Condi, they both agree that they do not recall Colin Powell saying we needed more troops. I certainly don’t. Condi said she was in the meetings with the President, and she never heard Colin say it. The President said he supposes Colin may have said something, or at least thinks he did.

june 29
subject:
Phrases to Remember
I want to remember the phrase Koizumi said, “influence envy.” I also want to remember the phrase “point of declining consent.” General Dempsey talked about that with respect to U.S. forces in Iraq.


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