My Neighbor, Donald Rumsfeld



Washington has hundreds of police and fire call boxes originally introduced in the 19th century.  In 1999, the city began a program in which these anachronisms were turned over to local artists.  An old police box sits on the easement directly in front of the house owned by my neighbor, the former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  In it, an artist has painted in inexpert, yet instantly recognizable, icon of St. Francis of Assisi.  Each day when Rumsfeld went to work he was confronted by an image of St. Francis, a failed soldier known for his gentleness.  I expected the icon to be removed or vandalized; at one point it was dislodged from its police box frame but was placed next to the pedestal and not stolen.  Over the years I came to regard the icon’s continued display as sort of implicit evidence of Rumsfeld’s integrity; he must not have appreciated the not-so-subtle editorializing.

Rumsfeld has now written a book, Known and Unknown, and associated with the book is a searchable online library of Rumsfeld’s papers. Rumsfeld is still in the process of uploading documents. Scanning material related to North Korea posted thus far, Rumsfeld comes off about as one would expect from conservative realist Secretary of Defense, constantly maintaining a skeptical eye on the diplomatic negotiations, and trying to limit the concessions that the State Department might offer.  (Lord only knows what he would have made of the last two years of Bush Administration policy.). I make a walk-on cameo appearance as a “renowned economist” in a March 31, 2003 paper forwarded to Vice President Cheney and copied to Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, While House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

A recurrent theme is Rumsfeld’s skepticism about the conventional capabilities of the North Korean military.  In a February 4, 2004 memo to aide Steve Cambone, copied to head of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Dick Myers and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld writes that “Everything in me says that the North Korean military may be vastly weaker than the current assessment suggests…” Perhaps is thinking was influenced by a conversation with a Chinese official; an August 4, 2003 “snowflake” reads “The senior Chinese official who had been in North Korea said that North Korea couldn’t stand a war for four weeks—it would collapse.”

There are some surprises, though. According to an April 1, 2003 report, at the time there were 69 North Korean citizens serving in the US military, including 2 officers (no, I don’t think this report from Peter Rodman is an April Fool’s joke).

Although it may be now forgotten, in the initial State Department reports on human trafficking, South Korea was classified as a tier 2 country, not fully compliant with minimum anti-trafficking standards (the country has since raised itself to tier 1). The Rumsfeld papers include two reports and associated documents from the DOD Inspector General responding to White House and Congressional concerns about possible USFK complicity in human trafficking, with the “leave behind” message that neither Bush nor Rumsfeld shared the attitude that “the so-called victims are ‘just prostitutes’.”

Perhaps Rumsfeld’s thoughts are best summarized by another August 4, 2003 snowflake:

“We are going to need to bring closure on Iran and North Korea sometime in the next few years, or there will be serious problems.”

The Rumsfeld Papers: we read them, so you don’t have to!

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