Errol Morris writes about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his complete lack of doubt about any decision he has ever made. Even after a decade of war in Iraq that cost trillions of dollars and found no WMD, he refuses to acknowledge even the possibility that he might have been wrong about anything.
Many people associate the phrases the known known, the known unknown and the unknown unknown with Rumsfeld, but few people are aware of how he first presented these ideas to the public. It was at a Pentagon news conference on Feb. 12, 2002. Reporters filed in to the Pentagon Briefing Room — five months after 9/11 and a year before the invasion of Iraq. The verbal exchanges that followed provide an excursion into a world no less irrational, no less absurd, than the worlds Lewis Carroll created in Alice in Wonderland.
He talked to Jamie McIntyre, one of the reporters who tried to pin down Rumsfeld during that infamous interview, asking what evidence there was that Iraq had WMD. McIntyre’s answers are illuminating:
ERROL MORRIS: I was often struck by the difference between Rumsfeld and Robert McNamara. McNamara said that he never answered the question he was asked but rather the question that he wanted to be asked. Rumsfeld, on the other hand, would never answer the question he was asked or any other question — Ask Rumsfeld a question, and all you get is evasions. But are they just evasions or do they reveal a lack of substance? And McNamara expressed regret —JAMIE McINTYRE: I know Rumsfeld well enough at this point to know that he’s never going to have this kind of epiphany. He’s never going to have this introspective moment where he realizes, even though we had the best intentions, that many of his decisions turned out to be disasters. It was rare that he would ever admit that he was wrong about anything. Part of his defense was that he was very adept at putting caveats into everything that he said so that he could go back later and cite the caveat. “I never said how long the war would last.” “I never said how many troops would be needed.” “I never said how much it would cost.” He was very slippery. You couldn’t pin him down on things. And his favorite technique, of course, was to challenge the premise of your question and never actually answer it.
To this day, Rumsfeld remains adamant that he was not wrong despite all the evidence that he was (or was simply lying, which doesn’t strike me as unlikely).