In July 2004, as the Iraq War spiraled out of control, Donald Rumsfeld ordered a staffer to draw up a "What Did Not Happen?" memo—a list of potential bad outcomes that had been avoided—to make himself feel better. Things could be worse, right?
Then they started happening. The "What Did Not Happen?" memo—which Gawker obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, along with thousands of pages of other documents from Rumsfeld's tenure—is practically a parody of Rumsfeld's truculent blindness to his own failures. In a bid to justify the wisdom of his Iraqi misadventure, he commissioned a list of pitfalls he had avoided at the very moment that they were happening all around him. In 2009, Rumsfeld asked the Defense Department for a declassified copy of that memo, along with thousands of pages of other records from his tenure, to help prepare for his memoir. In a bid to appear transparent and open and willing to back up his memories with evidence, Rumsfeld has posted thousands of those documents to his online "Rumsfeld Papers." And to his credit, he has posted some documents that don't reflect well on him.
But he's also kept hundred of documents secret, and we used the FOIA to find them—we got everything that the Pentagon handed over to Rumsfeld, so we know what what he got and can see what he declined to publish. We received a few hundred pages in February, and just got another 1,300 pages, including memos urging President Bush to start toppling regimes in the Middle East just days after 9/11, suggesting that he thought Gen. Tommy Franks was lying to him, and chastising his generals for being too concerned about civilian casualties.
"What Did Not Happen?"
Rumsfeld asked a deputy to draw up the memo in July 2004, more than a year after the invasion and four months after the insurgency began to explode with the lynching of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah. It listed 29 eventualities the Pentagon had allegedly planned for that hadn't yet happened up to that point—things like "Saddam uses WMD against U.S. or allied forces." It included these ten items that actually happened as a result of the invasion, and for which Rumsfeld and the White House were clearly not prepared:
Iraq descends into anarchy
Iraq becomes Balkanized
There are mass Iraqi casualties
The oil infrastructure is severely damaged or destroyed
Disruption of oil production causes widespread economic problems
Another state (e.g. North Korea) takes advantage of U.S. focus on Iraq
There is widespread vigilante justice
Shi'a holy sites are damaged or destroyed
A revolt of the "Arab street" in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan causes political instability
There is a dramatic surge in terrorist recruitment
Good thing none of that happened. Read the full document here.
"New regimes in Afghanistan and another key state (or two)."
On September 30, 2001, Rumsfeld laid out his plan on how to conduct a war on terror in a memo for President Bush, including a remarkably casual and off-hand recommendation for invading a middle eastern country—or two!—practically at random. Rumsfeld argued for a light footprint initially, saying it would be "surprising and impressive" if the U.S. began going after Al Qaida "with equip-and-train activities with local opposition forces" rather than "direct, aerial attacks on things and people." But once things got going, Rumsfeld wrote, the "The [USA] should envision a goal along these lines: New regimes in Afghanistan and another key State (or two) that supports terrorism." Read the full document here.
"I have a high tolerance level for possible error."
In October 2001, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reported that the U.S. missed a chance to kill Taliban commander Mullah Omar in a Predator strike because a military lawyer advised Gen. Tommy Franks not to fire for fear of civilian casualties. The story stuck in Rumsfeld's craw, and he called Franks to check it out and to urge him not to worry so much about civilians. "When I heard about Sy Hersh's piece in the New Yorker, I raised it with Tommy Franks," Rumsfeld wrote in a memo for the record. "I asked him if it was true that the CENTCOM lawyer had inhibited him from hitting that target." Franks insisted that the story wasn't true, but it seems that Rumsfeld actually trusted Hersh over his own commander: "He said it was absolutely not true. I have the feeling he may not have given me the full story."
Rumsfeld ended the conversation by explicitly instructing Franks not to be so concerned about killing civilians: "I have a high tolerance level for possible error. That is to say, if he thinks he has a valid target, and he can't get me or he can't get Wolfowitz in time, he should hit it." Another memo recounting the same conversation recalls Rumsfeld's words this way: "The payoff for getting a key leader is high. Look for a new process. Anything to speed it up. I have a high tolerance level for mistakes."
Eight months later, what the Pentagon called an "errant bomb" hit a wedding party in Uruzgan province, killing at least 20 civilians and wounding a 7- and 6-year-old girls. According to the Project on Defense Alternatives, within three months of Rumsfeld's admonition to Franks, the U.S. bombing campaign had killed between 1,000 and 1,300 civilians. Read the full document here.
"Mubarak is an ebullient man and seemed pleased with our meeting."
Rumsfeld has a proud history of palling around with Middle Eastern dictators, and in a memo to Bush recounting an October 2001 tour of the region, he described a "lively" but wary encounter with recently deposed strongman Hosni Mubarak: "Mubarak offered much advice on the war on terrorism: The U.S. should use intelligence operations as an alternative to "too much bombing." "Don't be in a hurry, take it easy.... Put your money into buying allies on the ground in Afghanistan." Rumsfeld continued: "Mubarak is an ebullient man and seemed pleased with our meeting and dinner talk. Though his agenda (the Israel-Palestinian issue) and my agenda (fighting terrorism) diverged somewhat, the exchanges were friendly and should foster a higher degree of cooperation than would we get in the absence of such face-to-face consultations." Read the full document here.
"Afghanistan — A potential liability; U.S. has a stake in it not failing."
Rumsfeld is not a sophisticated foreign policy thinker. A memo to aide Doug Feith on U.S. trouble spots that he did see fit to publish in his library attracted much mockery earlier this year for this maddenlingly reductive and obvious command: "We also need to solve the Pakistan problem. And Korea doesn't seem to be going well. Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around?"
This April 2002 memo on "Countries for the U.S./DOD to Emphasize—and Why" is in a similar vein. The man responsible for the defense of our nation, when he surveyed the globe and to ascertain threats and opportunities, came up with this:
UK - U.S. special relationship - it is helpful.
Australia - A special relationship; valued location.
Afghanistan - A potential liability; U.S. has a stake in it not failing.
Egypt - Still a leader in the Muslim world.
Central/South America - We can't tolerate extremism or mass disorder.
Oddly, Iraq—which the Administration was at that very moment drawing up plans to invade and conquer—did not make the list. After Rumsfeld distributed the list, an aide responded to suggest that he add Iran. And China. Read the full document here.
"The fact that Iran and Russia have plans for Afghanistan and we don't concerns me."
In April 2002, six months after 9/11 and five months after the first U.S. ground troop was killed there by hostile fire, Rumsfeld wrote an "impatient" memo to Doug Feith wondering why the U.S. had no strategy in Afghanistan. "The fact that Iran and Russia have plans for Afghanistan and we don't concerns me. I keep getting an answer that 'the Deputies are working on it.' Well I can't believe that it takes that many months to figure it out.... We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave." Keen insight from the man who's job it was to come up with a strategy for Afghanistan, and who never did. Read the full document here.
"We need to train Kim long II to understand that blackmail tactics...will no longer work."
This 2002 memo to Dick Cheney argues for a strategy of ignoring Kim Jong Il's tantrums in the hopes of "training" him to negotiate in good faith with the U.S. He wasn't as trainable as you'd imagine most Stalinist madmen to be, and within four years had added another half dozen or so nuclear weapons to its arsenal. Read the full document here.
Bush: "We need an Iraqi leader to say to US: Thanks for your sacrifice."
The documents include a transcript of a 2004 National Security Council meeting at which the subject of who the U.S. should support as the next Iraqi leader came up. Bush's chief qualification? Gratitude. And posture. "We need an Iraqi leader to say to US: Thanks for your sacrifice. I don't expect a toady but he should be grateful for what we've done. We want American people to support our mission.... The Iraqi should want the job. We should see it in his body language." The job eventually went to Prime Minister Iyad Alawi. Read the full document here.
The Defense Department has posted the full 1,300-page response to our request as a pdf here.
Research assistance by Gawker intern Lindsay MaHarry.
[Photos of Rumsfeld via Getty Images]