All snowflakes look alike, but no two are identical. That’s especially true when the snow machine is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In his latest release of a batch of more than 500 memos — famously referred to as snowflakes — Rumsfeld’s acerbic wit and no-nonsense bluntness rain down with equal sharpness, whether the target is a flag officer, senator, Cabinet secretary or ambassador. The persistent but random nature of the flakes can indeed seem blizzardlike. Yet each memo is also a unique missive that crystallizes a thought, an observation, a concern or an irritation.
This set, released on Rumsfeld’s website and written during 2005 and 2006, covers critical years for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Rumsfeld struggles to find an Iraq plan that matches his memo style — short, sequenced and with a clean cutoff. There are frustrated admissions to his not knowing what’s going on. He tells Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone that he has “no visibility into Iraqi intelligence.” He complains to his senior military assistant, Vice Adm. James Stavridis, that he has “no idea” what the commander of the combined force in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, is doing. References to Afghanistan are frequent, but almost always linked to Iraq as if they are one war. In January 2005, he asks Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers for an urgent plan for Afghanistan that “can have a positive effect in Iraq.”
There are prescient references to detainees, Guantanamo Bay and human rights issues that nevertheless seem detached from the potential impact these would ultimately have on the U.S. and Rumsfeld personally. He gets wind that Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes is concerned about the “detainee matter” and recommends giving her a full briefing “without the last two pages.” He quips that “even the Belgians” are complimentary about Gitmo. And he makes a note to himself to remember a quote from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that “human rights trumps security.”
But it’s his non-war memos that best distill Rummy’s distinct take on life, whether it’s a snicker at the expense of Russian President Vladimir Putin, an appreciation of the Japanese Defense Secretary’s sense of humor, or a suggestion to accomplished pianist Condi Rice that a ballgame or a country band would be preferable to a concert at the Kennedy Center. Maybe most telling of all is a flake to Stavridis that instructs, “Please come up with a plan as to how we can improve the response rate on the snowflake replies.”
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