updated 2/9/2011 10:17:13 AM ET 2011-02-09T15:17:13

It would be an exaggeration to say that in his hefty memoir Donald H. Rumsfeld admits to no mistakes during his years as Pentagon chief. But just barely.

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He finds plenty of blame for others in the Bush administration and the military, but he also concedes he fell short or was just plain wrong on a few fronts.

He writes, for example, of mild regret that he did not stop L. Paul Bremer, the chief administrator of Iraq in the early months of the war, from ordering the entire Iraqi army disbanded — a move that ran counter to recommendations that flowed from a series of military analyses earlier in the year.

Video: In new book, Rumsfeld defends actions (on this page)

Rumsfeld says he had concluded that the benefits of disbanding the army — as part of a U.S. drive to wipe out Baathist influence in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein — outweighed the risks. In hindsight, many critics believe that Bremer's decision was one of the costliest mistakes of the war. On paper, Bremer worked for Rumsfeld, but in practice Bremer answered more regularly and directly to the White House.

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A formerly secret memo from a senior Rumsfeld staff official, declassified at Rumsfeld's request as part of a trove of papers posted Monday to his website (, says Bremer informed Rumsfeld on May 19, 2003, that he intended to issue an order dissolving the Iraqi military. Bremer signed the order four days later.

"I was told of Bremer's decision," Rumsfeld wrote in his memoir, "and possibly could have stopped it."

On WMD: 'I made a few misstatements'
Rumsfeld also conceded an inch or two on charges that he and others in the administration overstated the certainty of their claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

He recalls his remark just days after the war began about the location of weapons of mass destruction stockpiles inside Iraq. "We know where they are," Rumsfeld told a television interviewer. "They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."

In his book, he denied that he or any other administration official lied about WMD. "While I made a few misstatements — in particular the one mentioned above — they were not common and certainly not characteristic."

Video: Miklaszewsk fact-checks Rumsfeld's memoir (on this page)

Rumsfeld revealed in his book that he urged a U.S. military strike on a suspected chemical weapons site in northern Iraq in 2003 and that he wanted the attack to coincide with Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the U.N. Security Council making the case for war.

In his memoir, "Known and Unknown," Rumsfeld wrote that the Joint Chiefs supported a strike, based on what Rumsfeld called extensive but not conclusive CIA evidence that the site housed an underground facility for testing chemical weapons. He called it a "fairly sizeable terrorist operation."

The prewar attack never happened, although the site was struck in the opening days of the war that President George W. Bush launched in March 2003, about six weeks after Powell's U.N. speech. The U.S. never found substantial evidence of an active Iraqi program to produce weapons of mass destruction, but Rumsfeld believed that the site near the Iranian border presented the best chance to prove they existed before the war began.

"For whatever reason, the administration never made public these facts about an active WMD production facility run by terrorists in Iraq," Rumsfeld wrote.

He said he made his recommendation to Bush at a National Security Council meeting Feb. 3, 2003, in which Powell sketched out the presentation he was to make at the U.N. two days later.

Rumsfeld quotes himself as telling the meeting, "We should hit Khurmal during the speech, given that Colin will talk about it." Khurmal is the name of a village near the site. Powell objected.

In his U.N. presentation, Powell described it as "Terrorist Poison and Explosive Factory, Khurmal." Rumsfeld said Khurmal was operated by Ansar al-Islam, a Sunni militant group with ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian extremist who later led the Iraq branch of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Rumsfeld wrote that he wanted to attack the site before Powell finished his presentation in New York because otherwise the site would be abandoned.

Had Powell not stood in the way, in Rumsfeld's view, the Bush administration might have gained conclusive evidence that Iraq had an active WMD site. "As expected, shortly after Powell's speech was delivered, many of the terrorists fled Khurmal," he wrote.

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An Associated Press reporter who visited the site a few days after Powell's speech found a half-built cinderblock compound filled with heavily armed Kurdish men, video equipment and children — but no obvious sign of chemical weapons manufacturing. Much of the site was destroyed by American cruise missile strikes at the outset of the invasion.

Micah Zenko, a political scientist at the Council on Foreign Relations, extensively researched U.S. planning for a military strike on Khurmal in 2002 and detailed it in his book "Between Threats and War." He said in an interview that he was unaware that Rumsfeld had advocated bombing the place while Powell was at the U.N.

By that time, the Khurmal camp had been largely empty for months, Zenko said.

The Rumsfeld memoir covers the full span of his 78 years, including growing up in a small town outside Chicago, his Navy days, his years in Congress, a string of staff jobs in the Nixon White House, his first tour as defense secretary under President Gerald R. Ford, a period as a business executive and his return to the Pentagon in January 2001. He is the only person to have served twice as defense secretary; he also was the youngest to have held the job and the oldest.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Miklaszewsk fact-checks Rumsfeld's memoir

  1. Closed captioning of: Miklaszewsk fact-checks Rumsfeld's memoir

    >>> because the president has ridden troop levels too quickly was the failure in the excuse of the war.

    >> i don't have enough confidence to say that that's right. it's possible. it's hard do know. the path you didn't take is always smoother.

    >> rumsfeld lays the blame on too many hands on the steering wheel. no coordinated plan. first, the president's right-hand advisory in the white house , condoleezza rice --

    >> she never served in a serious administration position. she'd been an academic. a lot of academics like to have meetings. every time a big issue got before the president, he was perfectly willing to make a decision.

    >> and secretary powell?

    >> he did not, in my view, do a good job of managing the people under him. there was a lot of leaking out of the state department . and the president knew it. and it was unhelpful.

    >>> 21 past the hour. welcome back to " morning joe ." joining us now, jim miklaszewski . we're looking at the rumsfeld interview, jim . and, boy, he is spreading the blame, isn't he?

    >> well, the one thing about this book that i have to give credit to donald rumsfeld for is that he remained true to himself. even when he was here at the pentagon conducting the wars in afghanistan and iraq , it seemed that if you listen to rumsfeld , he did everything correctly and it was everybody else who made the mistakes. he doesn't spare anybody in wire brushing in this book. but the one point that i really have a problem with is rumsfeld rumsfeld 's account that it was two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, both here at the pentagon and in new york, that president bush sat rumsfeld down and said, we ought to go over plans to attack iraq . in other words, rumsfeld claiming that it was president bush 's idea. but only four hours after the american flight 77 slammed here into the pentagon, just a few floor business low where i'm standing now in the tank, which itself was filled with smoke at the time, rumsfeld had all his top advisers, military and civilian together, and i have a copy of the log notes that were taken at that time. the timestamp is 1:45 in the afternoon. that's four hours after the plane struck the pentagon. and according to the note-takers and more than one set of notes reflects this, rumsfeld said, my intent is to hit saddam hussein at the same time. we ought not to look only at ubl. i think what's particularly telling about that is in all the turmoil of that day, 9/11, and figuring out who did fly these planes into these buildings in new york and here at the pentagon, he would come up with saddam hussein , an indication perhaps that it was rumsfeld 's intent when he took office to somehow get at saddam hussein .

    >> bill kristol , let me ask you about this. i always thought it was fascinating when tim russert interviewed the vice president right after 9/11. he said, of course, saddam hussein had nothing to do with this. and he kept the focus on afghanistan . that at least the first brush of history has it being rumsfeld and cheney who pushed the administration to iraq . is -- is -- is what jim is telling you from the pentagon records, is that a fair reflection of what you remember with all of your close contacts with the white house ?

    >> i don't know how close my contacts were. i think everyone on the day itself didn't know exactly what connections there were between people who had attacked us and saddam . it wasn't unreasonable. saddam had terrorist connections obviously. when vice president cheney did the interview with tim, they decided they knew who was responsible for this and they had to go after him in afghanistan first. i do think ultimately it would have been hard to explain leaving saddam in power in the middle east , given the new situation post-9/11, but that was a different calcules. that was debated in congress in september and october of 2002 .

    >> but the idea that president george w. bush came up with the idea immediately -- and whether it's in films or editorials, it's that george w. bush wanted to show his daddy what he could do. that's -- that's nonsense. rumsfeld early on had his eyes set on saddam .

    >> bill clinton had his eyes set on saddam . we were at war, in effect, with saddam . we were running no-fly zones over 1/3 of iraq . we had an embargo on iraq that saddam said was effective propaganda for him. it was causing suffering in iraq . you couldn't have maintained the no-fly zones and the -- and the sanctions for the decade or so. we were in a crisis with iraq really from 1991 on, certainly from '98 on. i think that any administration would have had to make a different decision about what to do about saddam hussein . maybe they would have decided not to go to war, but the idea that was crazy to think about dealing with saddam hussein , bill clinton bombed saddam hussein for four days at the end of 1998 .

    >> jim , of course, you can go back to 1998 , which we keep bringing up. i remember it was congress, our congress, that passed a resolution that the white house supported to remove saddam hussein from power. you go back and look at the quotes of al gore and -- and teddy kennedy and john edwards and bill clinton at the time, and this was an idea a long time coming.

    >> oh, that's absolutely right. as a matter of fact, as bill kristol points out, we were flying those no-fly zones. as one air force officer told me at the time, in an almost provocative sense in some cases, they called it trolling for sams. in other words, trying to draw fire from the iraqis so they could fire back. and in the end, i think, what this comes down to in terms of donald rumsfeld is his, again, trying to distance himself from some of the failures in iraq . and when he -- when he says, as a matter of fact, that, look, we drove out saddam hussein . we drove the taliban out of afghanistan , but it was donald rumsfeld and the bush administration who diverted all of the attention and resources away from afghanistan to concentrate on iraq , that allowed the taliban to reconstitute itself and pose a new threat in afghanistan , which is why afghanistan is now the longest-running u.s. war in history.

    >> jim miklaszewski , thank you so much. incredible reporting.

    >> i want to go to savannah. first, john heilman is about to burst.

    >> i just want to say, it's very important. here's a guy who has written an 800-page memoir, and he's reflecting on his role in this particular conflict, and he has apparently on the basis of the contemporaneous record just blatantly lied about it. i think that should cast some doubt on the -- the total value of this record. if you can't get straight the fact that there were contemporaneous notes that suggested that your version of history is kind of made up.


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