The two Donalds couldn’t be more different. Donald Rumsfeld, the consummate foreign policy heavyweight, is able to parse nuance and cite historical precedents. And Donald Trump, the plain-speaking billionaire businessman, tends to make ambitious pronouncements with details to come.
Rumsfeld says NATO may be the greatest military alliance of all time. Trump thinks NATO may be irrelevant. Both are polarizing figures, and you’d be forgiven if you assumed they were also polar opposites. But while Trump may lack Rumsfeld’s deep national security resume, Rummy’s OK with that. And if Trump’s the GOP nominee, he’s got Rumsfeld’s vote.
Washington Examiner: So you’re a Republican. Are you going to endorse anyone?
Examiner: Are you going to vote for someone?
Rumsfeld: Oh sure!
Examiner: Do you know who you are going to vote for?
Rumsfeld: No, I want to kind of watch ’em run around the track a little bit more.
Examiner: Your choices are diminishing at this point.
Rumsfeld: Well, that’s true. Well, we had a good field on the Republican side, and you can be sure I’m going to vote for the Republican.
Examiner: Why not endorse? I imagine there’s a lot of people who would be curious.
Rumsfeld: I don’t know. I don’t know most of them. I know, I worked with [John] Kasich. He was helpful to me after 9/11, but I don’t know them, and I’m from a differeent era. I don’t see that it adds much. I mean I talk about the issues, and I give talks, and I’m helping Republicans running for office around the country because I’m partial to the Republican Party.
I have a feeling that would be better than having Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the White House. We don’t need four more years of what we were getting the last eight, in my humble opinion.
Examiner: Are you concerned at all about Donald Trump’s lack of foreign policy experience, and some of the things he’s said?
Rumsfeld: Well you know I’ve worked with three or four presidents over the years, and the reality is nobody goes into that job with 360 degrees of the capabilities and experiences and skill sets that they need. All of them go in with some long suits and some short suits. So that’s not unusual, and the way that the president has to patch around that is by the people he brings in to work with him, or her, as the case may be. And that makes the big difference.
You’ve got to figure out … Every president goes into that office and the circumstances are different, and their skill sets are different. I mean, Gerald Ford. I’ve been thinking about him lately because I’m working on a book on him. But he came in with a lot of background in the Congress. He understood the budget like the back of his hand, better than any president in history. And he knew the press and the media in town.
He knew the issues, and he had never been an executive for one second. He’d been a congressman and a minority leader. And he knew how to work with the members of Congress, but he did not have a single minute of executive experience.
And indeed a lot of the lessons you learn as a legislative leader are exactly the opposite of what you need as a chief executive. So he had to learn that. Also he suffered from the fact that nobody knew who he was in the country, because he had never run for president or vice president.
Examiner: Now without presuming the outcome of the election, we know it’s likely going to be one of five people …
Rumsfeld: Everyone who has tried to presume the outcome has been wrong. I’m plucky, but I’m not stupid.
Examiner: But are you concerned about the direction of the country, whoever of those five people ends up being the next president?
Rumsfeld: In the case of Sen. Sanders, what it really tells us is that no one teaches economics anymore, in high school or college. The fact that a person who is proud of being a socialist is doing so well, and has so many people supporting him suggest that the country doesn’t really have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t work.
I’ve got a great picture which you’ve seen of the Korean Peninsula … same people, north and south. The same culture, the same language, the same neighbors the same history, and in the north they are starving, and in the south it’s the 13th largest economy on the face of the Earth, in the Republic of Korea.
Now what’s the difference? In the north they have a dictatorial political system and a command economy, and it doesn’t work. People are starving. In the south they have a free political system and a free economic system, and it works. People have political opportunities and food and chances to do things and improve themselves.
Examiner: What do you think about the strategy to defeat the Islamic State group?
Rumsfeld: What strategy? I don’t see that we have a strategy as a country. It’s the kind of thing that you are not going to win with bullets alone, that’s for sure. But to be totally unwilling to even identify the problem and call it, people who are engaged in killing other people “Islamists” and “extremists” seems to me is guaranteed to not succeed, if you are unwilling to identify the enemy.
Examiner: But isn’t the strategy of using small numbers of special forces, using air power, enabling and training local forces, isn’t that similar to the strategy you used when you first went into Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: Sure, sure. If you’re not competing against big armies, navies and air forces, and we’re not likely to for a period because of the deterrent effect of ours and the cost/benefit ratio, it’s so disadvantageous to anyone else. But without question we are going to be attacked asymmetrically, and that’s what’s taking place. And therefore how do you deal with that? Well you learn to try to deter and dissuade people from thinking they can succeed by engaging in asymmetric attacks. And you do that with the kinds of capabilities that we developed when I was secretary of defense.
Examiner: As you’re a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, I have to ask you about Donald Trump’s comments about NATO being irrelevant, and that also about the other NATO countries, that we are basically footing the bill. Does he have a point there?
Rumsfeld: I gave a talk at the Truman Library praising him [Truman] for the fact that at that inflection point from the end of World War II to the beginning of the Cold War, most of the institutions that exist today were created [at that time]; the CIA, the Department of Defense, NATO, the U.N., all of those things started right during that Truman presidency.
Now, have they served us pretty darn well? Yeah, not bad. Do they need to be adjusted and fixed and straightened out and added to, or revised or amended to fit the information age and the 21st Century? Sure they do. They have to, all of them. Are we slow doing that? Yeah? But NATO, as an institution, I suppose history will look at it as one of the most successful military alliances in the history of the world
Examiner: So are you troubled by Trump’s comments?
Rumsfeld: Oh my goodness, you know, even my wife Joyce doesn’t agree with me all the time. And I’m troubled by that? No. I’ve been married 61 years. I’m happy as a clam.