Verbatim September 2004

Rumsfeld’s Rules Revisited

Shortly after Donald Rumsfeld was appointed Secretary of Defense, the Department of Defense Web site posted a list of "Rumsfeld's Rules" for "government, business and life." The rules, which the new Secretary had begun touting in the mid-1970s, while serving as chief of staff for President Gerald Ford, were frequently cited as a blueprint for Rumsfeld's managerial style.

Over the past few years Rumsfeld's Rules have drifted away from public attention. Below are a few that seem worth revisiting.

  • "Establish good relations between the departments of Defense and State, the National Security Council, CIA and the Office of Management and Budget."
  • "Don't divide the world into 'them' and 'us.' Avoid infatuation with or resentment of the press, the Congress, rivals, or opponents. Accept them as facts. They have their jobs and you have yours."
  • "Don't do or say things you would not like to see on the front page of the Washington Post."
  • "If you foul up, tell the president and correct it fast. Delay only compounds mistakes."
  • "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance."
  • "Your performance depends on your people. Select the best, train them, and back them. When errors occur, give sharper guidance. If errors persist or if the fit feels wrong, help them move on."
  • "It is easier to get into something than to get out of it."
  • Presented by

    Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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