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Politics & Government

Former White House Chief Of Staff Andrew Card On Working With Donald Rumsfeld

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has died. He was 88 years old in a public service career spanning decades, the man who was often called Rummy had many titles. He was the oldest and the youngest secretary of defense, a congressman and a presidential candidate. In between, he was a corporate executive. Rumsfeld's role in the Iraq War will likely be a defining feature of his legacy, and we're going to talk about that legacy now with Andrew Card. He was former President George W. Bush's White House chief of staff, as well as head of Bush's White House Iraq Group.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ANDREW CARD: Ari, it's good to be with you. And it's a sad day for the Rumsfeld family, but it is a chance for us to celebrate the remarkable contributions he made to so many presidents.

SHAPIRO: With so many roles that he played over the course of his career, what will you remember most about him?

CARD: Well, he was legitimately combative, so he was appropriately challenging. He was empathetic to some of the responsibilities I had as chief of staff because he had been a chief of staff. So he was quite kind when he told me, I know you've got a tough job, unfortunately today I'm making it more difficult.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CARD: But he did it with empathy. And he was - he came in to the responsibility as secretary of defense as the oldest secretary of defense, having built on his - what he knew as the youngest secretary of defense. And he was going to be a transformational secretary of defense leader to reform our military. Obviously that all came...

SHAPIRO: Well, transformational in ways he might not have anticipated - right. I mean, on...

CARD: Didn't happen because of 9/11. And Secretary Rumsfeld rose to the responsibility of putting together very quickly a response that was going to be a military response to go to war in Afghanistan. And he deserves a lot of credit for...

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about 9/11 before we do get to those wars. I mean, President Bush today recalled Rumsfeld's response at the Pentagon on 9/11, saying Rumsfeld, quote, "ran into fire." Do you have specific memories of him on that day?

CARD: Oh, absolutely. I was sitting in the Beast, the presidential limousine, next to the president after we had left the Emma E. Booker school in Sarasota, Fla., where I had whispered in his ear about the attacks. And President Bush was on his cell phone. I was on my cell phone. And President Bush was frustrated because he was calling the secretary of defense and could not get anyone to answer the phone. It turns out that is literally when the Pentagon was being attacked, and Secretary Rumsfeld had left the office to help be kind of a first responder.

So I knew it from sitting in the back seat of the Beast, the presidential limousine, with the president being frustrated that he couldn't get his secretary of defense. I was then very much involved with the president as he coordinated with our intelligence and national security institutions to give a good response to that horrible attack that day. And Secretary Rumsfeld was certainly very significant in that role.

SHAPIRO: Right. So after 9/11, the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, followed by the war in Iraq. And I think Rumsfeld is widely viewed as somebody who helped push the U.S. into the Iraq War. How do you see his role in the run-up to that conflict?

CARD: Well, he was restrained in not saying that we should go from - automatically from the war in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq.

SHAPIRO: Restraint is not the word I would have expected. That's a surprising adjective.

CARD: Well, he was restrained, one of his deputies was not. And that - and he did not oppose what President Bush was thinking. When he was - President Bush did not want to go to war in Iraq and Paul Wolfowitz did.

SHAPIRO: And yet Rumsfeld defended the war in real time and after the fact. Why do you think he was and remained over the years so convinced that this was the right path for the United States?

CARD: The right path in going to Iraq?

SHAPIRO: Yes.

CARD: Well, I'm not sure that he ever thought it was the right path. I think that he saw Saddam Hussein not complying with the international commitments that he had made to the U.N. and everybody else. And it was like, what is the consequence? There must be a consequence and there is. I actually don't think the decision to go to war was as flawed as maybe history is suggesting. I do think that there was some mistakes in the early execution of the war and some of the intelligence that was informing those decisions that were made to go to war and what kind...

SHAPIRO: Intelligence surrounding weapons of mass destruction, for example. Let me ask you about what might be Rumsfeld's most famous quote, which was in response to a reporter's question about links between Saddam Hussein and terrorists seeking WMDs. This is what Rumsfeld said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD RUMSFELD: There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.

SHAPIRO: A version of that became a title of one of his books. I mean, he was mocked for it at the time. Do you know how Rumsfeld viewed that moment?

CARD: I think that, first of all, he was very popular and very measured in his responses at that time in this process. And he is known for that statement and not unknown and not known known. But anyway, that was his statement. And it probably is more true than we want to admit because there were a lot of unknown unknowns. There were some known unknowns and not known knowns or whatever. I don't know.

SHAPIRO: All right.

CARD: He was appropriately challenging, but he - beyond that, I want to celebrate - he really did participate in our democracy. And he served in Congress with distinction. He really served President Ford with great distinction. And he was a chief of staff, so I had empathy for him. He had empathy for me.

SHAPIRO: And I appreciate that your relationship with him was different from the public perception of him. In another part of the program, we asked our Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, about how Rumsfeld will be remembered. And I'd like you to listen to and respond to part of Tom's assessment here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TOM BOWMAN: I don't think he'll be remembered very well by history. You know, I think in many ways, Rumsfeld personified the hubris of an era where he was really the architect of Afghanistan and Iraq. Frankly, Iraq is considered by many I talk with in the Pentagon to be one of the worst strategic decisions in the nation's history. But he remained defiant to the end. Now, he did expand special operations forces, and that's widely seen as a plus.

SHAPIRO: Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, what would you say to that assessment?

CARD: I'm not sure that it was a strategic mistake. I think there was - there were many tactical errors that were made in going into Iraq. Remember, Saddam Hussein was given every chance to be an ally in the war of terror, and he refused to do it. And he actually said that he was going to offer a $2,000 reward for every family of any suicide bombers. And he was not constructive in helping to make sure that terrorism didn't take a foothold around the globe. And - but then he also did not comply with any of the U.N. resolutions. There was 16 U.N. resolutions, and Saddam Hussein never complied with those resolutions, which were put in after the first Gulf War.

SHAPIRO: Just in a sentence or two - we've got about 30 seconds left - what do you think Donald Rumsfeld would most want to be remembered for?

CARD: For being a noble public servant, having answered the call to duty and making sacrifices to serve. And he served well. I didn't always agree with him. He was a tough character to work with. But he wasn't hired to be easy. He was hired to be tough. And he was...

SHAPIRO: That's former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, who worked closely with Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld died today at the age of 88.

Thank you so much for remembering him with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.