Rumsfeld’s book, “Known and Unknown, runs 730 pages in length, so the exceedingly limited space given Iran is a surprise.
Rumsfeld is not kind to the Islamic Republic. “Since the radical Islamist regime came to power there, no other nation in the world has been responsible for as many deaths to US troops as Iran,” he wrote. Then he lists attacks from the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 through numerous roadside bombs in Iraq.
But he observed that the Bush Administration, strained with wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan and battling declining public approval, “was not ready to be firm with Iran.”
Rumsfeld then gave his prescription. “To change the Iranian regime’s behavior, I believed one of our best options was to aid the freedom movement inside Iran,” he said. “Supporting those locked away in Iranian prisons might eventually lead to something like the Soviet Union’s downfall.” He said nothing about providing funds for violent opposition groups like Jundollah, the Ahvaz Liberation Front, and Kurdish bands, which the Islamic Republic charges are funded by the United States.
Rumsfeld said Pentagon officials “wrote a number of memos suggesting ways to reach out to the Iranian opposition movement: bringing their leaders to the White House, supporting them financially, providing them with technology to communicate with one another and to the outside world, and more forcefully speaking about the nature of the evil regime they were opposing.”
After a policy review in the first year of the Bush Administration in 2001, Rumsfeld writes, “the President decided that negotiations were the best way to try to deal with Iran.” Given Bush’s later opposition to talks, it is often forgotten that he started off wanting to negotiate with Iran.
Later in the Administration, Bush decided to join talks that Britain, France and Germany had been holding with Iran over the years. Rumsfeld made clear his strong opposition. He said he wrote Bush: “I think they [the talks] are a disaster. We are stepping on a rake.”
That is really all Rumsfeld has to say about Iran. He says nothing about any military preparations for war, or even any discussions about the possibility of resorting to war. He never says: All options are on the table, and, in fact, suggests the exact opposite.
Rumsfeld opens his book with a chapter about his famous visit to Baghdad in 1983 as a representative of President Ronald Reagan, a visit that has become a topic of much folklore with stories of a secret Iraqi-American alliance.
Rumsfeld noted that Iraq was just one of several countries he visited as Regan’s special representative to the Middle East, and that Lebanon was the Administration’s chief concern.
Rumsfeld said, “Whatever misgivings we had about reaching out to Saddam Hussein, the alternative of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East was decidedly worse. The Reagan Administration had recognized this reality and had begun to make lower-level diplomatic contacts with the Iraqis some months earlier.”
Rumsfeld said the primary request he got from Saddam and Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was that the United States lean on its allies to cut off arms sales to Iran, something the United States did with considerable success.
But, Rumsfeld said, in the long term, relations did not improve markedly and “my visit to Baghdad was something of a side event.”
In December, Arab blogs were filled with titillating tales about how Rumsfeld’s book revealed the United States paid $200 million to Shiite Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf for a fatva telling Iraqi Shias to cooperate with the United States. Extensive direct quotes from the book were published. In reality, there is nothing like that in the book, which refers to Sistani in a single paragraph. The quotes cited in the Arab blogs were completely invented.