Rumsfeld Memo 16 October 2003

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As reported October 22, 2003, by Dave Moniz and Tom Squitieri, "Defense memo: A grim outlook" and Rumsfeld's war-on-terror memo in USA Today:


highlighting of statements below is that of SourceWatch editors, not apparent in the original memo. These highlights have been made in part as reaction to the (diversionary?) discourse suggested by those who have attended primarily to the questions, rather than statements, presented in the memo.

October 16, 2003

TO: Gen. Dick Myers, Paul Dundes Wolfowitz, Gen. Pete Pace, Doug Feith.

FROM: Donald Rumsfeld

SUBJECT: Global War on Terrorism

The questions I posed to combatant commanders this week were: Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror? Is DoD changing fast enough to deal with the new 21st century security environment? Can a big institution change fast enough? Is the USG changing fast enough?

DoD has been organized, trained and equipped to fight big armies, navies and air forces. It is not possible to change DoD fast enough to successfully fight the global war on terror; an alternative might be to try to fashion a new institution, either within DoD or elsewhere -- one that seamlessly focuses the capabilities of several departments and agencies on this key problem.

With respect to global terrorism, the record since Septermber 11th seems to be:

We are having mixed results with Al Qaida, although we have put considerable pressure on them -- nonetheless, a great many remain at large.
USG has made reasonable progress in capturing or killing the top 55 Iraqis.
USG has made somewhat slower progress tracking down the Taliban -- Omar, Hekmatyar, etc.
With respect to the Ansar Al-Islam, we are just getting started.

Have we fashioned the right mix of rewards, amnesty, protection and confidence in the US?

Does DoD need to think through new ways to organize, train, equip and focus to deal with the global war on terror?

Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions.

Do we need a new organization?
How do we stop those who are financing the radical madrassa schools?
Is our current situation such that "the harder we work, the behinder we get"?

It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog.

Does CIA need a new finding?

Should we create a private foundation to entice radical madradssas to a more moderate course?

What else should we be considering?

Please be prepared to discuss this at our meeting on Saturday or Monday.


  • Gen. Richard M. Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (highest ranking military at DoD).
  • Paul Dean Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense (second ranking civilian at DoD).
  • Gen. Pete Pace, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (second ranking military at DoD).
  • Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (third ranking civilian at DoD).

Issue Point: was it "leaked" or "planted" ?

From the 24 October 2003 New York Times Op-Ed: Decoding Rumsfeld's Memo:

"Rumsfeld is a canny player who knows exactly what he is doing when he drafts internal memos and makes them public. Recently, he has been getting much of the public blame for things that have gone wrong in Iraq, from prewar intelligence to postwar administration. He came out on the losing end of a turf battle with the White House national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. For months he has waged a low-intensity war with the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet. So it is not surprising to see him trying to reshape the larger debate.

"Mr. Rumsfeld's big problem is that he seems to want to run almost every aspect of the war on terror but prefers to share the blame when things do not work out. Now he muses about forming a new institution that 'seamlessly focuses the capabilities of several departments and agencies' on the problem of terrorism. He helpfully suggested that this new institution might be located within the Defense Department -- or maybe elsewhere.

"Talking about such a change seems logical. But Mr. Rumsfeld is astute enough to realize that an administration that has just created the Department of Homeland Security is not likely to start all over again any time soon. Perhaps he is really making a case for another huge increase in the Pentagon's already swollen budget."

SourceWatch Resources

External links

Response to the Memo

  • Dave Moniz and Tom Squitieri, After grim Rumsfeld memo, White House supports him, USAToday, October 22, 2003: "The memo was sent to Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of Defense for policy."
  • Charles Aldinger, Rumsfeld Raises Key Questions About War on Terror, Reuters, October 22, 2003: "Sharply diverging from more upbeat public comments, Rumsfeld wrote that it was not possible to transform the Defense Department quickly enough to effectively fight the anti-terrorism war."
  • David Stout, Rumsfeld Memo Questions Effectiveness in Terror Fight, New York Times, October 22, 2003.
  • Matt Kelley, Rumsfeld Questions U.S. in Terror Fight, AP, October 22, 2003: "Rumsfeld's spokesman, Larry Di Rita, told reporters Wednesday the memo was meant to raise 'big questions that deserve big thinking' and preserve a 'constant sense of urgency' about where the war on terror is heading."
  • David Corn, Why the Rumsfeld Memo Matters, The Nation, October 23, 2003.
  • Rumsfeld questions success of war on terrorism in memo, AFP, October 23, 2003.
  • Brian Bender, Rumsfeld raises terror war concerns, Boston Globe, October 23, 2003: "Pentagon aides downplayed the note's significance yesterday by describing it as a typical letter from Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld is known for blanketing aides with memos he calls 'snowflakes' that are intended -- as he told reporters yesterday -- to raise questions 'in the broadest possible context.'"
  • Tom Shanker, Rumsfeld Sees Need to Realign Military Fight Against Terror, New York Times, October 23, 2003.
  • Dave Moniz and Tom Squitieri, Reaction to Rumsfeld memo mixed, USA Today, October 23, 2003.
  • Charles Aldinger, Rumsfeld: He Meant Every Word of Leaked Memo, Reuters, October 23, 2003: "'I don't think anyone who's ever come into a position like secretary of defense is asked to cage their brain and stop thinking. That is what we're here for, is to try to think in the best interests of the American people and to ask the kinds of questions that are important, and are probing,'" said Rumsfeld.
  • Mark Trevelyn, Rumsfeld Heralds Shift to 'War of Ideas' on Terror, Reuters, October 24, 2003: "In a leaked memo and in public comments this week, the U.S. defense secretary stressed the importance of defeating terrorism not just through military victories but in a 'war of ideas.' ... And in an interview with the Washington Times, he floated the idea of a '21st century information agency in the government' to help wage the battle of minds."
  • Peter Grier and Faye Bowers, Rumsfeld: mainly a style thing; Leaked memo is just the latest flash point in the controversy that swirls around Defense secretary, Christian Science Monitor, October 24, 2003: "In this context, the target of the memo leaked this week seems to be elements of the military that are opposing Rumsfeld's efforts to slim down the military and effect a "transformation" (his word) of revolutionary proportions."
  • Gideon Rose, A Memo That Speaks Volumes. Rumsfeld's leaked note points to his strengths -- and his serious shortcomings, LATimes, October 31, 2003: "Ironically, the most interesting aspect of the memo has been largely overlooked. Its few bracing paragraphs offer evidence not only of Rumsfeld's strengths but also his glaring weaknesses. Perceptive enough to see the true dimensions of the problem at hand, he appears utterly incapable of understanding how to solve it."
  • Col. Dan Smith (Ret.) provides an Unsolicited Response, directly answering the questions posed.
  • U.S. News "Whispers", December 15, 2003: "Remember the famous October memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in which he admits that Iraq will be a "long, hard slog" and asks his staff whether we're really winning the war on terrorism? Well, despite a demand that they reply by October 18, Rummy's in box is still empty. We hear that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers created a team to handle Rumsfeld's questions, but their report isn't finished. Under Secretary Doug Feith is taking his own sweet time, too. The questions were tough, but insiders say Rumsfeld expects his gang to drop everything to answer his so-called snowflake memos."