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"Rumsfelds Rules" Find Pentagon Readers

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2001 – "Rumsfeld's Rules" are now available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jan2001/rumsfeldsrules.pdf.

I’ll never forget being in the front leaning rest with a tac sergeant standing over me as I recited the “Standing Orders of Rogers’ Rangers.”

The first was, “Don’t never forget nothing.”

While Pentagon workers probably won’t have to do push-ups as punishment, it’s a safe bet that many in DoD are studying a new list entitled “Rumsfeld’s Rules.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has distilled the lessons of almost 50 years of service in a 19-page handout. In the short introduction, Rumsfeld said he got the “Rules” from his service as White House chief of staff, defense secretary, naval aviator and ambassador. He also applied lessons he learned in business.

Here are some of Rumsfeld’s Rules:  

  • “Don’t accept the post or stay unless you have an understanding with the president that you’re free to tell him what you think ‘with the bark off,’ and you have the courage to do it.” 


  • “Be precise. A lack of precision is dangerous when the margin of error is small.” 


  • “Learn to say, “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.” 


  • “It is easier to get into something than to get out of it.” 


  • “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.” 


  • “Keep your sense of humor. As (World War II Army) Gen. Joseph Stilwell said, ‘The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind.’” 


  • “Don’t ‘overcontrol’ like a novice pilot. Stay loose enough from the flow that you can observe, calibrate and refine.” 


  • “If in doubt, move decisions up to the president.” 


  • “Look for what’s missing. Many advisers can tell a president how to improve what’s proposed or what’s gone amiss. Few are able to see what isn’t there.” 


  • “Public servants are paid to serve the American people. Do it well.” 


  • “Beware when any idea is promoted primarily because it is ‘bold, exciting, innovative and new.’ There are many ideas that are ‘bold, exciting, innovative and new,’ but also foolish.” 


  • “Watch for the ‘not invented here’ syndrome.” 


  • “The secretary of defense is not a super general or admiral. His task is to exercise civilian control over the department for the commander-in-chief and the country.” 


  • “Reserve the right to get into anything and exercise it. Make your deputies and staff realize that, although many responsibilities are delegated, no one should be surprised when the secretary engages an important issue.” 


  • “Avoid public spats. When a department argues with other government agencies in the press, it reduces the president’s options.” 


  • “Establish good relations between the departments of Defense, State, the National Security Council, the CIA and the Office of Management and Budget.” 


  • "Develop a personal relationship with the chairman and each of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They are almost always outstanding public servants. In time of crisis, those relationships can be vital.” 


  • “Treat each federal dollar as if you had earned it.” 


  • “If you develop rules, never have more than 10.”
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