U.S. Army Col. Tracy Roou is a senior military fellow at CISAC this year. She is researching security cooperation with challenging governments and preparing for her next assignment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy. She recently met with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Washington, D.C., at the headquarters of the Rumsfeld Foundation. They discussed military cooperation as a tool of foreign and defense policy. Here, she shares her thoughts about that meeting and what it meant to her personally as a military officer, as well as to her research.
CISAC has given me the platform to learn from two former U.S. Secretaries of Defense, William J. Perry and Donald Rumsfeld. They happen to be the first and the last secretaries of defense to visit Uzbekistan, where I recently served as defense attaché. Their deep insight into the complicated world of policymaking and the military’s ability to provide capabilities and build relationships as a tool of foreign policy in the former Soviet Union, has added greatly to my understanding of strategic thinking in that part of the world.
The chance to meet with Rumsfeld to discuss military cooperation with challenging governments was an incredible opportunity for my research, but also a true honor and a highlight of my Army career. I was well aware of his reputation as a tough interview. The meeting started with his questions about me, my career and family, and my year at CISAC as a U.S. Army War College Fellow. After I described the depth of expertise at CISAC and Stanford about strategic thinking and military policy, he jokingly asked why I needed to meet with him.
It was clear that Secretary Rumsfeld still keeps an intense battle rhythm. But he was gracious, generous with his time and open to all of my questions. A large bust of Winston Churchill sits in the corner of his conference room, where we met for an hour.
Our session covered many areas, but mostly focused on the former Soviet Union and U.S. military cooperation in that region. In the context of foreign policy with challenging governments, Rumsfeld said: “Linking U.S. diplomacy and the military – even when powers will try to pull them apart – is very important.”
Rumsfeld has been back in the news, with a new documentary about his work and leadership in public service, especially overseeing the Iraq War. Though some are saying he was evasive and impenetrable in the documentary, “The Unknown Known,” I found him to be open and engaging when discussing U.S. foreign policy in the former Soviet States and Russia, which is the focus of my research.
Few remember that as a young U.S. congressman, Rumsfeld was a co-sponsor of the Freedom of Information Act, a landmark tool granting American citizens and reporters the ability to push for government transparency. With his memoir, “Known and Unknown,” his declassified papers give insight on many tough policy decisions with challenges to the to the government, many of which can be found on his website, The Rumsfeld’s Papers.
I learned that the Rumsfeld Foundation helps young leaders in government, business and academia in Central Asia and the Caucuses better understand the concepts of a market economy, a civilian-led military and a free and open government. The foundation helps microfinance organizations working with the world’s poorest people and it grants fellowships to graduate students interested in public service.
“I had spent a lot of time in Central Asian Republics and felt that they did not have a good connection among themselves, nor did they have much connection or awareness of the Unites States,” Rumsfeld says in a video on his foundation website. “So we’ve established a fellowship program to bring over 10 or 12 Central Asian fellows, mid-career people so that they’ll develop relationships and go away with a better understanding of what the United States of America is all about and the kind of opportunities that free systems offer.”
Following our meeting, I was given a tour of foundation offices, which are filled with photographs and presidential letters of various periods in his life in public service, starting as a U.S. Navy pilot. As I left, I noted the two cabinet chairs from his two terms as secretary of defense sitting at the entryway.
I came away from my meeting with Rumsfeld with the realization that our 13th and 21st secretary of defense is as nuanced and complex as many of the policy and security issues he tackled in his extraordinary career. At the end of our meeting, he agreed to a photograph together, next to the Churchill bust, as well as another meeting.
In his book, “Rumsfeld’s Rules,” he refers to a quote by Churchill: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”