Rumsfeld’s “Long, Hard Slog”

Dec. 1, 2003

“Global War on Terrorism”

Donald H. Rumsfeld Memo to Senior DOD Officials, Washington, D.C.

October 16, 2003


Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, found himself in a major controversy after one of his sensitive war memos leaked to the press. The two-page note, dated Oct. 16, 2003, offered a mixed view of progress in the two-year war against terrorists. Rumsfeld, while confident of ultimate victory, warned that the nation faced a “long, hard slog” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rumsfeld sent the memo to four persons: USAF Gen. Richard B. Myers and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary; and Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. The Pentagon chief wrote it at a time of mounting anxiety about continuing Baathist and Islamic violence that was claiming the lives of US service members in the Middle East.

Bush Administration critics pounced on the memo, contrasting its self-doubting tone with more upbeat public statements issued by Rumsfeld and other top Administration officials. Rumsfeld’s aides, for their part, portrayed the memo as merely an attempt to provoke debate and goad the military to think and act creatively.

[“USG” refers to the US government. “Omar” is Mullah Omar Muhammad, deposed Taliban leader. “Hekmatyar” refers to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an anti-US Afghan warlord. “Ansar al- Islam” is an Islamic terrorist group present in Iraq. A “madrassa” is a fundamentalist Islamic school. A CIA “finding” is a written Presidential authority to conduct a covert action.]

October 16, 2003

TO: Gen. Dick Myers, Paul 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 September 11th seems to be:

  • We are having mixed results with al Qaeda. 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 [made] and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves. … [W]e 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 madrassas to a more moderate course? What else should we be considering?

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