Lessons in Life: Learning Rumsfeld's Rules

Donald Rumsfeld will be the first to tell you that life's a roller coaster.

One year ago, the U.S. secretary of defense was enjoying rock star popularity. Now, a year after the Iraq war began, and after the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and more than 580 Americans, he has critics calling for his head.

Asked how Americans should view the steady stream of body bags returning from Iraq, Rumsfeld responds: "Every person who is killed or wounded is a heartbreak, certainly for me and for their families and for their loved ones."

But he points out that the American casualties had all signed up for war. "In this conflict every single person is a volunteer … Every person there put their hand up and said, 'Send me, I want to participate in the defense of our country.'"

While the world may change, Rumsfeld is a constant. He has been known throughout his 71 years as a problem solver who thrives on risk, confrontation and absolute control. He is smart, energetic, combative, at times ruthless, but he can also be charming.

ABCNEWS' John McWethy sat down with the defense secretary for a series of no-holds-barred interviews at the Pentagon and at his New Mexico ranch to talk about his policies and personality.

Never Standing Still

An interview with the defense secretary is a challenge. Rumsfeld is a man in constant motion. He rarely sits, even in his own spacious office at the Pentagon — where there is no chair at his desk. "I stand here. I use the phone," he told ABCNEWS. "I like to. Have for decades. It works."

He wears a pedometer on his belt — to count every step he takes. He tries to walk 10,000 paces a day, about five miles.

The pedometer is part of Rumsfeld's extreme attention to detail: counting, obsessing, analyzing. It's how he solves problems. That devotion also frames how he lives his life.

Over a lifetime in business and politics, the defense secretary has developed his own "code of conduct," which he refers to again and again. He calls the guidelines "Rumsfeld's Rules."

‘Not Too Long in This World’

One of Rumsfeld's rules is "If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much."

When Rumsfeld worked in the White House three decades ago, he defied President Richard Nixon by refusing to give speeches supporting a war in Vietnam that was going sour.

In a secretly tape-recorded conversation in the Oval Office, Nixon can be heard telling his top aide H. R. "Bob" Haldeman that Rumsfeld needs to go.

"But on Rumsfeld, we've done a hell of a lot for Rumsfeld. I think Rumsfeld may be not too long in this world," Nixon said. "Let's dump him."

Rumsfeld was never dumped, though. And when Nixon resigned in disgrace, President Ford made him his chief of staff and then, in 1975, his defense secretary. At 43, Rumsfeld was the youngest secretary of defense in U.S. history.

After Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter, Rumsfeld entered the private sector, where he worked for the next 25 years. He was a sensational success, turning failing companies into winners and turning himself into a rich man with a personal fortune of more than $100 million.

A Tough Boss

Vice President Dick Cheney says of Rumsfeld, "If he wasn't breaking china, he wouldn't be doing his job."

The two have been close friends for 30 years. But it did not start that way. When they first met in 1969, Rumsfeld was a young congressman, while Cheney was a graduate student who wanted an internship.

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