Plenty of time is spent on Rumsfeld's most impactful job in the last decade, but he was a public servant for decades before that as well. A major player in Republican governments dating back to the 70's, he was with President Ford during the Fall of Saigon and personally threw his body on Ford during an assassination attempt. It was in the Ford White House that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney formed their alliance, resigning together in a move that eventually put Rumsfeld in the Pentagon as the youngest SecDef in history. From his new office, he was able to lay the groundwork for booms in defense spending that ran counter to the prevailing detente trend. He bloodlessly recounts how close he was to becoming Reagan's 1980 running mate, a move that might have effectively made him President eight years later. Most ironically, Rumsfeld counsels Reagan against peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, stresses the perils of destabilization, and famously meets with Hussein for a friendly picture. Morris asks Rumsfeld what he learned in these instances that would appear to contradict much of the actions of his later career; he doesn't answer.
Morris intersperses archival footage and Rumsfeld's smirking visage with repeated motifs of endless ocean and snowglobes, the latter specifically referencing the thousands of memos Rumsfeld wrote during his tenure. They reveal what a trying boss the man must have been, jealously guarding his territory, shutting down outside advice or input, offering contradictory and cliched truisms, and being pedantic to a mind-numbing level. When he sends a memo asking what the strict definition of 'several' is, was someone expected to reply? For all his wordsmithing, the only time in the documentary where he's left speechless is when he talks about wounded veterans. This moment is a failure if it was generated, or included, as a sympathetic attempt. He agonizes over how the administration 'had to' send men and women into harm's way, taking for granted the use of the phrase 'had to' when a more accurate phrase would be 'chose to.' That choice remains one of the most significant of the young 21st century, and ten years after it was made, it's baffling how one of its architects could stand by it.
Rumsfeld has had an equally momentous career as McNamara. If there's anything Morris's two interviews with SecDef's reveals, it's that there is no single personality profile that enables a rise to the top. The Unknown Known has to settle for that, because Rumsfeld remains opaque after his last insufferable smirk. B