Rumsfeld memoir to reveal what he knows of the unknown

Even casual addicts of American politics are likely to pounce on Known and Unknown, the memoir that Donald Rumsfeld has been writing since resigning as George W Bush's Defence Secretary in 2006. Sentinel Books, an imprint of Penguin, said last night that it will be released in January next year.

The title implies that secrets will be divulged. And because it is meant to evoke a famously obfuscatory line that he uttered at the Pentagon about pre-invasion Iraq, we can also assume that the secrets in question will have to do with precisely the period of history that most threatens the author's legacy – Iraq, the weapons of mass destruction (or lack thereof) and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Apparently there is so much for us to learn, that reams of previously unseen documents will be put up on a website that will accompany the book – documents that presumably will assist in correcting any ill impressions readers might have of Mr Rumsfeld, now 78, but fit and hail, judging by the book cover that shows him leaning on a cattle gate at his New Mexico ranch.

"This book will tell readers things that they didn't know, and it may well unsettle a few people who think the history of certain events has already been written," a Rumsfeld aide, Keith Urbahn, tells politico.com. "Never-before seen memos and previously classified documents," will "let sceptics make their own judgments based on the contemporary information Rumsfeld had at his disposal."

The timing means the book won't be a favourite on this year's Christmas gifts list. But it is possible that author and publisher opted to leave a decent gap after the promised early-November release of Mr Bush's memoir, Decision Points.

The Rumsfeld tome is not limited to re-telling his years in the Bush Pentagon, however. It will include earlier years in his career when he was a US Congressman in Illinois and White House Chief of Staff for Gerald Ford. But it is what he has to say about Iraq that will get most attention, including the version he is expected to offer of his famous "hand-shake" meeting with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 1983.

"Like Donald Rumsfeld himself, this memoir pulls no punches," Adrian Zackheim, the president of Sentinel, promised yesterday.

Drawing attention to his 2002 remarks about US intelligence on Iraq may not seem entirely wise. Questioned on what evidence there was regarding weapons of mass destruction, he said: "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because there are known knowns: there are things we know that we know". He famously went on: "There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know."

The critics will be waiting to see if Rumsfeld's written prose is less obscure. Political gossip hounds, meanwhile, will hunt for titbits he may offer about his relationships with other power-players, not least with his close friend and ally, Dick Cheney. Among other Rumsfeld buddies you will also find Elvis Presley. Could it be that he has an unknown about him? Elvis lives?

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