Author Topic: The Many Faces of Donald Rumsfeld  (Read 79 times)

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The Many Faces of Donald Rumsfeld
« on: April 22, 2003, 02:07:11 PM »
Many faces of Donald Rumsfeld
Tough crusader, 'aw-shucks' bumbler
Defence secretary plays to media


WASHINGTON—In some of the most carefully chosen language since Bill Clinton said, "It depends what you mean by is,'' U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday denied the United States plans a long-term military presence in Iraq.

Sort of.

"I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq, discussed in any meeting," said Rumsfeld, denying a New York Times report that — and here's where it gets rich — didn't say the United States is necessarily planning permanent bases in Iraq.

"The likelihood of it seems to me to be so low that it does not surprise me that it's never been discussed in my presence," Rumsfeld said. "To my knowledge.''

Such delicious obfuscation hasn't been relished in Washington since former U.S. president Clinton took a grammatical stand when questioned about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Such linguistic precision is taken only with issues of the highest human importance.

That was sex; this is war.

Yesterday's Pentagon briefing was, even by the surreal standards of the Iraqi war, a high-water mark for "Rummy" watchers, truly an out-of-body experience.

For 40 minutes, Rumsfeld, 70, and at the height of his political power, played to the media, switching at will from steely-eyed crusader to quipster to shuffling "aw-shucks-I'm-not-smart-enough-to-answer-that" bumbler.

He talked and talked and talked, clearly loving every moment. He flirted. "Nah, nah, you should see me when I'm on fire," he said, his voice a leer, as he responded to a female reporter.

The reporter had suggested she didn't want to put words in his mouth because "You're on fire already."

"Nah, not even close," said Rumsfeld to chortles and hoots.

The atmosphere was chummy, a private club.

Rumsfeld danced, shadow-boxed and got himself into a state of high dudgeon, practically spitting rage, over his denial of what he said The New York Times story said, which wasn't what it said at all.

The story, which ran Sunday and quoted "senior defence officials," reported the U.S. plans to leave a post-war military footprint in the region, which could range from fully-operational bases to "just plain access" in future crisis.

"Let me get this off my chest," began Rumsfeld, getting to what was clearly the reason for his presence at yesterday's briefing. "That article probably took the award as world-class thumb-sucker of the year."

One can almost imagine him in his office, chuckling to himself as he rehearsed the performance.

Yes, he said, the United States is operating four bases in Iraq, but they are for "humanitarian purposes."

And, yes, the Pentagon is "in discussion" about postwar plans. But it was the optics he didn't like.

"Any impression that is left that the United States plans some sort of a permanent presence in the country, I think, is a signal to the people of that country that is inaccurate and unfortunate because we don't plan to function as an occupier," he said.



"We went there to change a regime, we went there to find weapons of mass destruction, we went in there to stop them from threatening their neighbours, and we have said precisely what we're there for, and it's not what the article said."

One of the day's tougher questions took up a good 10 minutes.

When will you tell us the war's over?

Ah, geez, my goodness ... you could almost hear the synapses firing. The question was, as it has been for U.S. President George W. Bush, a real stumper.

Bush says he has to wait until Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the Iraqi operation, tells him.

In Baghdad, Franks, smoking a cigar at one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces last week, said he's waiting on Bush. Rumsfeld said it's up to U.S. Gen. Richard (Dick) Myers and others at Central Command.

"My understanding, and Dick, you calibrate me," he began, turning to sidekick Myers, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "is that you have a period where you have hostilities, and you can then go into a period where you have a move towards a stabilizing period in some portion of the country, and ..."

The reporter pushed, and Rumsfeld turned cold.

"Ultimately, at some point it will be over," he said. "But is it over now? NO!"

It was a day for guffaws.

The story of the 7-year-old guerrilla girl however, came as a downer. Myers was asked about the weekend report of a little girl handing over a remnant from a cluster bomb — weaponry condemned by human rights groups — to four American soldiers near Baghdad.

The fragment, the size of a soft drink can, exploded injuring the soldiers and child alike.

In Baghdad, U.S. Col. Michael Linningham, commander of the 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade, told reporters it was an accident. The child thought she was doing a good thing.

Linningham was on the scene. Since then, however, his report has been massaged through Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, and popped into the spin dry cycle at the Pentagon.

Yesterday, not surprisingly, Myers had a different take.

"The story we got this morning is that the little girl handed over what was an improvised explosive device to do harm to the four soldiers," he said.

"It wasn't a try to return a portion of ordnance ... She tried to run away."

A 7-year-old? asked a reporter.

``Exxxx-ACTLY!'' said Myers, crisply.

And so, to sum up yesterday's Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld said the United States has not found weapons of mass destruction, has not found Saddam Hussein, has no idea when the war will be over and has no plans for Iraq's future.

But it has the 7-year-old nailed.