Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Known Unknowns, Unknown Unknowns, and Flat-Out Incompetence

I'm still a column behind, and I usually don't do too much national stuff, but Rumsfeld was just too big a target when I had to file my column last week. Hope you enjoy it. My suggested headline is above, but the editor went a bit wobbly on me. He also took out the Hayworth joke (copying the email to the managing editor and publisher) so I apparently stepped over some sort of line. Or tried to, anyway.

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 6, 2006

On Amazon.com, the business book "classic," The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Wisdom of a Battle-Hardened Maverick (McGraw-Hill 2002), is available from the shocking-and-awesome price of $0.01. But even that low, low price may sag after Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s Senate testimony last week.

Rumsfeld insisted that he had never, ever led anyone to believe that the Iraq war would be a quick, telegenic demonstration of next-generation American whiz-bang supremacy. Maybe some people thought Iraq would be the Grenada invasion with less humidity, but he wasn’t one of them, Rumsfeld insisted: “I have never painted a rosy picture. I have been very measured in my words, and you’d have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been excessively optimistic.”

Really? Let’s try.

In a November 2002 radio interview, Rumsfeld admitted that he couldn’t precisely time how long military involvement in Iraq would last, but he would predict an outside limit: “I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won’t last any longer than that.”

In February 2003, Rumsfeld issued another, similar prediction. Again, he wouldn’t give an exact duration -- but he still thought he could guess the maximum: “It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.”

Before the invasion, Rumsfeld also stated that war with Iraq would not turn into World War III. (No, that would be, according to Newt Gingrich, the current Israel-Hezbollah fighting in Lebanon.) In that regard, the jury is still out. U.S. involvement in World War II still lasted longer than the Iraq war, but in less than 4 months, that won’t be true anymore.

Then, thanks to cunningrealist.blogspot.com, here are some additional descriptions that don’t look quite as good as they once did -- and Rumsfeld’s Defense Department issued them all of 6 months ago, in a February 2006 report to Congress:

Page 3: “Terrorist attacks have failed to create and spread sectarian conflict.”

Page 9: “Increasingly robust Iraqi political institutions will provide peaceful means for reconciliation and bridging divides.”

Page 23: Insurgents have “failed to deter development of the Iraq Security forces” and “failed to damage Iraqi public trust in the Iraq security forces.” (The same day as Rumsfeld’s testimony, The New York Times front page carried an article headlined, “In Iraq, It’s Hard to Trust Anyone in Uniform.”)

Page 24: “The overarching term ‘insurgency’ is less of a useful construct today” because “previous synergy among enemy groups is breaking apart.”

Maybe now we all can agree that Rumsfeld and his crew are every bit as arrogant as Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids were, and about as successful. You’ve got similar haircuts, wireframe glasses, MBAs; the only difference is that Rumsfeld seems less tethered to reality than was McNamara. We’ll see if Rumsfeld lives long enough to have McNamara-style regrets; now that would make a heck of a movie.

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