WASHINGTON, D.C.—As the other countries of the world try to wiggle out of their commitments to the “coalition” that seeks to liberate Iraq, the Rummy ship of state keeps on going. Brushing aside suggestions that he resign, the Secretary of Defense, like any war lord, instead reaches for more power over his fiefdom. The immediate case is the right to overhaul work rules covering 746,000 civilian employees of the Pentagon. Congress meekly complied so that Rummy might better organize and administer the workforce to fight terrorists. Now, in the process of fighting the war on terror, Rumsfeld can use the new system to limit workers’ rights to collective bargaining. “By giving the Secretary of Defense the authority to decide who reviews disputes, the issues to be reviewed, and the standard of review, this bill appears to hand one party the final say on all labor and management issues,” said Senator Daniel Akaka, the Hawaii Democrat, during the debate. “This language is inconsistent with the concept of good-faith bargaining between equals.”
Meanwhile, in Washington Rummy has transformed himself from corporate henchman to a crusty old guy who can say anything any time with few repercussions. Last year he wanted to set up a special propaganda bureau called the Office of Strategic
Influence, but he had to close it down amid reports it was putting out false information in an effort to sway public opinion. In late October he told The Washington Times he wants a “21st-century information agency in the government” to help fight a “war of ideas.”
Office or no office, Rumsfeld goes forward. Take for example a deal inked recently between 18 local stations and the Pentagon. According to The Washington Post, Rumsfeld plans to “blitz” the country with individual interviews on stations from Boston to Seattle over a three-week period—provided that each station also agree to air interviews with Rumsfeld’s underlings at the Pentagon, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Occupation Chief Paul Bremer, and General John Abizaid, who runs the Central Command.
The right-wing pols just adore Rummy. “I wish you could be in the den of our home sometime when Don Rumsfeld is being interviewed by the press, how he can handle it,” Jesse Helms told the crowd in Greensboro, North Carolina, last month at the opening of a building named in the former Senator’s honor. “He makes . . . a lot of them regret that they asked the question the way they did. [Laughter.] . . . There is no spin with this gentleman. He tells the truth. He always calls it as he sees it. And America is lucky to have him serving at such a critical time.”
When it comes to the war, with or without the 21st-century bureau of propaganda, Rumsfeld’s Pentagon says one thing one day and something else the next. Take the case of the so-called foreign fighters who the Pentagon has been insisting are staging the guerrilla attacks in the Sunni triangle. Last month Rumsfeld and the Pentagon spinsters were saying the guerrillas were foreign terrorists who had infiltrated Iraq from places like Syria, and were indeed members of the same groups fighting the Israelis. “Asked where those conducting the attacks are coming from,” The Washington Times reported in late October, “Mr. Rumsfeld said one suspected terrorist arrested in the last 48 hours claimed to be Syrian. ‘I think he was probably a Yemeni,’ Mr. Rumsfeld said, adding that between 200 and 300 non-Iraqis have been arrested in
Iraq ‘and the high percentage were from Syria and Lebanon.”
But on November 13 The Washington Post reported that intelligence officers in Iraq think the guerrillas are not from outside the country, but Iraqis. The Post writes, “Earlier this week Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez said that only “probably a couple hundred” fighters have come from Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, and other countries in the
So, in late October the 200-300 fighters were cited as evidence of the foreign terrorists at work in Iraq, while in early November the 200-300 foreigners are evidence of how small the foreign influence appears to be.
What endears Rummy to the press is the way he calmly sails ahead. Consider this exchange at a recent press conference:
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: At the same time, Mr. Secretary, your Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, was there last week at the Al Rashid Hotel and there was an attack and, in fact, one American officer was killed. Mr. Wolfowitz was shaken up. Isn’t that evidence that in fact things are not as peaceful there as sometimes you would like to see them portrayed?
Rumsfeld: It seems to me that doesn’t really follow. The fact of the matter is in any major city in the world, there are attacks of various types that take place . . .
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel