The Sound of One Domino Falling
It’s been obvious for years that Donald Rumsfeld is in denial of reality, but the defense secretary now also seems stuck in a time warp. You could practically hear the dominoes falling as he told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that it was dangerous for Americans to even talk about how to end the war in Iraq.
“If we left Iraq prematurely,” he said, “the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they’d order us and all those who don’t share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines.” And finally, he intoned, America will be forced “to make a stand nearer home.”
No one in charge of American foreign affairs has talked like that in decades. After Vietnam, of course, the communist empire did not swarm all over Asia as predicted; it tottered and collapsed. And the new “enemy” that Mr. Rumsfeld is worried about is not a worldwide conspiracy but a collection of disparate political and religious groups, now united mainly by American action in Iraq.
Americans are frightened by the growing chaos in the Mideast, and the last thing they needed to hear this week was Mr. Rumsfeld laying blame for sectarian violence on a few Al Qaeda schemers. What they want is some assurance that the administration has a firm grasp on reality and has sensible, achievable goals that could lead to an end to the American involvement in Iraq with as little long-term damage as possible. Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld offered the same old exhortation to stay the course, without the slightest hint of what the course is, other than the rather obvious point that the Iraqis have to learn to run their own country.
By contrast, the generals flanking him were pillars of candor and practicality. Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the Middle East, said “Iraq could move toward civil war” if the sectarian violence — which he said “is probably as bad as I’ve seen it” — is not contained. The generals tried to be optimistic about the state of the Iraqi security forces, but it was hard. They had to acknowledge that a militia controls Basra, that powerful Iraqi government officials run armed bands that the Pentagon considers terrorist organizations financed by Iran, and that about a third of the Iraqi police force can’t be trusted to fight on the right side.
As for Mr. Rumsfeld, he suggested that lawmakers just leave everything up to him and the military command and stop talking about leaving Iraq. “We should consider how our words can be used by our deadly enemy,” he said.
Americans who once expected the Pentagon to win the war in Iraq have now been reduced to waiting for an indication that at least someone is minding the store. They won’t be comforted to hear Mr. Rumsfeld fretting about protecting Spain from Muslim occupation.