My Chat with Rummy About Iraq, Etc.

News Flash (from NewsMax Online Dec. 23) – "House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, blasting congressional and media critics of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, said yesterday that the constant drumbeat of attacks on the Pentagon chief was undermining the war effort. . . .

"Those who disagree should have contacted the defense chief privately, DeLay said, rather than air their differences in a way that could damage the war effort.

“‘There’s a way you do it,' he said. u2018The way that I do it is that when I have a question about something, I call them up and I get an answer to the question.'". . .

I was vastly enlightened by this advisory from DeLay, who, you'll note, is from my home state of Texas and therefore cannot be wrong. It had simply never occurred to me to just ring up Rummy and give him my counsel, but I see that I was a sleepyhead about it all, and so I decided at once to mend my ways.

I rang up the Department of Defense and after monkeying with the automated answering system for a while I finally got a human being and said, "This is Citizen Tom White calling from Odessa, Texas, and I'd like to speak to Mr. Donald Rumsfeld."

I was put through at once, just as DeLay had implied. I confess I had a tape-recorder on my end of the line and it had started minutes before as I worked my way through the automated system. But from now on things went with remarkable dispatch. Rumsfeld came on with his easily recognized voice, saying simply, "Rumsfeld."

I was almost terrified. This after all was Rumsfeld of Arabia, or perhaps I should now say, rather, Rumsfeld of Iraq, it being now bruited that there is a move afoot in neoconized D.C. to shift all blame for the Iraq disaster onto him. But however he might be pressed, I knew here was no man to trifle with and hardly a man to suffer a fool at all gladly, so I knew I had better get busy and not be too foolish.

"Mr. Rumsfeld," I said, "this is Tom White of Odessa, Texas, and I have a point to discuss with you. I am following Tom DeLay's advice to call you to discuss it straight on with you, which he says he always does."

"Fair enough, Mr. White. Shoot. What is your point?"

"I expect this will not surprise you. I am wondering when the hell we are going to accept reality and get out of Iraq. What say you to that?"

"I'd like to give you an answer you would like but I don't think I can. There are a lot of considerations to be weighed, political, military, diplomatic, financial; there are a hell of a lot of problems and you can't just plug figures into an Excel sheet and get an answer."

"I sure grant that, Mr. Rumsfeld, but I have one concern above all others: we are losing our own men and women and killing civilians in Iraq in grievous numbers, and I no longer believe that you or the rest of the government under President Bush have any feeling for this. You are so wrapped up in the political, military, diplomatic, and financial aspects that you have lost sight of the human aspect entirely. I trust you will forgive me if I say that the human aspect is bound at some point to leap up and bite your ass. I'm willing to bet – no, I'll go further and say I am quite sure that is going to happen sooner rather later."

"Well, Mr. White, I think I can handle that."

"I have no doubt you can, but the recent flap over your statement that one has to fight with the army one has rather than the army one might wish to have should hint to you that you won't always be able to slam down all your critics. What I want to suggest to you Mr. Rumsfeld, is that there is a way for you to come out of this smelling like a rose. Become an activist for peace; tell the President that you, as the man totally responsible for the health and welfare and fighting ability of our military, now consider that we have our military's health, welfare, and fighting ability in the highest jeopardy, and you wish to pull all of it back to the heartland and let the rest of the world go fry."

"Oh, my dear Mr. White, that is quite impossible. We have a responsibility to the world; we have a commitment to pursue terrorists and bring democracy to those who don't have it."

"Mr. Rumsfeld, you are now sounding gaseous and phony like Tony Blair talking about democracy in Baghdad the other day. We have no commitment to the world and no duty to install democracy (whatever you think that is) in places where people clearly don't want it. And as for pursuing terrorists, you are breeding up more of them every day, and giving them better grounds for their work with each military move we make. We are digging ourselves a bigger hole every day; should we keep on digging?"

"I disagree with every word you say, Citizen White, and fortunately I am under no obligation to pay any attention to you, even if I must pay some to Mr. DeLay. Now if you'll forgive me, I must answer my other phone. It is the President calling. I pay rather more attention to him than I do even to Mr. DeLay."

On reflecting on this call, I thought I might have saved my breath to cool my porridge. Talk without force behind it is . . . talk. No, I somehow don't think your or my chatting with D. Rumsfeld is ever going to accomplish much. He listens to a different drummer. And it seems plain he also hears those ancestral voices prophesying war and thrills to them.

December 25, 2004