By: Greg Mitchell
?They’re doing a very good job,? Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday, referring to the Iraqi security forces. ?Every once in a while they’ll have trouble and they’ll get outnumbered or outgunned by some militia or some terrorist group, and we’ll have to go in and give them a hand, and that’s understandable. It’s not a nice, smooth road. But I think people who run around denigrating the Iraqi or the Afghan security forces are out of touch.?
No, this was not at his briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday where he sparred with major media reporters, earning headlines when he advised them to ?back off? in their complaints about progress in Iraq. Instead, his ?very good job? comment came, the same day, in a little-noted interview with Jeff Katz, at WBT in Charlotte, N.C. Rumsfeld was playing catch-up because he had somehow missed sitting down and chatting with Katz during the administration?s pre-election talk radio blitz in Washington on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, President Bush had sat down with eight conservative columnists at the White House. A column I wrote yesterday, based on the transcript, called ?Bush Among Friends,? proved popular so here is a kind of Part II, starring Rummy.
In the half dozen or more interviews that Rumsfeld gave — in this pre-election campaign — he told nearly all of the hosts that he refused to get involved in ?politics.? In most cases, he agreed with the interviewers when they denounced the media for being manipulated and played for patsies by the terrorists in the Middle East.
But rather than dissect all that, let me ask: Is there something distasteful or downright wrong about the Secretary of Defense taking even a few hours away from his work — as Americans continue to die in Iraq on his watch, nearly every day, despite the ?very good job? being done by our Iraqi allies there?
In other words: Doesn’t he have anything better to do?
In his talk radio blitz, Rumsfeld talked to hosts from Kansas City, San Diego and Fargo, among others. But as Exhibit A, consider the following. It?s an interview with one Inga Barks. Rumsfeld calls her a ?superstar,? but if you?ve never heard of her, it may be because she hosts a show on KERN in Bakersfield, Calif. On the station?s Web site she lists as favorite books volumes by Oliver North, Dick Morris and Neil Cavuto — maybe there’s a Fox News Book Club — and proudly relates how she organized one of the first pro-war rallies in the country the day after our invasion of Iraq in 2003.
During tthe course of the interview, sure enough, Rummy gets around to wistfully recalling wars of olde when it took newspaper reports ?a week? to get to readers. But let?s start at the beginning: The interview opened with the host calling the Pentagon chief ?Uncle Rummy.”
Here?s a partial transcript of what followed. Again, keep in mind: Doesn’t Rumsfeld have something better to do?
MS. BARKS: You know, you, for me — whether I vote — well, I don’t agree or disagree with anything you’ve done militarily because I’m not smart enough to know that stuff. But from the first time I ever saw you post-9/11, when we needed comfort, we had George W. Bush and we had Rummy. He’s Uncle Rummy!
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.) Well, thanks —
MS. BARKS: What a huge burden that must be —
SEC. RUMSFELD: It is.
MS. BARKS: And you don’t have to do it.
SEC. RUMSFELD: It is, but — no, I don’t. (Laughs.) I do feel fortunate, though, to be — at a tough time in our country’s history, to be able to be serving and to be able to work with these wonderful men and women in uniform that do such amazing things for our country. God bless them and their families, who are so supportive of them …
MS. BARKS: You know, the next thing I wanted to ask you about, Secretary Rumsfeld, we went to the World War II beautiful memorial yesterday —
SEC. RUMSFELD: Isn’t it?
MS. BARKS: And the Korean, which is so stunning, it really is, and Vietnam as well — quotes and quotes and quotes from presidents. President Lincoln has quotes, and the presidents of World War II, and they say: “However long it takes. This blood that is being shed is being shed for a reason.” What has happened that — was there this much dissent way back when? Has the media affected this country so that we have a negative attitude toward these efforts? We still have a president or you say, “Whatever it takes, we will accomplish this.”
SEC. RUMSFELD: Leadership is important, and there’s no question but that, God bless him, President Bush’s leadership is so strong and so firm and so determined. I think the answer to your question is this: There’s always been dissent.
MS. BARKS: Yeah, but you’ve got — (off mike) —
SEC. RUMSFELD: That’s the difference. The difference is today the media is so present, so powerful, so constant, and such a drumbeat. In those days, the newspaper would get a story and people wouldn’t read it for a week, and then they’d see it once. Here, anything that’s on is on — every 15 minutes it’s on, if something’s burning in Baghdad. …
But it is — that is the difference. It is not that there wasn’t dissent in the Civil War; there was — or even the Revolutionary War, or World War II. I was alive. I’m aware of it; I remember the dissent, and the criticism of President Roosevelt was strong. But the media environment was totally different back in those days. I mean, television didn’t exist, and radio, you’d have periodic programs you’d listen to with the family. …
And this is the first war that’s been conducted in the 21st century with all the new media realities of 24-hour talk radio and Sony cams and digital cameras and news constantly on television. But the American people have a pretty good center of gravity. They’ve got a good inner gyroscope. And it may be disorienting for a time, it may blow us off course somewhat, but we tend to re-center. And I admit people’s carburetors have to get flooded with so much information coming at them all the time, and most of it negative. There’s a pattern that news is negative as opposed to positive, so that’s understandable. But I think the American people can absorb it and synthesize it and find their way to right decisions.
MS. BARKS: How is it different than the Cold War? I mean, all we had to do was continue to raise the bar. You know, that’s how we won that. I was talking to a friend of mine who used to work for the CIA. He said, “You know, we didn’t want to push the button any more than they did, because we all loved our children.”
… And we love our babies, and we love life.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Indeed. And of course, some of the leaders, like in Iran, have a martyrdom complex where they envision that their world will see chaos and violence and destruction.
MS. BARKS: The messiah — (inaudible). Holy cow! I’m a Baptist and I don’t — (inaudible). (Laughs.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: It’s a particular risk with people of that nature that have a different — they’re rooted differently.
MS. BARKS: Secretary Rumsfeld, I thank you so much for your time. I know you’ve got so many places to go. You get Hannity next. He’s a — (inaudible).
SEC. RUMSFELD: Is that right? (Laughs.)
MS. BARKS: He’s such a troublemaker. I don’t even know why you’re going —
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.) Inga, you’re a superstar. Good for you.
MS. BARKS: (Inaudible.) I want to thank you — in these final moments I have with you, I just — I want to thank you for what I know is in your heart. And I don’t know you, other than watching you on TV and calling you Uncle Rummy. But I do know this: All the criticisms, all the people that say things about your character or about your position, about the war, you know, your change of course, all these things — you talked about going to Bethesda. I know you don’t take this lightly. My sons, my 13-year-old and my 11-year-old twins, I don’t want them fighting this — (inaudible) — and I don’t want you visiting them in the hospital some day. And you don’t take this lightly, I know that. …
SEC. RUMSFELD: That’s right.
MS. BARKS: (Off mike.) Just remember that. Every decision you make, think, “What about Inga’s 13-year-old and her 11-year-old boys?”
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
MS. BARKS: Because they’re already young Marines, and I don’t want them growing up to be big Marines in trouble, so —
SEC. RUMSFELD: I’ve got grandchildren from two to 20.
MS. BARKS: Do you really? Do you get time with them?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Occasionally. (Laughs.)
MS. BARKS: (Off mike.) That must make Christmas expensive.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I suppose. I talked to her on the phone today, the 2-year-old, as a matter of fact.
MS. BARKS: Really?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes.
MS. BARKS: It must have been kind of like talking to me! (Laughs.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
MS. BARKS: (Off mike) — I thank you so much for your time, sir. I can’t tell you, of all the people we’ve talked to today, I am a little star struck to talk to you. You have a privileged job and a difficult job, and I admire you greatly …
I want to take one more — can I take one more picture with you? [Inaudible].
SEC. RUMSFELD: You bet!
MS. BARKS: [Inaudible] Folks, have a great day. I’ll bring you some more stories tomorrow. I’ve got to jump over a table to take a picture with Secretary Rumsfeld before he goes away. (Laughs.) Thank you.
Related Pressing Issues column by Greg Mitchell: Bush Among Friends