Jewish World Review August 9, 2002 / 1 Elul 5762
Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
OK, lets put the big question of the day to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld right up front: Are we, the United States, going to invade Iraq?
His eyebrows arch. He casts a classic Rumsfeld squint at me from his end of the aircraft-carrier-sized conference table in the Pentagon. Sitting around the table and waiting for his answer are members of the National Journalists Roundtable, a Washington forum that promotes increased access between top officials and black reporters.
Slowly, with a mix of annoyance and amusement in his voice, Rumsfeld mock-admonishes me like a wise professor to an imprudent student: "You know that you're in the Pentagon, not the White House, don't you, Clarence?"
He smiles. I laugh. Some of the reporters laugh, too. This is part of what I have come for, Rummy's zingers.
Unlike most other top officials in the secrecy-obsessed Bush administration, "Rummy," as his friends have called him for decades, seems to delight in the art of jousting with journalists. He often conducts news briefings himself. Like other top honchos, he cleverly sidesteps most of what we really want to know, but at least he entertains us with a fog of folksy charm and wit.
So, yes, I am tweaking him a bit. I know better than to expect a straight answer to the big question that everyone from here to Baghdad is wondering about. But, it is worth a try, just to hear what answer he's going to give this time.
No, he does not know exactly what the administration is going to do to bring about the "regime change" that congressional leaders and the White House want in Iraq, Rumsfeld says. Then he disparages the effectiveness of just about everything that we are trying, short of invasion, from diplomacy to no-fly zones.
One headline that comes out of our meeting is his dismissal of two peacemaking invitations: one to talks at the United Nations and another to members of Congress to tour suspected biological, chemical and nuclear weapons sites.
"I can't think of anything funnier than a handful of congressmen walking around (in Iraq)," Rumsfeld says. "They'd have to be there for the next 50 years trying to find something. It's a joke."
Although he tells us that "I have no idea what caused this recent frenzy about Iraq in the last four or five days," more than a little of it seems to have bubbled out of a frenzy of backstage activity here in the Pentagon.
Pentagon lawyers reportedly have advised the administration to find some connection, any connection, between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to justify further military action. Intelligence agents reportedly have been dispatched to find such evidence.
Possible war scenarios have leaked to major media. Rumsfeld is particularly upset over a July 5 New York Times story about classified planning options for an invasion of Iraq from three directions. He reveals to us that he has asked the FBI to track down the leakers.
Would Rumsfeld agree to lie detector tests for Pentagon officials?, I ask, wondering how far he is willing to go. That's up to the FBI, he says, but the leakers "ought to be in jail."
Rumsfeld then pauses, as if to correct himself. "I have been told that I shouldn't say that…," he admits, then adds with a wry smirk, "It ought to be addressed by the criminal justice system. Let me put it that way, rather than predict an outcome."
He smiles. I chuckle, but not comfortably. After all, as every reporter knows, one person's dastardly "leaker" is another person's heroic "whistleblower." If one or two of them are actually hauled off to jail for the crime of letting the public know what its government is up to, it probably won't be funny.
That's why I ask the defense chief whether the disclosures by the New York Times or any other media actually have put American lives at risk. He avoids giving me a direct answer, but Pentagon spokespeople earlier had said the answer is "No."
With that in mind, Rumsfeld's newly emerging concern over leakers reveals an old and troubling tendency by government officials to turn, when things are not going well, to waging a war on leaks.
Instead of trying to put a lid on information that lets the public in on the Iraq debate, I'd like to see the administration give us more information. Otherwise, they should not be surprised if we sometimes wonder what they are trying to hide.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.
08/06/02:Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
03/15/02: A Pearl of wisdom for reporter's unborn son
03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
02/26/02: Jihads aren't just for Muslims
02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks
© 2001 TMS