On April 20, 2008, the New York Times published an expose, "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand," by David Barstow, detailing the close--in many cases, close business--relationship with a group of retired military officers who have spent much of the last five years as supposedly "independent" military analysts in the mainstream media, mostly on television and especially on the newschannels, Fox, CNN, and including MSNBC (proprietors of Newsvine).
Much of the Times' report was based on a series of canny Freedom of Information Act requests detailing the Pentagon's unprecedented program of support and encouragement of those so-called "independent" analysts as they spread out across the dominant media to proselytize Bush Administration Iraq policy.
On Thursday, May 8, the Department of Defense released to the public all the items they had turned over to the New York Times. One item that was released that has generated no notice in the media accounts so far is an audio recording of a valedictory luncheon Rumsfeld hosted for those analysts on December 12, 2006--a month after Rumsfeld had been cashiered by President Bush and only a few days before Rumsfeld's replacement Robert Gates assumed the post of Secretary of Defense. The file, very large, is here
The recording is just over an hour long, so I clipped a few of the more notable moments. By "notable" I mean "at times chilling, infuriating, even shocking."
The lunch was supposed to have been off the record, and it was a liquid lunch, as you can hear in the first clip (0:14), Clink! As you read this article and my explanations and interpretations, run that clip every now and then to maintain the convivial atmosphere of the room.
"We Can't Win"
In one of the first substantive comments Rumsfeld makes, the second clip from the top (0:36), he explains carefully that while the USA is involved in asymmetric warfare, we can't lose militarily--but we can't win militarily, either. Oh, gee, THANKS Mr. Rumsfeld! Now you tell us? Somebody owes somebody like Senators Harry Reid and Joe Biden a great big fat apology, since that's exactly what they've been arguing for years now, to sharp rebuke from Administration spokespersons for "defeatism." But it's the end of that clip that's the real kick in the rear. "We aren't going to go around the world for the numbers of years it took Algeria, for example, to subdue an insurgency," he declares. Oh, yeah? Maybe he better tell that to Senator McCain, who seems to have his heart set on a new Hundred Years War.
The third clip (2:01) is very, very intriguing. One of the analysts (it's impossible in most instances to figure out who the questioner is) suggests pointedly to Rumsfeld that Iraq needs a Syngman Rhee. Rhee, if you are unaware, was the ruthless authoritarian dictator of South Korea from after World War II through the Korean War to 1960. Yeah, he was a son of bitch, but he was our son of a bitch, to borrow a phrase Franklin Roosevelt said of Somoza. Well, well, well. So much for "democracy," huh? But the special treat in this little clip--before Rumsfeld wistfully closes by bemoaning the fact that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is "no Syngman Rhee"--is the way Rumsfeld utterly trashes Maliki's predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari, calling him a "wind sock."
"I Wish I Knew"
The fourth clip (0:46) is made up almost entirely of the question, a long, complicated citation of comments by Iraq Study Group Co-Chair Lee Hamilton, referencing the regional dynamic including Syria and Iran and wrapping up on a query concerning a "solution" based on "ending state sponsorship of terrorism." Rumsfeld's response is remarkable. He sounds literally beaten as he semi-whispers "I wish I knew."
You Mean It's Not World War II After All?
Next we hear Rumsfeld waxing strategic about the shape of the conflict (1:28). It's not like Iwo Jima, he explains, where we'd win a battle, and after it's over, you "own the island." Oh, it's all so very complicated, he whines. Oh, really? If it was all so complicated, why did a few hippies unschooled in the military arts make that same argument six years ago now, when the Iraq scheme was first being bruited by the Administration? Listening to this clip is nothing less than pathetic. When you go in to go after the militias, they leave, he explains. As if we didn't learn that in Vietnam. Ahah! I get it. Iraq is not World War II, it's Vietnam! Except, of course, when it is World War II and isn't Vietnam (he later compares Bush to Churchill without the slightest hint of understanding the contradiction, but I couldn't bear to clip it). I guess it depends on the time of day which war is which.
The kicker in this clip is at the very end where he insults the American people for "weakened will" as he praises the Iraqi insurgents for being a "hellava lot more skillful" at influencing the American public than is the Bush Administration.
Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon
In clip 6 (0:48) we hear Rumsfeld talking strategy again, but almost on the level of philosophy rather than doctrine. I selected this particular passage because it's, well, fundamentally incoherent. He starts off disquisiting on the Sunni/Shia schism in Islam and damned if it doesn't sound like he thinks U.S. policy should be directed towards healing that breach, or at any rate as if somehow ameliorating it will serve American interests. Huh? Islam has been divided along those lines since the Prophet Mohammed's time. He closes with a much more reasonable, if utterly banal, comment about the distinction between "violent extremist" and "mainstream" Muslims, but the point is, that distinction has nothing to do with Sunni/Shia divide. I think maybe those drinks started kicking in here.
Champagne for al Sadr
In this penultimate clip (2:58), one of the questioners lightens the mood in the room considerably by speculating about the assassination of Iraqi militia and political figure Muqtada al-Sadr. Eventually, Rumsfeld's offer of a bottle of champagne to the killer leads to raucous hilarity on a couple of occasions, ending with a joke based on the "wink and a nod" Ariel Sharon once claimed to have received from Alexander Haig in approval of Israel's 1984 invasion of Lebanon.
But all "joking" aside, listening to Rumsfeld's serious analysis of al-Sadr helps answer one little question: Why the hell are we losing in Iraq? Rumsfeld completely and utterly misunderstood and underestimated al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. I mean, it's unbelievable. Rumsfeld thought that al-Sadr didn't have any real military capability at all. Rumsfeld thought that the most al-Sadr could do was spark demonstrations.
Again, it's amazing what the dirty hippies know about war that these doltish "independent" analysts don't, whatever their rank in the military before they decided to become media stars. The questioner seems boggled and baffled at the way al-Sadr's influence had grown. Duh. Al Sadr has been consistently opposed to the continuing presence of an occupying foreign army on his country's soil. You don't have to be a former general to figure that that's usually a popular position in countries with foreign armies garrisoned within them, at least for a significant segment of the occupied population.
And on top of that, they had just moments before been pining away for lack of a brutal, ruthless thug like Syngman Rhee to get Iraq going again. Seems like they've got the perfect candidate right under their noses.
Finally, let's get to politics. Pure, unadulterated partisan politics. One of the questioners, I think probably Lt. General Michael DeLong (USMC, Ret)--you can hear Rumsfeld address "Mike" earlier in the question and there's only one Michael in the room--opens a "way, way off the record" question by trashing Senator Carl Levin, the incoming chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Representative Silvestre Reyes, the incoming Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, then tries to goad Rumsfeld into joining in by suggesting the "we have a really rough two years coming." Rumsfeld rambles on about European demographics, Chinese cyberwar and smallpox as a bio-weapon before the questioner prods him back on topic by asking, "Politically, what are the challenges because you're not going to have a lot of sympathetic ears up there [on Capitol Hill]?" which is where I pick up the clip (1:17).
Rumsfeld's answer is nothing short of stunning. No, not the part where he claims Bush is a "Victim of his success." That's just stupid. And no, after hearing his previous insult to the American public, his condemnation of us because "we don't have the maturity" to recognize the threat of terrorism--the further we get from 9/11, the less and less . . . he trails off. But that's not shocking, nor is his doomsday scenario, all things considered.
So let's summarize. According to Rumsfeld and his media sycophants, America has real problems: We're weak-willed, we're immature, we're forgetting what happened, and oh my God, we've elected Democrats to Congress. So, what's the "Correction" for those problems? Listen to him:
Another 9/11 attack.
Actually, I think I'll have a liquid lunch, too.