Don Rumsfeld made a surprise visit -- is there any other kind? -- to Iraq today to review the security situation there and was greeted by a bloodbath: two dozen Shiites kidnapped from a bus station, blindfolded, and shot in the head, their hands tied behind their backs. This followed the deaths of more than 50 people in Baghdad on Tuesday, the result of suicide bombings, car bombs, mortar attacks, and shootings. More than 100 people have been killed in Iraq over the last four days.
The Defense Secretary's response to this eruption of sectarian violence was quintessential Rummy.
First he claimed that security in Iraq was now dependent on finding a political solution. The "solution is not military," he said. "It's as much a political task as anything." The Iraqi people are "going to have to engage in a reconciliation process."
But, according to AP, when asked what the reconciliation process would entail, Rumsfeld said it would boil down to the Iraqis convincing as many people as possible to support the new government: "Anyone that doesn't want to, they're going to have to go find and do something about -- that's what I mean."
"Go find and do something about"? Like what? What option is left if you fail to convince someone to reconcile?
Does Rumsfeld believe the ultimate resolution in Iraq will have to be political, as long as your definition of political includes tracking down and doing "something about" anyone who doesn't see things your way?
There was a time when Rummy's surrealistic take on things was quaint and quirky, chewy nuggets that could be appreciated, if not enjoyed, as the mental musings of a sui generis mind. "Stuff happens," "Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war," and, of course, "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." Hart Seely even turned Rumsfeld's ramblings into a book of poetry, The Existential Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld.
But those days are long gone, buried beneath a cascade of body bags and on-going horrors. Quaint and quirky have given way to delusional, as Rumsfeld has crossed the line into a place with little connection to reality. Call it Rummy's Disease, an affliction that is apparently highly contagious.
Just look at the symptoms being exhibited by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Miliki. A man normally given to clear-eyed, sober assessments, such as when he told the members of the Iraq parliament this week that the country had one "last chance" to avoid an all-out civil war, saying of his national reconciliation plan: "If it fails, I don't know what the destiny of Iraq will be." (Two guesses: a) all-out civil war b) all-out civil war.)
But put Miliki in sniffing distance of Rummy and he suddenly starts talking nonsense. "The security forces are still in control of the situation," he said on Tuesday. "We have the capacity, if necessary, to impose order and suppress those who rebel against the state."
"Still in control of the situation"? What country is he talking about? The one where over 100 people have been killed in the last 96 hours? "The capacity to impose order"? Who is he kidding? Fifty-thousand troops were moved into Baghdad last month as part of Operation Together Forward, yet violence in the capitol has escalated.
And at what point will Maliki deem it "necessary" to "suppress" the violence? When three dozen bus riders are executed? When there are triple suicide bombings at entrances to the Green Zone? When 150 people are killed over four days? 250? 350?
Maliki should consider wearing gloves and a face mask next time Rummy comes calling. The man is clearly dangerous to the state of one's mental health.
And he isn't doing much for the physical well-being of our troops either -- troops that continue to be placed in the crossfire of a sectarian civil war, asked to perform a mission they weren't trained for. Even U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad says the mission has changed: "A year ago terrorism and the insurgency against the coalition and the Iraqi security forces were the principal sources of instability. Violent sectarianism is now the main challenge." So now our soldiers are expected to put an end to centuries-old religious conflicts, too? It's madness.
Nevertheless, Rumsfeld announced he wouldn't be discussing any plans for reducing U.S. troop levels during this trip -- a subject he mocked the American news media for having a "consuming interest" in. Gee, maybe he's right. With over 2,500 U.S. dead and 18,400 wounded, the horrors of Haditha and Mahmoudiyah exacerbating anti-American sentiment among Iraqis, Colin Powell admitting that "we are in the middle of a civil war," and a president committed to staying the course, why should the media even think about -- let alone be consumed by -- troop withdrawal?
When asked when he thought the Iraqis would be ready to meet the security needs that would allow for the reduction of U.S. forces, Rumsfeld said, "I don't talk deadlines" -- a snappy rejoinder we can add to the list of other Rummy don'ts: "I don't do numbers." "I don't do predictions." "I don't do diplomacy." "I don't do foreign policy." "I don't do quagmires."
Too bad for the rest of us that Rummy also doesn't do resignations.
He's a perfect fit with his boss, who doesn't do funerals.
Their oblivious response to the tragedy they have wrought in Iraq marks them as the polar opposites of the kid in The Sixth Sense. They don't see dead people. Anywhere.