Monday, June 27, 2005

Rumsfeld Sort Of, Kind Of Contradicts Cheney on Meet the Press

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, if nothing else, is painfully capable of staying on message.

And that skill allowed him to provide precious little new information on the June 26 edition of NBC's Meet the Press. Host Tim Russert asked the right questions, but for the most part failed in his follow-up questions, too quick to move on to the next topic.

You'd think Russert would be better prepared. You'd think he'd write questions almost knowing -- based on past Rumsfeld statements -- what the secretary's likely responses would be, and when appropriate have follow-ups to counter his answers, exposing inconsistencies between current Bushspeak and earlier administration statements, differences between the administration's statements and statistics from the "war on terror," or gaps between administration beliefs and those of its critics.

The Daily Howler has on several occasions printed this passage from Russert's recent book, Big Russ & Me:

RUSSERT (page 308): The first person I called was Lawrence Spivak, the cofounder of Meet the Press and its moderator from 1966 to 1975, to ask his advice. “Learn everything you can about the guests and their positions,” he told me, “and then take the other side on the air. If you do that in a civil way each week, you’ll have a fair and balanced program, you’ll get good answers, and you’ll make news.”

If only Russert were able to consistently follow that advice.


How consistent is Rumsfeld? Here are some typical responses from his Meet the Press interview:

RUSSERT: Chuck Hagel, a Republican, said this: "Things aren't getting better, they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. ... It's like they're just making it up as the go along. The reality is we are losing in Iraq."

RUMSFELD: That's just flat wrong. We are not losing in Iraq. ...

RUSSERT: The Times of London reports this morning that there have been two meetings between Iraqi and U.S. officials and some members of the insurgency. Is that accurate?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I would doubt it. ...

USSERT: Let me show you a graphic, which represents how tough it has been since the war began in March 19 of 2003. There have been 1,735 Americans killed; 13,085 wounded and injured; cost is $208 billion; we've been there for 831 days, and still have 135,000 American troops. Does any of that represent, in your mind, misjudgments made by you or the administration about Iraq?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, you have to remember that in every war, a battle plan doesn't survive first contact with the enemy. This is in history. Why? Because the enemy has a brain and they're constantly adapting, so we're constantly adapting. Every time there's an adaptation, someone says, "Oh, there's a mistake." It isn't a mistake. It's just reality. ...

RUSSERT: But there are a lot of Americans and members of Congress who believe that fundamental misjudgments were made; that certainly weapons of mass destruction have not been found. The whole notion of how we would be received by the Iraqi people--a few days before the war, I had Vice President Cheney on this program. And this is what I asked him and what his answer was. Let's watch and come back and talk about it.

(Videotape, March 16, 2003):

RUSSERT: Do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

CHENEY: Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators.

(End videotape)

RUSSERT: Do you think that was a misjudgment?

RUMSFELD: Well, you never know what's going to happen. ...


And on and on. Russert question. Rumsfeld denial or deferral. Russert moves on.


The most interesting interview segment regarded Cheney's constroversial statement last month that the Iraq insurgency was in the "last throes." It took some time, but ultimately, if you weed through a long question and answer, it would appear Rumsfeld contradicts Cheney:

RUSSERT: I think the concern that many people have is that if we were wrong or misjudged that, are we making some other misjudgments now? This is how The Washington Times reported in exchange before the hearings.

"[Sen. Carl] Levin asked whether the general thought the insurgency was in its `last throes,' as Mr. Cheney said ... last month. `In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it was the same as it was' six months ago, Gen. [John] Abizaid replied." For the sake of clarity for the American people, what about this insurgency?

Is it in its last throes or is it alive and well and vibrant and strong as it was six months ago?

RUMSFELD: Well, there are various ways to measure it. If you measure the number of incidents, it's gone up during the election period and now it's back down. If you look at lethality of those instances, it's up. Now, what does that mean? Does it mean that the insurgency's stronger? Is it in its last throes? The last throes could be violence, as you well know from a dictionary standpoint. ...

(Let me interrupt to point out that "throes" can be defined as violent. But Cheney said "last throes," which even his defenders took to mean a last thrust for the insurgency. Cheney, in a confusing effort to clarify his earlier comments, seemed to play bait-and-switch with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday, describing "throes" even as he continued to say "last throes." Rumsfeld did the same when answering Russert's question.)

Rumsfeld continued to Russert:

... I think the way to think of it is that the insurgents are foreigners in some significant number. They are attacking Iraqis and killing them. They are opposing an elected Iraqi government. They know they have a great deal to lose. If they lose this and if Iraq becomes a constitutional representative system in the middle of the Middle East, the effect on the terrorists will be devastating. So they are going to fight very hard. And you saw that when the elections -- they wanted to disrupt those elections on January 30th and so the peak went way up in violence. They're going to feel the same way about the constitution and the elections coming up in December. So I would anticipate you're going to see an escalation of violence between now and the December elections.

(In other words, the insurgents want to win, too.)

RUSSERT: But you wouldn't say the insurgency is on its last legs?

RUMSFELD: Well, if you are successful in having a constitution and having another election under the new constitution, that will have an effect on the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people will see that the people opposing that don't have the interest of Iraq in mind. They have the interests of the violent extremists. And will that hurt the insurgency? I believe it will. I think there's no question but that if we get through this period we will see that the Iraqi security forces will be stronger. They're very well respected today by the population in Iraq, and we will have more and more of an Iraqi face on this, less of an occupation face, which is a good thing. And over time -- I mean, foreign troops are not going to beat the insurgency. It's going be the Iraqi people that are going to beat the insurgency and Iraqi security forces. That's just the nature of an insurgency and it may take time, but our task is to get the Iraqi security forces sufficiently capable that that process of defeating the insurgency by the Iraqi people can take place.


In other words, no, the insurgency is not on its "last legs," which, in every dictionary but the one being used by Cheney and Rumsfeld, means the insurgency is not in its "last throes." Although it will be, over time, if several other things go right first.

It was sadly, one of the few answers Russert couldn't have predicted from earlier Rumsfeld statements.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is clear to most anyone with a functioning brain that Cheney's "last throes" comment was merely another blatant attempt by the Bush Administration to divert attention away -- even if only for a few moments -- from the reality of how bad things really are going in Iraq.
This discussion of what Cheney "really meant" is idiotic, stupid nonsense. It merely plays into the Bush strategy to produce enough of a smokescreen to prevent anyone from seriously dispelling that smoke.
Look at how Karl Rove's baseless criticisms of liberals has managed to divert attention from the Bush Administration's ongoing failures in Iraq and combating global terrorism.
The Bushies and MSM have diverted attention away from the Downing Street memos by opening up a debate on what is meant by the term "fixed."
Do you now understand the game of these crafty lizards and their corporate-owned MSM echo chamber?

1:32 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I think the commenter above is correct on all counts, but I would put it slightly differently. To me the nation has become so polarized the facts are longer important. I cite the recent poll mentioned in another post which shows that 79% of Republicans approve of the Bush admin's handling of the war in Iraq, 84% of Democrats dissapprove. (Fair Disclosure: I am part of the group who answered correctly).

Politics has become such that it's no longer about facts or evidence, so diverting attention from those things is moot. It's become an environment of sports-team fanaticism, where "our guy" must defeat "their guy", by any means necessary.

I (depressingly) am convinced that Bush could bend over and reveal a horned alien in his ass and the split would be about the same: 80% of Dems would feel it was a sign he was the anti-christ, 80% of Republicans would be certain it meant he was a leader with intergalactic knowledge who has put his demons behind him.

The smokescreens you speak of are important only because they provide a veneer of confusion - just enough so the media can spin reality however their "team" wishes it to be.

To this end the Press has become the lowliest servant of the process: providing their viewers/readers with the slant those viewers are paying for, regardless of the ultimate truth.

The effect is the same, though, it is pointless to discuss whether Cheney was right or wrong. It, like any form of zealotry, is a matter of faith. That's how propaganda works.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilmington, del. said...

Outstanding comment, American Dissident.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually dissident, you cannot guage the correctness of the question you posted (approve of the handling of the war). To you, the answer is obviously that you wholeheartedly disapprove, and that is your opinion, which is what the poll is supposed to guage. To another, they may approve of the handling, and as such, their answer is equally correct and valid, despite being different from yours, as it is their opinion.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Percentage of people who can identify sarcasm: 0%

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can readily identify sarcasm when I read it. The simple fact is that the dissident was not being sarcastic. It is his/her belief that he/she is aboslutely correct, and those that believe things to the contrary are absolutely incorrect.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Actually I was being sarcastic - sorry, it's my "way".

The whole point of my comment was that as a nation we have become polarized to a point that we only care about being "correct" - facts be damned. I would argue we have been expertly manipulated into this condition by strategists such as Rove, who have calculated that if the country can be split against itself such that 51% feels threatened by the other 49% it becomes easier to motivate change. It's Red vs Blue, Rep vs Dem, Conservative vs Liberal, Labor vs Business, Christian vs Secularist, Pro-life vs Pro-choice, whatever vs whatever.... After that it's easy to sway the 2% in the middle one way or another, depending on where you want the herd to go.

Rove isn't a genius - hardly! - this has been done by nearly every ambitious regime in history. It's more a fact of human behavior. The simple truth is it makes it easier to motivate voters when they have something to be against - in spite of Barack Obama's appeal to the higher motivation of standing together.

Getting back to the original comment though, as long as we are arguing about whose opinion is "correct" we can be pigeon-holed into marketing groups, pandered to by the media (Fox News vs Air America), and then the spinmasters can confirm how right we each are.

So, as I meant to imply, the Truth of Cheney's remarks are irrelavant in this environment: his comments are purposely vague and easy to spin, a service to the media which is in turn serving it's customer's basest desire to feel they are more correct than the other side.

Sadly, if we are to have any hope of winning the military challenges ahead of us we must act together. Divided public opinion on the validity of war can have disasterous effects (see Vietnam). The failure to unite is, in the long-run, probably the greatest lacking of our current "leadership".

3:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well put, American Dissident. You've certainly helped me gain some fresh insights into the topic.

7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the most damning implication of this is that the media has become the worst part of the problem. This is a symptom of the recent commercialisation of news outlets. The press is mostly about chasing profits.

I live in England and we have the BBC news which is paid for by a mandatory TV fee every person must pay. The BBC airs on advertising-free channels and is thus independent of any influence, especially marketing pressures. Any guesses for which is better quality: BBC News or Fox?

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BBC better than fox. and i agree american news is chasing sensationalist stories for the sake of profits too often. however, the BBC has also been antiamerican in many ways for years. so choose to listen to what you want. my view is that you should listen to more than one source because somewhere in between lies the truth, or the closest you will ever get to it.

9:52 AM  

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