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Humpty Dumpty

10/24/2003

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. / All the king's horses, / And all the king's men, / Couldn't put Humpty together again.

(Traditional English nursery rhyme)

The whispers are getting louder. Humpty Dumpty wasn't pushed, they say. He jumped.

The late James Reston famously quipped that "The ship of state is the only vessel that leaks from the top." Perhaps the same could have been said for the five-sided dreadnaught on the Potomac, the source of the now-celebrated "Rumsfeld memo" that appeared in USA Today earlier this week.

It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog.

(Rumsfeld memo)

The memo can be understood as a calculated attempt at both self-exculpation and public and Congressional expectations management -- gosh, this stuff is hard! Don't expect results overnight, guys!

But if that's what it is, it appears only to have highlighted the smiley-face mendacity of Pentagon press conferences and briefings, to say nothing of the Administration line in general.

One senior Republican Congressional official said that he himself had concluded that Mr. Rumsfeld's approach [to Congressional relations in general] was doing harm to the White House and that he had become "a millstone around the president's neck."

...A Republican who is close to the White House said the view there had been that Mr. Rumsfeld "went off the deep end" in his reaction earlier this month to Mr. Bush's decision to designate Ms. Rice as the overall coordinator of Iraq policy. "The worst thing that can happen in Washington is if you're a cabinet member, you think you're bigger than the president," the Republican said.

The memo by Mr. Rumsfeld that came to light this week warned of a "long, hard slog ahead" in rebuilding and pacifying Iraq, a description very different from his repeated public statements that the situation there was improving every day. Some lawmakers said on Thursday that the memo had confirmed to them that the defense secretary and his aides had until now given them too optimistic a picture.

"I think that up until the memo was leaked they were giving too rosy a scenario," Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on Thursday. "After I came back from Iraq, I thought things were not as good as the administration was painting but not as bad as some were alleging. The leaked memo, I think, puts things in a better perspective than the briefings that we've had from them."

Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a respected Democratic voice on defense matters, agreed that the memorandum revealed just how much information the Pentagon is not sharing with members of Congress, whom he said are growing increasingly restive about being kept in the dark.

"Their M.O. toward us has been pretty consistent -- we're not going to tell you much, and we're reluctant to tell you even that," Mr. Reed said. "There's a growing sentiment that we need more timely and accurate information because we need to make our decisions on facts, not spin."

(Douglas Jehl and David Firestone, "Rumsfeld Draws Republicans' Ire," Oct. 24 New York Times)

So Humpty Dumpty is recalibrating.
On Thursday afternoon, in an apparent effort to offer a fresh defense against such criticism, Mr. Rumsfeld appeared unannounced at a scheduled Pentagon briefing.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he stood by his view, as disclosed in what was to have been a private memo, that the United States faced "a long, hard slog" in Iraq. But he quickly added that his preferred definition was spelled out in the Oxford English Dictionary as "slog -- to hit or strike hard, to drive with blows, to assail violently."

"We're finding these terrorists where they are, and we're rooting them out, and we're capturing them, we're killing them," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It's difficult work. It won't be over any time soon."

Let's return to the canon of English children's literature, shall we?
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I chose it to mean -- nothing less, and nothing more."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

(Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass)

While the SecDef keeps busy with all this groundskeeping -- hedging, trimming, and applying healthy doses of fertilizer -- the White House's Iraq policy isn't exactly sprouting roses. More follies to follow...

Analyst

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by Analyst @ 05:18 PM CST [Link]

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