Rumsfeld and the fine art of lying

The defense secretary, testifying to the Senate about the war: "I have never painted a rosy picture."

Topics: Afghanistan, Hillary Rodham Clinton, War Room, Iraq, Middle East,

You could probably understand why Donald Rumsfeld initially refused to testify publicly before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. Aside from the demands of his very busy schedule, the defense secretary probably had a hunch that he’d face some uncomfortable questions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did an about-face after his plans to snub the committee sparked an uproar on Capitol Hill Wednesday — and, in deciding to make an appearance after all, apparently went ahead and prepared a new-and-improved version of his perspective from the get-go.

“We hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios,” said Sen. Hillary Clinton, ripping into him at today’s hearing, “but because of the administration’s strategic blunders — and frankly the record of incompetence in executing — you are presiding over a failed policy.” She added that Rumsfeld had appeared before the committee numerous times since 2002 and “made many comments and presented many assurances that have frankly proven to be unfulfilled.”

Rumsfeld’s response was, well, not pretty. “I have never painted a rosy picture. I have been very measured in my words, and youd have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been excessively optimistic. I understand this is tough stuff.”

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Anyone who hasn’t been stuck in a cave in Tora Bora for the last four years knows that’s a flat-out lie. There are, of course, many examples that could be gathered from when Rumsfeld and other top Bush officials sprayed a rhetorical puff of perfume over the rising stench of destruction from Kabul to Baghdad. Here’s one, from a month before the invasion of Iraq: Appearing on PBS’ “News Hour” on Feb. 20, 2003, Rumsfeld was asked by Jim Lehrer if the American soldiers would be greeted as liberators. “There is no question but that they would be welcomed,” Rumsfeld replied. And then he painted a picture indeed: “Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites, and doing all the things that the Taliban and the al-Qaida would not let them do. Saddam Hussein has one of the most vicious regimes on the face of the earth. And the people know that.”

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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