Just spectacular

Published December 20, 2004 5:17PM (EST)

Donald Rumsfeld doesn't sign sympathy letters. He can't be troubled, apparently, to take the time and ink to personalize missives sent out to American families who have paid the ultimate price for the Iraq war -- a war that reveals in new ways each day just how disastrously it was dreamt up and designed. Yes, leaving the tough work of condolence to the auto-pen is cold, unfeeling and arrogant of Rumsfeld; and yet another PR disaster for the Pentagon, which told Stars and Stripes over the weekend that the secretary would put his own pen to paper, from now on, for sympathy letters.

The condolence note flap, coming on the heels of the armored Humvee flap -- and on a bloody weekend in Iraq, further fueled the Washington debate about Rumsfeld's future, even among Republicans. Last week, Trent Lott, of all people, joined John McCain and Susan Collins in casting votes of no confidence in Rummy -- Chuck Hagel said the same over the weekend. The White House's contribution to the discussion: President Bush said at a rare press conference this morning that Rumsfeld was doing a "very fine job." Andy Card yesterday praised Rumsfeld for doing a "spectacular job." Now, if this is "very fine" and/or "spectacular," we can only tremble imagining what Rummy's "failures" must look like. Also in Rumsfeld's corner: Texas Senator John Cornyn, who said the secretary's resignation "would be handing a gift to the jihadists and the insurgents and those who want to see us defeated in Iraq."

Funny he mentions gifts to the jihadists, because the Financial Times today has a story showing how Rumsfeld -- and Bush, too, of course -- has already done more than his part to strengthen anti-Western militants by handing them such a fine training ground: The cauldron of violence and chaos that is Iraq. Saudi officials, the FT reports, are growing concerned about insurgents who went to Iraq for training and military experience, and who are now returning to Saudi Arabia -- and have been found as far away as Western Europe -- now with finely-honed skills they developed fighting the U.S. in Iraq.

A senior European intelligence official told the FT: "The big trend for the coming 20 years will be the Iraqi jihad veterans. They are being seen as the extreme threat for the coming period. One key challenge is to establish who they are and where they are going, in order to make sure that the same mistake is not made as was made with the Arab Afghan veterans who fought against the Soviet Union." This is frightening because of the obvious ramifications for global terrorism; but as Juan Cole discusses today, there are also potential implications for oil and the world economy as jihadists return from Iraq to the Saudi kingdom:

"Given al-Qaeda's increasing emphasis within Saudi Arabia on attacking US targets, and given Usama Bin Laden's recent call for targetting oil facilities, the prospect of several hundred Saudi jihadis returning battle hardened from Iraq is indeed scarey. The FT does not note a parallel threat, which is that the Saudi Shiites of al-Hasa (that is where your petroleum is coming from, folks, so you should know the name) could become radicalized by increased contact with groups like the Sadr movement in Iraq. Saudi Arabia's oil pipelines are extremely vulnerable to attack, and right now the kingdom is probably pumping some 13% of the petroleum produced in the world every day (11 million barrels a day out of a little over 80 million a day pumped). Drastic reductions in Saudi production because of persistent sabotage could throw the world into economic recession."

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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