Defense? Don't ask me

By Tim Grieve
Published February 17, 2005 2:33PM (EST)

Has Donald Rumsfeld flipped his lid? The Washington Post's rather extraordinary account of Rumsfeld's day on Capitol Hill might leave you asking.

Rumsfeld has always been a little grumpy and a lot brusque, but he seemed to take things to a whole new level Wednesday during hearings in the House and the Senate. When Robert Byrd asked Rumsfeld why the White House has put certain long-term military budget items into an emergency budget request rather than in the president's new budget proposal, the Secretary of Defense said that the issue was "really beyond my pay grade." When Patrick Leahy pointed out that there aren't many folks who outrank the Secretary of Defense -- militarily speaking, there's exactly one -- Rumsfeld snapped back: "Senator, I thought Congress was Article I of the Constitution."

And it didn't stop there. The Post's Dana Milbank lays it out in rapid-fire style:

"Asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq, Rumsfeld replied: 'I am not going to give you a number.'

"Did he care to voice an opinion on efforts by U.S. pilots to seek damages from their imprisonment in Iraq? 'I don't.'

"Could he comment on what basing agreements he might seek in Iraq? 'I can't.'

"How about the widely publicized cuts to programs for veterans? 'I'm not familiar with the cuts you're referring to.'

"How long will the war last? 'There's never been a war that was predictable as to length, casualty or cost in the history of mankind.'"

Members of the House Armed Services Committee had more questions for the Secretary of Defense but didn't get to ask them. Midway through Wednesday's hearing, Rumsfeld announced abruptly that he needed to go to lunch.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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