Rummy's version of Democracy 101

Concerned that schoolyard rules might trump democratic ones in Iraq, Rumsfeld gives the nation's new parliamentarians a talking to.

By Page Rockwell
Published March 24, 2005 8:23PM (EST)

With the second meeting of the new Iraqi parliament scheduled for this Saturday, negotiators are struggling with the contentious process of distributing the country's oil and defense cabinet posts. And squabbling over the appointments could prevent the Shiite and Kurdish parties from coming together to create the two-thirds majority required to elect a president.

Fortunately for them, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered a few handy pointers during a tour of duty on last Sunday's news shows. He marked the two-year anniversary of the launch of the Iraq war with visits to Fox News Sunday and ABC's This Week, where he took a paternal tone toward the nascent Iraqi government, as if the country's parliament were an unruly eighth-grade class: "They have to be darned careful about making a lot of changes just to be putting in their friend or to be putting in someone else from their tribe or from their ethnic group. This is too serious a business over there."

Rumsfeld superficially made mention of Iraqi sovereignty, but U.S. interests topped his democracy primer: "The United States has got too much invested and too much committed and too many lives at stake for people to be careless about that. So we are urging those Iraqis that what they do is put in who you want - it's your country and your sovereignty - but be darned careful that you don't cause undue turbulence and weakness in the security forces."

Despite having instructed the Iraqi parliamentarians as to how serious their new jobs are, Rumsfeld seemed more lax about his own -- he went on to disavow responsibility for nearly every other area of strategic concern the shows' hosts threw at him. With regard to Army vice-chairman Gen. Richard Cody's recent admission that the state of the Army's all-volunteer force "keeps [him] awake at night," Rumsfeld shrugged: "It doesn't keep me up at night."

Maybe Rummy sleeps so soundly because he's tuning out the bad news. When Stephanopoulos confronted Rumsfeld about the recent ABC/Washington Post poll finding that 53 percent of Americans don't think the war was worth fighting, Rumsfeld made it clear that the Bush administration is only listening to the news it wants to hear: "Well, I haven't seen that poll. I've seen polls that say very much the opposite of that. I think that, broadly, the American people understand the value that has been achieved as a result of  the war in Iraq."

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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