Donald Rumsfeld's semantic solution

The secretary of defense says it's time to stop calling insurgents insurgents.

Published November 30, 2005 1:47PM (EST)

The White House rolls out its National Strategy for Victory in Iraq today, but Donald Rumsfeld apparently has some smaller steps in mind. At a press briefing at the Pentagon yesterday, the secretary of defense said he'd been doing some thinking about Iraq over the weekend, and that he'd come up with an idea that might help: Stop calling insurgents insurgents.

"Over the weekend, I thought to myself, 'You know, that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit,'" Rumsfeld said. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank says Rumsfeld then threw his hands in the air and proclaimed, "It was an epiphany."

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stood next to Rumsfeld as he spoke. But when it was Pace's turn to talk, he found himself calling the insurgents insurgents again. When he said, "I have to use the word 'insurgent' because I can't think of a better word right now," Rumsfeld responded: "'Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government' -- how's that?"

It didn't work, as Pace kept slipping back into the use of the word insurgents. As Milbank notes, Rumsfeld ultimately made a joke of it. But on other matters, the secretary of defense and the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs plainly had some more serious differences. Asked about torture by Iraqi authorities, Rumsfeld said that "obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility" beyond objecting. Pace disagreed, saying that each and every U.S. soldier has an "absolute responsibility" to stop inhumane treatment if he or she sees it. Rumsfeld disagreed, saying, "I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it. It's to report it." Pace fired back: "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

By Tim Grieve

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

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