George W. Bush will name Tony Snow as his new White House press secretary in a few minutes. In a way, we wish the Fox newsman were on the job already: We'd like to hear someone offer an aggressive, full-throated explanation of just what Donald Rumsfeld thought he was doing flying to Iraq last night -- and why the rest of us should pay for it.
Actually, it wasn't just Rumsfeld. A couple of hours after Rumsfeld's military transport took him from Washington to Baghdad, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had been in Turkey, flew in on her own plane to meet up with him. Why were they there? Pointing to the long-delayed selection of a new Iraqi prime minister, Rice said it was important for Americans to show their support for the new Iraqi government. "This is the Iraqis' time," she said in comments that were meant to justify her trip but seemed to do the opposite. Then Rice got at what must have been the real reason for the trip: saving face back home. The secretary of state said that the Rumsfeld-Rice trip -- albeit via separate planes -- would send "an important message to the American people" by showing that the State Department and the Pentagon are working closely together.
We'd like to think that the president's senior advisors and the departments they run could coordinate something beyond their travel schedules, but we haven't seen much evidence of that over the years. In the run-up to the war, the Pentagon all but ignored a State Department study that predicted many of the problems the United States now faces in Iraq. And when the man in charge of the military's early reconstruction efforts in Iraq found himself short of Iraq experts and tried to hire the State Department official who authored that report, the Pentagon stepped in and said no.
The tension between the two departments has continued throughout the war. As the New York Times notes this morning, when Rice said last month that the United States had made "thousands of tactical errors" in Iraq, Rumsfeld said he didn't know what she was talking about.
Members of Rice's entourage said that the State-Defense battles are over, and the joint Rumsfeld-Rice appearances in Baghdad today certainly seem designed to show off their efforts at cooperation -- and maybe, just maybe, to have some of the luster of one of the administration's most popular figures rub off on the one a lot of Americans would like to see pushed out the door.
Which is all well and good, but is this sort of international dog-and-pony show really something U.S. troops ought to be co-opted into facilitating and the taxpayers ought to be required to fund? We know what Scott McClellan will say: We're a nation at war, Secretary Rumsfeld listens to the commanders on the ground, yada, yada, yada. But what about the new guy? Snow has said -- in words that the president might wish he hadn't used -- that the White House has been insufficiently aggressive in defending itself. How would he justify this junket? Or would he even try? In an appearance on Bill O'Reilly's show the other day, Snow showed that a good offense may be better than any defense. Asked about high gas prices, he said the blame lies with Iranian officials who are threatening to build a nuclear bomb and with "people complaining about Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon."