Agam's Gecko
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Don Rumsfeld, and the troops
Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meets troops assigned to Al Asad Air Base during a surprise visit to Iraq, December 9, 2006. Photo: Cherie A. Thurlby/Defense Department

couple of weeks ago, I happened to catch something very interesting on my video recorder. Faithful readers may recall my frequent appreciation of the (admittedly limited) access I have to C-SPAN broadcasts, all the way over here on the other side of the world. It comes via the WorldNet channel on AsiaSat 2, and spans most of the weekend -- so I often record it overnight for later scanning in case there were any interesting events covered. I made a good catch that Saturday night, Dec. 9, with a rebroadcast of Donald Rumsfeld's last "Town Hall" meeting with a large group of service men and women of all ranks at the Pentagon.

With all the crap that has been written and said about him over the past while -- including the conventional wisdom that he was not on good terms with much of his department -- it was great to actually see the unedited event, and to witness the tangible affection and respect between this Secretary and the men and women who worked under him. Most people may have seen a few bite-sized clips from the event on their evening news, but these did not convey much of the emotional connection that was evident in viewing the entire meeting. Unfortunately C-SPAN did not make the video available on its website, but it is still available at the Pentagon Channel. (If you watch, it's recommended to open the link in Internet Explorer, or use the excellent Firefox extension IE Tab - very useful for IE-centric sites)

The event was held on Dec. 8, and by the time I was seeing it the next day, he was already having his surprise visit with troops in Iraq on the 9th. The above photo was taken at Al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province that day. Videos of the meetings he had with troops on the frontline that weekend showed very clearly that they continue to hold him in very high regard indeed. So much for the conventional wisdom purveyed by the mainstream media.

At the Town Hall meeting, he had expounded on many topics before throwing the floor open for questions -- quipping that the really tough ones would be handled by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, who had earlier delivered a fairly emotional tribute to the outgoing Secretary. It was very evident that there is a strong bond between the two, who clearly valued their working together and appreciate each other's humour. The kind of kibbutzing between them is something that only comes between good friends with genuine mutual respect, and it was great to see.

Rumsfeld's final comments at this event struck me as being crucially important, and seemed to be his chosen opportunity to say what he really felt. So I sat down with my recording and transcribed the last part of it. It's a message that I wish more people could really get, namely that a little patience is called for -- particularly when doing such a difficult thing as helping a country stand on its own in the face of vicious and constant slaughter by terrorists, and the sectarian turmoil they have finally succeeded in igniting. Deserting the Iraqi people now would be a crime, yet while many people back safely at home have run out of patience, the troops in danger's way seem to believe strongly in what they are doing, place a high value on their mission, and exhibit enough patience and determination as to make the "quagmirists" seem foolish.

A staff member had announced that "this will be the last question," when Rumsfeld interjected, "I'll decide if it's last. It depends on how good it is!" The questioner was one of several who encouraged the Secretary to write a book, and then made a segue into noting that several other prominent Americans had recently come out with a book. He was referring to the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report, which was then at the top of the news environment. Rumsfeld spoke about the process President Bush is engaged in, and the various consultations and reports of which the ISG is one aspect, and which are expected to result in some Iraq policy adjustments in the New Year. But rather than comment on pros and cons of any of the ISG recommendations (many of which were just silly, in my opinion, and look like the type of lowest common denominator positions we always see out of the UN), he went on to describe his own personal view of the situation. The Pentagon later posted the entire transcript of the meeting here, but I think for this section at least, my version is a little better.
There is an impatience in the United States and in the Congress. And there's nobody who sees people being killed and wounded, and doesn't feel a sense of urgency about getting it right, and doing the right thing, and seeing that their loss of life is as minimal as it possibly can be. The other thing we have to think about though, is the dire consequences were we to fail there. And it is not just an Iraq problem, it is a regional problem.

There is a major divide between the Shia and the Sunni communities in that part of the world, and the risks to its stability are significant, and what's taking place in Iraq is in effect a microcosm of what's taking place in that region. This power struggle, partly religious, partly economic, certainly political, for power, but in a very real sense, not terribly military in its nature. Violence is not military, necessarily. I don't describe someone strapping on a suicide vest and going in and blowing up 20, 30, 40 civilians in Baghdad, as a military operation myself, but that's the kind of thing that's taking place.

I think that our country has to be able to, obviously, constantly recognise that the situation is not static, it's dynamic. The enemies have a brain, they watch what we do, they make adjustments. We have to keep changing our tactics, our techniques, our procedures. We have invested a whale of a lot in the Afghan situation and in the Iraq situation. And those countries have made considerable strides towards governing themselves. They're not there yet.

To pull out precipitously, and inject that instability into the situation there in that country and in that region, I believe would be a terrible mistake. We simply as a society have to recognise that it's not... the military people are doing everything that can be done from a military standpoint. But they can't win this, quote unquote, militarily. It has to be won by the Iraqi people, it has to be won through a reconcilliation process, through a political process. And it is those diplomatic and economic and political things that have to move forward in that country, and our goal is to keep training and equipping and preparing the Iraqi security forces so that they can create an environment within which that can happen. And it makes a big difference to us, to our safety here in this country.

And I think that while everyone feels it's not going fast enough, everyone feels it's not going well enough, everyone's looking for the kinds of things that might be done to improve that process -- political process, economic process, diplomatic process -- and there are some people who say well you should do this, or that, or the other thing. And I can tell you I can't think of a thing that anyone's thought of, that Gen. Pace and Gen. Abizaid and those folks have not been working on and analysing, and studying and adjusting to over time.

We have every chance in the world of succeeding in both those countries, but only if we have the patience. And only if we have the staying power.

In every conflict in our country's history, there have been those who said, "Toss in the towel. It isn't working." The revolutionary war, by golly, George Washington almost got fired. He didn't win a battle, that I can recall, for a whale of a long time. You think of the beginning of World War II and all the battles that were lost. You think of the Cold War when Euro-communism was in fashion, millions of people, hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating, not against the Soviet Union ... against the United States! Saying we were the ones in the wrong. But by golly, something important isn't easy. And this isn't easy. And by golly it's important, and we'd better do it right.

That is the last question. God bless you all.
It really is worth reading the whole transcript, if you don't have the inclination to watch the web video. Or at least check some accounts from sources that don't already hate Rummy with a passion (like 90% of the media), like this one or this one. Yes, they come from DefenseLink, and more than anything in the Times or WashingPost, they convey the atmosphere of the event.

It may be unfortunate that during the same time period, yet another batch of hideous photos were released by persons unknown, depicting even more atrocities conducted in the field by US troops upon the unsuspecting innocent civilians of Iraq. When will it end?

Breakfast with the troops
Maybe JAWN CAIRY could help. He was generous enough to share some time out of his busy schedule meeting with the chinless opthamologist dictator of Syria, and spread some holiday spirit with troops in the field. They had earlier extended an invitation to him, perhaps wanting to explain that they weren't really as dumb as he thinks. So he took them up on their offer, and milblogger Ben of Mesopotamia was there. You may notice from his photo how incredibly popular the junior senator from Beantown actually is with the folks in uniform. Ben writes:
On Saturday night, a colleague emailed me and told me to bring my camera, as Senator Kerry was scheduled to give a press conference here in the Palace. At 2100, he entered a conference room wearing his leather flight jacket. Unfortunately, there was no media there, except for the enlisted soldiers from AFTN (Armed Forces Television Network) who had to be there. His aide looked around, saw that this just wasn't happening, and quickly escorted Kerry out before I could take a picture.

Finally, the next morning, Senator Kerry ate chow at the Dining Facility. Normally when a Senator/Representative visits, he is joined by a contingent of soldiers/Marines/airmen from his home state. Despite the fact that the MP unit responsible for Green Zone security is an Army Reserve unit from Massachusetts, not a single soldier went to sit with him. (By contrast, Bill O'Reilly, host of that terrible shoutfest on Fox, had over 400 soldiers waiting in line to meet him on Saturday).
Interesting. Hannity looked pretty popular with the troops too, at that Hot Air video link, when the invitation was delivered. What happened Jawn? Are those botched jokes tormenting you again? Radio host Scott Hennen was also sent an account of the long awaited visit by a friend who serves in Iraq, complete with another photo of the dour one enjoying his own company. Scott's friend writes:
"This is a true story.....Check out this photo from our mess hall at the US Embassy yesterday morning. Sen. Kerry found himself all alone while he was over here. He cancelled his press conference because no one came, he worked out alone in the gym w/o any soldiers even going up to say hi or ask for an autograph (I was one of those who was in the gym at the same time), and he found himself eating breakfast with only a couple of folks who are obviously not troops.
BLACKFIVE has more photos of the long awaited visit of Teresa Heinz' husband, outside of the chow-hall having other important meetings.

... and Rumsy laughed...
Donald Rumsfeld smiles during the Armed Forces Full Honor Review at the Pentagon in Washington December 15, 2006. Photo: Reuters
And the Don laughed, and laughed. I don't think I could dream up a more striking comparison between the obvious affection these people on the front lines have for one, and distain for the other. In the article by Ben of Messopotamia, he recounts that one helicopter pilot was just about to transfer the senator somewhere, when he got out of his seat and went back in the chopper to ask him for an autograph. He produced a copy of the famous "Halp us Jon Carry - We R Stuck Hear N Irak" photo, for the senator's signature. He was a good sport about it though, and signed it.

The people who are doing this difficult, extremely dangerous work, who believe in what they're doing and have the patience to see it through properly, deserve all our respect and support. It's no mystery why they would be deeply disappointed in Kerry, or his soul-brother Charlie Rangel who made similar disparaging remarks about the quality of the folks who serve. I don't know what got into either of them, and apparently neither do most service members. Best of the Web Today has been running a series of responses to the two politicians' pathetic utterances, from service members and their families. James Taranto is always worth a read, but these columns are entirely letters from those who beg to differ with the two windbags, and are very worthy of attention. He's up to part 9 so far (and links to the other eight are on the page).

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