January 12, 2005

The Salvador Option

Rumsfeld at a Pentagon briefing yesterday (with his Russian counterpart Sergey Ivanov):

SEC. RUMSFELD: The -- on the subject of Iraq, I also have been reading and hearing about this so-called Salvatore -- Salvador option, I think it's called. And I looked all through Newsweek, which apparently was the place it supposedly had appeared. I couldn't find it. But everyone's talking about it, and it's nonsense.

The reality is that the responsibility of the commanders there in the coalition and the Iraqi government is to see that the Iraqis are trained up to provide security for that country. And somebody has been reading too many spy novels and went off in flights of fancy, which I hope have been put to rest.

Q No hit squads?

(Pause for interpretation.)


SEC. RUMSFELD: It sounds a lot like "nonsense." (Laughter.)

INTERPRETER (?): It is. (Interpretation continues.)

Q What's the nonsense part? I mean, you mentioned just very broadly this story was nonsense, but what particularly is wrong about that?

Q Plus, you didn't read the story, it sounds like?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I couldn't find the story. All I've seen is the reporting on the story. And I said it clearly -- there's nothing like that taking place.

Q Like what?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Like what's in the story.

Q But you didn't read the story! (Laughter.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, what's the story supposedly that so many of you are hyperventilating about.

Q Just to be clear, Mr. Secretary, are you ruling out that U.S. Special Forces would ever go into Syria in pursuit of insurgents? Which is one thing that the story did say. Are you ruling that out?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Where did you see the story? I couldn't find it --

Q We'll provide you a copy, sir, right after the briefing. We'll make sure you get a copy.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Where did you see it?

Q It's on the Web.

Q It's on the Web. It was e-mailed to me.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, they didn't even put it in the magazine?

Q No. (Laughter.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: I buy the magazine!

Q (?): Maybe it's a virtual story.

Q Well, sir -- (inaudible) --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I'll answer a question.

Q Please. Are you ruling that out?

SEC. RUMSFELD: First of all, the Pentagon doesn't do things like are described in the reporting on the story -- since I've not seen the story. Second, the task of training the Iraqis is to train them to do the things they need to do to provide security for their country, and it does not involve the kinds of things that are characterized in that story at all. It just doesn't.

Q With respect, sir, the story said that there was consideration of U.S. Special Forces going into Syria as an option to pursue insurgents. You say you're not -- you're not looking at anything in that --

SEC. RUMSFELD: We're not training people to do that, if that's what question is.

Q Yes, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, we're not.

Q No, no. The question is U.S. Special Forces, not training Iraqis to do that.

SEC. RUMSFELD: U.S. Special Forces are not going into Syria.

Q And you're not considering it?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Why would I even talk about something like that? I mean --

Q You said, sir, that the article wasn't true. You --

SEC. RUMSFELD: It isn't true.

Q Okay.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I shouldn't say the article isn't true, your reporting on things that are not happening. It may not be of interest to anybody that that's the case, but I'd love to have somebody take that aboard. It is simply fanciful.

When I first read this Newsweek piece, my reaction was much like Glenn's. It's such a transparent effort to put the words "John Negroponte", (evil man!) "death squads", (again!) "Syria," (cross-border incursions!) "Kurdish peshmerga," (brutal paramilitaries not of the people!) and "Salvador Option" (sounds racier than tired Vietnam comps!)in one article. What horrific flashbacks! The war must be lost! (As John Negroponte commented to the journalists who put this quite absurdist piece together--the inclusion of his name was indeed "utterly gratuitous." Or, at least, gratuitous sans utterly.)

But here's what gets me. Read Rumsfeld's jocular musings above again. It's the same breezy, press-baiting, cocksure crapola. He could have shot down the story--decisively--with purpose and gravitas. Instead, in the course of a single minute or so, he manages to do the following: 1) tell the assorted press corps he hasn't even read the Newsweek article (memo to Rummy: some articles just appear in the on-line editions--is his staff too incompetent to print a copy out for him--or can he simply not be bothered to request they do so before he goes before the press gaggles which seem to delight him so?); 2) as he hasn't read the story--his denials are not as firm and authoritative as, say, those that would have been forthcoming from real pros like Frank Carlucci or Cap Weinberger; and 3) by stating that the "Pentagon doesn't do things like are described in the reporting on the story [emphasis added]" he likely keeps the story alive by causing people to wonder if the CIA is spearheading the effort instead (from the Newsweek article: "Also being debated is which agency within the U.S. government—the Defense department or CIA—would take responsibility for such an operation.").

Again, even where I agree with Rumsfeld (yes the Newsweek story appears hugely hyperbolic), I feel he does his best to bungle the damage control. I'm underwhelmed. And increasing amounts of Bush supporters (who lent time and money to his campaign) are too. My prediction: Not more than six to nine months post Iraq elections he will, to a fashion, declare his stewardship of the conflict successful and depart (note he hinted that today with this snippet: "I want to add a brief note about the Iraqi elections that are coming up, about three weeks away. On January 30th, the Iraqis will finally have an opportunity to choose their own leadership and to take charge of their own future. This has been the coalition's goal -- an Iraq run by Iraqis and secured by Iraqi security forces.")

He is defining victory down, of course. After all, the coalition's goal has been to forge a democratic, viable unitary Iraq. An "Iraq run by Iraqis...secured by Iraqi security forces" is not necessarily the same thing. Not that Rumsfeld really cares. His management of the war all but proves he doesn't. You are likely tired of hearing me wail on about it; but the laundry list of his insouciance bordering on dereliction of duty in seriously managing this war effort just keeps getting longer and longer, alas. But if his defining victory hastens his exit by providing him the false comfort of having seen a successful mission through--then, by all means, let him define it down to his heart's content. Faster, please--as they say.

UPDATE: On the other hand, Matt Yglesias thinks Rumsfeld pretty definitively shot the story down. I report, you decide.

Posted by Gregory at January 12, 2005 04:31 AM

Could it be that Rumsfeld was using this occasion and the press to put some fear into the minds and hearts of the Syrians by not clearly denying the possibility of incursions into that country?

Posted by: Rich Arnone at January 12, 2005 05:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I happen to love Rumsfeld's way with the press corps, to be honest. Perhaps he missed his calling. He should have McClellan's job.

Posted by: Bitter at January 12, 2005 06:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think Rumsfeld surfs the Web at all.

There's a link here at Adventures of Chester discussing Rumsfeld and the opposition to him within the Pentagon and Congress:


Short version; when Rumsfeld came in, the Pentagon had no Presidential supervision, Clinton and even Bush 41 had allowed it grow unsupervised; and with too much mutual Congressional backscratching and influence trading.

What Chester doesn't say is that up and out leads a lot of ex-military guys to transfer to Defense Contractors, and build their whole careers in and out of the military on things like the Osprey or F22 or Crusader.

Rummy is very threatening to that, so above the re-imposition of civilian authority after weak leaders like Aspin or Cohen, there is a lot of money at stake for a lot of people (including Congress). Chester also describes a mutated version of the Powell Doctrine; "we'll structure our force so no long term military committment is possible."

I doubt Bush or any Def Sec would spend the needed capital in re-adjusting the force so that Reserves don't play that vital role in military support. I don't see any Democrat who'd even see the need to though. Which is a crying shame.

At any rate, if Chester is right there really isn't much that can be done to increase troops Greg. Force structure is what it is; unless we radically change things and upset a lot of bipartisan agreement in Congress (and increase defense spending massively; Reserves are cheaper than regular troops).

Also note Chester's unspoken Marine's assumption ... that more "Marine type training" particularly for urban warfare needs to be done. In that I think he's right.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 12, 2005 09:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I vote for -- Yeah, we're tired of your Rummy bashing Greg.

Posted by: RattlerGator at January 12, 2005 02:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agree with Bitter - can anyone tell me about Scott's appeal? Bring back Ari.

Posted by: Art Wellesley at January 12, 2005 03:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg is going to have lots of time to Rummy bash, because he's going to go down as the first SecDef to serve the full two terms. The Syrians ought to think about that, too.

Posted by: Richard Heddleson at January 12, 2005 04:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Yeah, we're tired of your Rummy bashing Greg."

Read another website.

Agree with Greg that if this was intended as some kind of rebuttal of the Newsweek piece, then it totally failed. Lots of weasling in there ... I suspect that some of the things described there are actually true. We know, for instance, that loyalist paramilitaries are operational. Didn't see a deniel of that.

Posted by: praktike at January 12, 2005 04:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

er, denial.

Posted by: praktike at January 12, 2005 04:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You should get off Rumsfeld. It's actually refreshing to have a blythe spirit in public office, who does not show the pomposity and false gravitas that we generally see. Or always treat reporters like serious people when they often are not. Life is tough, stuff happens, if you wish to succeed you need to press on, and you might as well be cheerful about it.

Posted by: Mike at January 12, 2005 06:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Rumsfeld's "screw you" attitude toward the press is great. As far as I'm concerned, whatever he's doing, he should double it.

Posted by: Al at January 12, 2005 09:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Al, I couldn't agree more.

transparency in the government of the people is a brie-eating girly-man eastern liberal concept.

In fact, the 1st amendment is a girly-man concept.

I really wish the American people would stop asking questions and just follow orders.

Governing would be so much easier if we had a dictaorship; especially if Bush was the dictator.

Posted by: H. Himmler at January 12, 2005 11:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OH MY GOD! Would you people just unwrap the tinfoil from your heads, put down the John LeCarre' books, stop your subscription to the "Robert Ludlum Knock-Off-Of-The-Month Club" and get with reality?

Just imagine that you are a petty, two-bit dictator running Syria, and Newsweek runs that story. Do you:
A) Begin training your highly professional armed forces to fever pitch?, or
B) Start sweating bullets and hug the nearest Israeli, all the while proclaiiming that the Palestinians need to renounce violence.

Just with the story floating around.

From experience those things don't happen (the death squads, I mean) in a country that has anything resembling a viable security force, which Syria does. But, if just the thought that he might be next unhinged Qaddafi into giving up his WMD research, what might happen if a "reliable" source such as Newsweek states it for fact?

Posted by: Buster at January 13, 2005 02:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agree with Buster here. I certainly don't think Rumsfeld should go down that article point by point and let the Syrians know precisely what is coming up. Let Assad and cronies sweat it.

What is it, according to that last Iraqi poll some 87% of the people think that the terrorists should be dealt with.

I think the Israeli option -- the way the Israelis deal with terrorists -- would not be a bad idea.

Posted by: alcibiades at January 13, 2005 03:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm with Al, the press deserves to be brought down a knotch, or two. I can't think of too many men who do it better.

Posted by: cutler at January 13, 2005 05:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Um, Rummy denied what other news reports said the Newsweek story said. Is there anything special in the NW story that wasn't covered by press reports of the story?

And why in the world would we wnat to promise Syria that they won't have US SF moving around in their territory, attacking, capturing, and / or killing those who want to attack us?

Posted by: Greg D at January 13, 2005 05:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. D,

I admit I really started liking Rumsfeld when he came into the DoD and starting knocking down bad ideas like the Crusader - silly, oversized self-propelled artillery, etc, that the "establishment" loved. I realize you do not like his manner with the press corps, but many of us inside the armed forces are not bothered by it. I 'll take the smart-ass remarks in stride because I believe he is a good SecDef.
Well, back to the Afghan quagmire (it's been raining and snowing out, so it is a literal quagmire here, heh).

Posted by: Major John at January 13, 2005 11:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Does the U.S. Secretary of Defense have an affirmative duty to qualm the prospective fears of Syrians and Iraqi terrorists by absolutely refuting point-by-point a single story suggesting they are the targets of "death squads"?

We are at war, a war we must win. Regardless of the story's veracity, I vote NO.

Posted by: Tim at January 13, 2005 01:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agree with most of the above.

Rumsfeld is not stupid. He's the second best bureaucratic knife-fighter in Washington.

So if he played that press conference as a jocular non-denial "denial", it's because he INTENDED to do that.

It's up to us to figure out why.

Posted by: Tom Paine at January 13, 2005 01:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yeah, get off Rummy'ss case.

Posted by: Bonnie at January 14, 2005 02:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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