What Keeps Rumsfeld Up At Night?

Forget the escalating sectarian violence. Forget the rising influence of Iran. Forget the 100-Iraqi-deaths-per-day. Forget the 2,638 American dead.

For Don Rumsfeld the problem isn't that we are not winning the war in Iraq, the problem is that we are not properly spinning the war in Iraq.

Along with comparing his critics to Hitler appeasers, the beleaguered Defense Secretary has spent the early part of this week making the case that the horrific state of affairs in Iraq is really just a case of bad PR.

"The enemy is so much better at communicating," he whined to a gathering of Veterans of Foreign Wars. "I wish we were better at countering that because the constant drumbeat of things they say -- all of which are not true -- is harmful."

And during a question-and-answer session with Navy personnel, he bemoaned the ability of terrorist groups -- who, according to Rummy, have "media committees" -- to "manipulate the media," saying, "That's the thing that keeps me up at night."

That's all you need to know about Don Rumsfeld. He's not losing sleep over the bloody reality in Iraq (and his role in creating it); he's tossing and turning over the fact that he hasn't been able to package that bloody reality more effectively. It's all about appearances.

You can just picture him in bed, fuming -- not over the latest body count stats or the latest dire predictions by U.S. generals, but over the latest batch of bad press clippings.

"What bothers me the most is how clever the enemy is," he said. "They are actively manipulating the media in this country... They can lie with impunity."

It wasn't hard to detect a hint of envy in his voice and a wistful look in his eye as he said this. After all, hadn't he and Doug Feith created the Office of Strategic Influence before the war so the Pentagon also could lie with impunity? Damn the New York Times! If it hadn't exposed their plans, America could be winning the spin war (if not the real one).

But even without the OSI, Rummy still manages a little manipulation of his own. During his Navy Q&A, he claimed that the terrorists groups -- using their crack "media committees," no doubt -- had tried to undermine support for the war by falsely blaming U.S. troops for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As if it was it the terrorists' PR geniuses who came up with the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Haditha, the rape and murders in Mahmudiyah, and the long line of civilian casualties from American bombing runs in Afghanistan.

And how about today's report that the sergeant who led the Haditha attack had originally been recommended for a medal for his actions that day? Was that a terrorist media committee plant, too? (If so, maybe Tom Cruise should have replaced his sister with these guys.)

No matter. The facts are besides the point with Rummy. As he's made clear from the beginning, he doesn't see Iraq as a war that needs to be won. For him, it's a PR campaign that needs to be spun.

It's a long, hard media manipulation slog.


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