The genius of Donald Rumsfeld and his deputies in the Defense Department is currently among the mainstream media’s favorite themes. According to the conventional viewpoint, their military strategy in Iraq was practically flawless, their political instincts are masterful, and their philosophical grounding is deep. (Some of them have even read Leo Strauss.) They’re just undeniably brilliant.
To Americans who read and worry about the most recent developments in Iraq, this ceaseless chorus of praise for the Pentagon hierarchy can only be reassuring. Because otherwise, the facts on the ground might hint that Mr. Rumsfeld and company are not very bright and dangerously incompetent.
At the podium, of course, the Defense Secretary is unrivaled in his alternating moods of clever banter and flashing irritation. No one will ever forget his witty riposte to questions about the pillaging of Baghdad’s precious antiquities, when he demanded to know how many times we would have to watch that videotape of the same vase being carried away by a fleet-footed looter. Why would anyone think that the Pentagon should have planned to prevent the destruction and theft that followed Saddam’s fall? This administration had other priorities-most urgently at the Ministry of Oil, which was immediately surrounded by American armor.
Yet troubling news keeps filtering in from Iraq that might raise doubts about Mr. Rumsfeld and the other “grown-ups” in command of the coalition forces.
According to The Washington Post , a newspaper that fervently supported the war, the Pentagon utterly failed to secure Iraq’s nuclear facilities at Kut and al Tuwaitha. The result has been wholesale looting, with unknown losses of such potentially dangerous radioactive materials as cesium, cobalt and partially enriched uranium. So far, Special Forces detachments have found at least two nuclear caches that were “plundered extensively enough that authorities could not rule out the possibility that deadly materials had been stolen.”
Now Mr. Rumsfeld might regard this as yet another stupid question, but wasn’t the purpose of this invasion to secure and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction? The biological and chemical weapons that the Defense Secretary and the President warned us were in Saddam Hussein’s possession have not been found so far. Teams of soldiers and technicians are scouring the countryside in vain, turning up barrels of pesticides and empty tractor-trailers. Looters have recently been seen running in and out of the Iraqi nuclear facilities, and they represent a deadly serious problem. Although the radioactive materials at those sites were useless to construct an atomic bomb, they would be more than adequate for a so-called dirty bomb. In theory, such a primitive weapon could be detonated in a major American city, spreading deadly isotopes over dozens of blocks.
It isn’t difficult to imagine enterprising Iraqi thieves peddling a container of cesium or uranium to the highest bidder from Al Qaeda or Hezbollah.
The threat of terrorists wielding dirty bombs is supposedly on the minds of our top government officials. The Justice Department is currently detaining a U.S. citizen named Jose Padilla because he allegedly contemplated such an assault, although the government has presented no evidence that he got beyond the daydreaming stage.
So the Bush administration has held Mr. Padilla in circumstances of dubious constitutionality. It concocted phony stories about Saddam’s imminent nuclear bomb. It is straining to find weapons of mass destruction that probably no longer exist. It finds the time, the money and the mental energy to stage a photo-op landing for the President aboard an aircraft carrier. But nobody in Washington thought of guarding the Iraqi nuclear materials that might truly pose a threat to us-until after the sites had been breached.
If we didn’t already know that our leaders are geniuses, we might start to wonder whether they’re idiots. The other unthinkable possibility is that the people telling us our leaders are geniuses may be idiots, too-and that we are idiots for believing them.
Before anyone assumes that the U.S. government is unable to plan for important contingencies, however, let’s look on the brighter side. Certain kinds of logistical maneuvers are well within the capacity of the officials now running Iraq, who display considerable foresight and initiative when matters of true importance are at stake.
For example, the Associated Press reports that when the U.S. sponsored a political meeting in Baghdad two weeks ago, the U.S. Air Force flew in a skilled chef from the Kuwait Hilton to feed them steak au poivre, lamb stew, Black Forest cake, meringues and cream puffs. The operation went off very well, and almost nobody worried that the chef happened to be French.