Maureen Dowd | Is Condi Gaslighting Rummy?

Thursday, 09 October 2003 02:23 by: Anonymous

    Is Condi Gaslighting Rummy?
    By Maureen Dowd
    New York Times

    Thursday 09 October 2003

    It's easy to see why the Bush crowd is getting so tetchy.

    The itch to ditch officials who fritter away the public trust is growing, as Arnold and his broom bear down on Sacramento.

    And we know now that our first pre-emptive war was launched basically because Iraq had . . . a vial of Botox?

    Just about the scariest thing the weapons hunter David Kay could come up with was a vial of live botulinum, hidden in the home of an Iraqi biological weapons scientist.

    This has very dire implications for Beverly Hills and the East Side of Manhattan, areas awash in vials of Botox, the botulinum toxin that can either be turned into a deadly biological weapon or a pricey wrinkle smoother.

    And it may have dire implications for the Pentagon and White House if Americans come to believe that their trust was betrayed when the president and his team spread the impressions that Saddam was about to blow us up and that he was behind the 9/11 attacks.

    It doesn't help to have a former-NATO-commander-turned-presidential-contender running around telling the country that the Bush dream team is a bunch of dunces. Or a former-diplomat-turned-angry-husband-of-an-outed-spy running around telling the country that the Bush dream team is a bunch of backstabbing lawbreakers who are dead wrong on Iraq.

    The administration that never let you see it sweat is sweating, as two of its control freaks openly tug over control. The president's foreign policy duenna and his grumpy grampy over at the Pentagon are suddenly mud wrestling.

    Women who are discouraged at the ascension of Conan the Barbarian in Cal-ee-fornia can take heart. In this delicious gender-bender, Condoleezza Rice triumphs as the macho infighter, driving Rummy into a diva-like meltdown.

    The trigger was Monday's coverage of the Iraq Stabilization Group (a.k.a. Fat Chance Group); the group is a desperate bid to get a grip on Baghdad before the campaign starts by transferring power for postwar Iraq from the Pentagon to the national security adviser's office inside the White House.

    Condi used a trick she learned from Rummy: pre-emption. She outflanked the famous Washington infighter by talking about the new alignment to The New York Times before he had a chance to object.

    It was the first time the chesty defense czar - who had tried to freeze out the softies at State, which the Pentagon sneeringly refers to as "the Department of Nice" - had been downgraded by the president and outmaneuvered by a colleague.

    "And because he is a cantankerous egomaniac," one longtime Rummy watcher said, "he compounded his own problems by acknowledging it in public, further undermining his own stature."

    President Bush clearly realizes that Mr. Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz have gotten him into a fine mess. He wants his trusted Mother Hen, as he calls Condi, the woman who probably spends as much time with him as Laura - weekends at Camp David, vacations at the ranch, workouts at the gym - to make it all better. This will be the first time Ms. Rice, a Soviet expert who has functioned mostly so far as First Chum, will have her reputation on the line.

    Some Republicans worry that it's risky to move accountability for postwar Iraq closer to the Oval Office because then there's no one else to blame.

    In a meeting with foreign reporters on Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Rummy made no effort to mask his displeasure, saying he had not been consulted, even though Condi said he had, and cattily referring to the "little committees" of the N.S.C. When a German broadcast reporter pressed the defense secretary, he hissed: "I said I don't know. Isn't that clear? You don't understand English?"

    One of Rumsfeld's Rules is: "Avoid public spats. When a Department argues with other government agencies in the press, it reduces the President's options." Hmm.

    Maybe Rummy hasn't brushed up lately on the Washington rulebook he wrote in the 1970's - after his stints as President Gerald Ford's chief of staff and secretary of defense. Otherwise, he might have recalled this Rumsfeld rule before he bullied the world and ripped up Iraq: "It is easier to get into something than to get out of it."

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