You can’t understand what Rumsfeld is up to now unless you can picture the wringer he has just been through. Many lawmakers returned from summer vacation lugging complaints from voters about the mess in Iraq. Bush’s polls began to fall, and to halt the slide, the White House ran to the U.N., ostensibly to get help with troops and money but really to calm political anxieties at home. When that effort stalled, the White House tried a different tack: it leaked word to the New York Times that all Iraq policymaking was being centralized at the White House under National Security Council (NSC) adviser Condoleezza Rice, a figure almost as reassuring as Rumsfeld is controversial. The leak was a clear shot at Rumsfeld’s war-boss performance, but otherwise the Condi-in-charge move was almost entirely for show. The NSC isn’t set up for operational control of a project as complex as the reconstruction of a nation, and Rice has rarely displayed the muscle needed to keep Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell all on the same page. But then Rumsfeld spoiled the ploy. Instead of just keeping quiet and running things as he had before, he greeted the Rice leak with a loud Bronx cheer and suggested to foreign reporters that it wouldn’t change much of anything at all, which of course was true. A White House official, tongue in cheek, explained Rumsfeld’s remarks by saying, “The Secretary’s charm offensive is well known.”

Time

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