Guerrilla warfare

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld embodied this administration's haughty detachment from reality. When the occupation of Iraq soured, Rumsfeld refused to acknowledge the evolving situation. Peter J. Boyer's excellent profile in the November 20 issue of New Yorker, Rumsfeld quibbled over the nature of the conflict facing American troops:

In a remarkable exchange with reporters at a Pentagon briefing in late June [2003], a reporter read Rumsfeld a dictionary definition of “guerrilla war” and asked why he was so reluctant to name it as such. “Can you remind us again why this isn’t a quagmire?” the reporter asked. Rumsfeld replied, in his best vice-principal tone, as if patronizing a particularly dull student, “I guess the reason I don’t use the phrase ‘guerrilla war’ is because there isn’t one, and it would be a misunderstanding and a miscommunication to you and to the people of the country and the world.”

He explained that the disturbances in Iraq were being caused by looters, criminals, remnants of the regime, foreign terrorists, and Iranian agents. “Doesn’t make it anything like a guerrilla war or an organized resistance. It makes it like five different things going on that are functioning much more like terrorists. . . . Now, that is not—it doesn’t fit that word. So, I think, that if one analyzes what is going on in that country, they would find a different way to characterize it. I know it’s nice to be—have a bumper sticker, but it’s the wrong bumper sticker.”

At this, the reporter pulled out the official Defense Department definition of “guerrilla war” (“I knew I should have looked it up!” Rumsfeld said. “I could die that I didn’t look it up!”): “ ‘Military and paramilitary operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile territory by irregular, predominantly indigenous forces.’ This seems to fit a lot of what’s going on in Iraq.”

To which Rumsfeld replied, “It really doesn’t.”


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