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Donald Rumsfeld at the National Press Club
Last uploaded : Monday 20th Sep 2004 at 16:26
Contributed by : The Editor


The media have been quick to pick up on the fact that at the National Press Club on Friday 10 September, US Defence Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld twice alluded to Saddam Hussein?s deeds of ill when in fact he meant Osama bin Laden.

I attended the Press Club luncheon and immediately thought, ?Hmmm, Fruedian slip.? Those of us who have lived and worked in the Middle East know that the feeling of brotherhood amongst Muslims runs deep, notwithstanding the often fierce rivalries and hostilities amongst tribes and nations.

Secretary Rumsfeld accepted the corrections sent up to him during the question and answer session of the Press event, but his ?mistake? set me thinking. On September 11th 2001 Sky News in London broadcast a statement from the People?s Front for the Liberation of Palestine claiming responsibility for the atrocity. This statement was repeated for about half an hour on live television but then disappeared off the screen. I have always felt the events of September 11th, 2001 were engineered by skilled planners whose instructions and power base emanated from nations, not solely from a man in a white robe in a cave. So, when Rumsfeld made his ?gaffe? I did not see it as such.

Saddam Hussein sent $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers in the Palestinian territories. It is thoroughly dismaying when media pundits and spokesmen for political groups exclaim, ?Saddam had no connection to terrorists .? Said pundits are unlikely to have ventured outside central Los Angeles when coming to these oft-strident conclusions. Frankly, what he was perpetrating in his benighted country was state terrorism. That he did not spearhead a particular terror movement with a leader like, for example, the late Shiekh Yassin and Hamas, is immaterial. A leader who can put his own people -- his fellow Muslims -- into paper shredders is a terrorist and indeed a fiend.

What Secretary Rumsfeld reiterated in his talk to the Press Club was the need for a resolute method of destroying the insurgents who are wrecking the future of a New Iraq. The good-humoured wit of the Rumsfeld of past years was not evident when he showed considerable anger over the commonly-expressed view that violence in post-war Iraq as a consequence of US actions. (My view is that Israel has been trying to live a post-war peace in vain for over half a century, but more of that later.)

When the Defence Secretary asked if the videotaped beheading of kidnapped civilians is not worse than the events in Abu Ghraib, the mostly mature audience of press veterans shouted ?No.? Many in the room lightly heckled him on this point, and a group near me interrupted him with, ?Yes, the prison pictures were worse.? One could not help feeling a pang of sorrow when he approached our side of the room afterwards and seemed rather frail and beaten-down. (Ths image of this man rescuing his workers from the Pentagon will always stay with some of us.) The foreign media love to portray the Bush 'neocons' as 'the Real Axis of Evil' but it is difficult to see a fellow Americans as evildoers when I have seen Hamas terror in the face in the streets of Tel Aviv. Having just seen ?Stuff Happens? at the Royal National Theatre in London, in which Rumsfeld is portrayed as something of a raving evangelical maniac, I could not equate the man who shook my hand with that portrayal, as great a playwright as Sir David Hare may be. ( Iwould love to meet Rumsfeld and see what makes the man tick, having myself been so brainwashed by the European and British media who revile the man.)

Contrast this with my visit to the Unitarian Church in Washington where the New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh spoke to a large audience and emphasised the mortal damage done to US-international relations and US-Arab relations after Abu Ghraib. He even urged those in the audience with dual nationality to keep their non-US citizenship and to ?hold onto that villa in Italy? if President Bush is re-elected.

The United States is a deeply troubled and divided nation. Yesterday a livid taxi driver told me how furious he is that Iraq civilians -- ?My Muslim brothers!? he said -- are not eulogised on American television or in the papers. His hatred of this Administration was palpable. Today, when I told another cabbie that the second American hostage had been beheaded, he smiled from ear to ear.

Somewhere along the line there has been a disconnect between the way the world perceives the threat of terror and hatred of the West (I have always contended that if Israel disappeared tomorrow there would still be world terror) and the perception of what sort of leadership is needed in this post-9/11 New World. Many in the conservative corner cling to the idea that the Cheneys and Rumsfelds are the tough cookies needed to handle this threat. Other feel they have failed. My summation is that the Israelis have been trying for fifty-six years to live in peace with their neighbours and whether their leaders are tough Likudkniks or peace-seeking Labourites, they end up being slaughtered in caf? and commuter buses.

If John Kerry wins this November one hopes he will be able to handle the monumental challenge that faces the West. Many of my liberal friends see the ?Christian Right? as the ?most dangerous force in the world. ? Right now, putting a lid on the pressure cooker of Islamic fundamentalism is to me a greater priority. Whether Rumsfeld means Osama or Saddam, the Middle East has many deep and disturbing problems and whoever leads America into the next decade will need a strong mettle. As Golda Meir said, it breaks one?s heart that they kill our young men, but equally heartbreaking that we must kill their young men too.

As the Jewish New Year is upon us, one wishes for a better 5765.


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