uploaded : Monday 30th Sep 2002 at 10:45
by : Carol Gould
As an accompaniment/update to this article we highly recommend:
No doubt about it, Donald Rumsfeld is a stud muffin.
So begins one of scores of articles in the American press and on the internet (this one attributed to 'The Philadelphia Inquirer') lauding the physical qualities of the Bush Administration's Secretary of Defence.
Having been severely jolted by the September 19 Tel Aviv suicide bombing, and being increasingly concerned about the Iraq situation, I decided to tune in to the briefing by Secretary Rumsfeld that was broadcast live from the Pentagon on British television on Thursday 26 September.
Friends had told me, with varying degrees of awe, about this Republican civil servant; having been dubious of the actual authenticity of George Bush's election in the first place, I had until recently shunned exposure to Bushites if I could avoid it. After September 11th 2001, however, I began to rethink my views on the tough-jawed inhabitants of the White House; almost as soon as 9/11 happened I was on the receiving end in London of non-stop verbal abuse about my native USA and came to realise that whether Al Gore or George Bush inhabited the Oval Office, America and Israel would still be loathed by lots and lotsa people.
So, feeling worried, cornered and depressed this past Thursday, I tuned in to what has become known in America as 'The Rummy Show.' Because of the gravity of the present situation, the Pentagon briefing was being shown on three British cable channels simultaneously, so I had no excuse for switching to 'Neighbours.'
The briefing by Secretary Rumsfeld began. Almost at once it was evident to me that here was a man of extraordinary magnetism; in the perilous world of politics such a quality can be dangerous as well as appealing. Bullies and dictators have, through sheer charisma, garnered mass appeal and duly wreaked havoc.
But somehow this chap, who even in his seventieth year makes one realise why, I am told, English girls' knees buckled when the GIs started arriving on these shores, has a kind of Yankee energy and self-assurance that envelops the viewer. This is not a sinister kind of magnetism; he has that rare quality of being able to explain with exciting syntax (yes, that's the only way I can describe his style) the intricacies of the al Qaeda/Iran/Iraq connections, whilst seductively toying with the reporters and even reducing the four-star General beside him at the podium to a giggling, blushing boy scout. Rumsfeld offers such clarity and confidence that at the end of his briefing I was inclined to back the Bush Doctrine.
Hopefully readers of this usually serious website will allow me a few minutes of frivolity; at this sombre time of the Yom Tovim we all need a bit of light relief. So, may I offer some personal impressions of the Defence Secretary, labelled a 'babe magnet' by Fox News and 'Rumstud by President Bush himself?
From my vantage point, it is refreshing to see a public figure who is immaculately turned out and who looks as if he cares as much about his own health as he does about the survival of his country. (Many of our British Cabinet ministers and MPs are downright slobs; next to Rumsfeld what does our own dear, unforgettable 'Mister Punch Up Prescott' MP look like?...) A champion wrestler both at Princeton and as a Navy pilot in his youth, Donald Rumsfeld is reported to hold a personal best of 1,047 sit-ups in one go.
In Washington circles the 'new American sex symbol' was known in his youth to perform one-armed press-ups.(Wouldn?t some of you in Blighty love to see the 'Honourable Member for Baghdad' trying that feat?) In the process of researching this article, we discovered that in his youth Rumsfeld looked rather like George Clooney and in his senior citizenship has metamorphosed into a silver-haired adonis (NRO's Andrew Stuttaford?s word, not mine) who exudes a kind of high-octane American star quality last seen when Leonard Bernstein captured the hearts of a generation with his Young People's Concerts. (Yes, young people?s concerts are slightly different from a Republican hawk's war talk, but if an intense, inspiring man possessed of presence and intellect can help us understand why we have to remove Saddam, I am willing to listen). Millions of kids were 'grabbed' by classical music thanks to Bernstein's magnetism so what's wrong with having a Secretary of War who manages to magnetise a somewhat dubious nation?
You may say, so who cares what a leader looks like as long as he can bring peace and tranquillity to us all? Well, OK Rumstud has evidently caused many a female palpitation this year (National Review Magazine offered a January 02 cover story drawing of him in a Betty Grable pose with the title 'The Stud: Don Rumsfeld, America's new Pin-up.') but his tremendous aplomb and a tough, no-nonsense won?t-suffer-fools-gladly attitude offer a crucially useful tool in this dreadful, post 9/11, Intifadah world.
Because he is able to draw his audience in and keep them watching (many men are also fans, as well as the very young, so it's not just besotted matrons) the present situation achieves a clarity that no person in public life including President Bush himself is able to communicate.
When Rumsfeld talks about 'all the ways the Iraqis lie' and explains the manner in which the Saddam regime sets out to 'dupe' us all 'over and over' (his encyclopaedic brain provides the back-up of logically-elucidated background material), the anti-war rhetoric of The Guardian, Scott Ritter and George Galloway MP melt into insignificance.
His deliberate explanations verge on the mesmeric (one can hear his mind ticking over) ; at one stage in the Thursday briefing when asked if in the future there might be information about the training of al Qaeda in Iraq, instead of the usual instant blather one gets from public officials he stood in silence, his eyes shut, tapping his pencil on the podium for what seemed an eternity and then oozed a 'yaaaass' with a sudden grin that could have melted the Polar ice cap.
Frankly, not since watching John Kennedy's press conferences some forty years ago have I seen a public figure so bewitch press and audience alike. Bill Clinton had a jaunty, easy manner that endeared him to reporters but what is so enchanting about Rumsfeld is that he obviously has no idea of the effect he has on 'folks. When asked by Larry King how he was coping with being the nation?s new sex symbol, he seemed genuinely mortified and could only splutter about being nearly seventy.
His animated voice and gesticulations are anything but intrusive the Secretary's infectious enthusiasm for defending his country has no doubt inspired a few young Americans to join the Forces (apparently there has been a rise in Forces sign-ups). In this hedonistic world is this a bad thing?
Rumsfeld was in his Pentagon office on September 11th when the hijacked Flight 77 crashed into the building; instead of running for his life he went to the raging fire and offered help as the horribly injured were being extricated from the inferno. When he appears at events across America, young people flock to him, in a Florida journalist's words, 'as if Britney Spears had come to town.'
His Pentagon briefings are outstripping the soap operas and even the immensely popular 'Lou Dobbs Moneyline' whilst his staff are run off their feet filling orders for signed photos. In a rational world one would hope that the majority of viewers are there for the intelligence updates, but if a few are there to relax, switch off and enjoy the wit of this man - he will suddenly rattle off an obscure quotation when the army brass sharing his podium find themselves stumbling through their papers - they can be forgiven.
Indeed, nothing has dominated the newspaper, magazine and Internet columns more in this year of Rumsfeld's meteoric rise to fame than the wailings of female Democrats bemoaning the fact that they are inexorably drawn to the Rummy Show, some even giving up their lunch hours to revel in the GOP hawk?s briefings.
It is reported that the hapless husbands of said liberal ladies-who-lunch are joining chatrooms for 'mutual support,' one man lamenting, 'This guy is thirty years older than me and my wife wants to have an affair with him. Help!' Replying, another despairing young hubby groans, 'I'm THIRTY and my wife spends all her time discussing his neckties with her girlfriends!' When the Secretary's arm appeared in a sling, media outlets were flooded with calls from concerned acolytes, and even a bandage on a thumb provoked calls to the station on what was meant to have been a sombre interview.
Through it all, at a time of unprecedented tension in the USA and the globe, the very married grandfather Rumsfeld has maintained his composure. When confronted by a reporter at a heavyweight, prickly foreign press briefing who brought up his 'hard line on China,' he said, 'I hope my grandchildren aren't watching!'
What a pity the Democrats ( and our parties here) do not possess a hidden treasure like Mr Rumsfeld: although one would deplore the idea of women having voted for a man simply because he was gorgeous (JFK) or charismatic (Bill Clinton), needless to say the Defence Secretary's awesome wit, razor-sharp brain and reassuring machismo are, in the world in which we live, a precious commodity. The man can't help or hide 'it' that jene sais quoi- what you see is what you get and, in the words attributed by one of his 'fan sites' to the Philadelphia Inquirer, ' he's as self assured as a bull in a cow pasture.'
When questioned at an International press club briefing by a hostile reporter from the Middle East, Rumsfeld exclaimed, 'Look at me! I'm sweet and lovable!' Then turning to a female reporter he said 'She's got a terrific smile!' and to another reporter, 'You do too! You're next!'
His soundbytes are a source of derision on the BBC website (they suggest we listen in our sanatorium) but it is Britain's loss that men like this are not born and bred in this repressed culture. Britain and Europe are impoverished of inspiring leaders, and much as I resent the conduct of the 2000 Presidential election, it now seems a 'beshairt' that the American people have been gifted with a tough customer like Rumsfeld.
At these international press conferences hostile writers from flashpoints around the world are in attendance and ready to go to war with him. By the end of the session they are laughing. If such a man can bring laughter to even the most sinister period of our history, we need to see more of him.
Pentagon briefings are usually held once a week (or more often as the situation merits) at 1:00PM USA East Coast time (6PM London time) and are shown in the United Kingdom on SKY TV, BBC News 24 and/or CNN International.
To read about Carol Gould's book on the women pilots of World War II, 'Spitfire Girls,' please go to our 'Editor's Choice: Other Websites' link.
Photograph of United States Secretary of Defence Donald H Rumsfeld by Mike Lynaugh: