- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld switched audiences yesterday, moving from the contentious pressroom to brief an auditorium of admiring Pentagon workers on Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"This was not just good luck, this was the result of very careful planning by extraordinarily talented people in the region, at Central Command in Tampa and here in this department," the defense secretary said, speaking directly to some of the 23,000 who man the world's largest office building.
Mr. Rumsfeld cautioned that much work lies ahead in Iraq, including killing off pockets of guerrillas, tracking down regime members and finding any weapons of mass destruction.
"So now is really not the time to rest," he told the 270 civilians and military personnel who got seats on a first-come, first-served basis. "We do have a lot of work to do."
The former Navy officer offered a few war vignettes, such as an Army captain who saved an Iraqi woman from Iraqi gunfire, and the Marines who freed 100 children from a Basra prison.
He told of the "soldiers in Najaf, who even as fighting raged throughout the country, they helped clean out a school, took some money out of their pockets to help pay for some of the things that the teacher needed for the students."
The performance was vintage Rumsfeld. He was sober on the tasks ahead, good-natured about the questions and agitated at how some prominent newspapers made the quick victory over Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein look like a quagmire.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, was there, too, completing the "good cop, bad cop" duo that has been the Pentagon's public face during the war. The two typically brief the press, but on this day, the secretary decided that it was time to conduct one of his "town hall meetings" to see what is on the minds of the rank and file.
Mr. Rumsfeld complained about unspecified "Henny Penny" newspapers that wrote that the sky was falling in Iraq even as Baghdad was falling.
A Navy employee gave him an opening when he asked, "What more can be done to turn around the media's overwhelming negative coverage of the war? Do you have any thoughts about that?"
Mr. Rumsfeld did.
"I take it you do not think we were in a quagmire," Mr. Rumsfeld said to laughter, a reference to the New York Times declaring the war in Afghanistan a "quagmire" after the first several weeks.
"The papers that constantly, you know, blare big headlines of, 'Henny Penny: The Sky Is Falling' … at some point, people stop reading those things and make their own judgments."
Henny Penny is the character who believes Chicken Little's warning that a fallen acorn means the sky is falling and then helps Chicken Little spread the hysteria.
Mr. Rumsfeld then went after the retired generals who criticized the war plan as containing too few ground troops.
"Those folks that were saying that on television, the retired military officers, as well as civilians, are kind of not up today," he said. "People have looked at their comments and made drawn conclusions about them and decided that maybe they're not the best analysts or advisers in the world."
Gen. Myers, a lanky, soft-spoken fighter pilot, smoothly chimed in that press is not all bad, praising the 500 embedded reporters in the field, something Mr. Rumsfeld had done in opening remarks.
"They've held up mikes to corporals and to lieutenants and to privates, and you couldn't write a script for them better than their answers to all the questions," Gen. Myers said.
If Mr. Rumsfeld was not ready to declare victory, Gen. Myers was ready to come close.
"Your courage, your talent, your leadership have given us up to this point a tremendous combat victory," he said.
Gen. Myers, a Vietnam War pilot, paid tribute to not only the war dead, but also the more than 400 Americans who were wounded.
"Some are going to recover very quickly," he said. "Others are going to have to live with their injuries for the rest of their lives. They'll never escape the pain in some cases or perhaps regain lost opportunities that this conflict has brought upon them. We shall never forget."
Of enemy casualties, he said, "I think that our combat operations in Iraq have been the most humane of any war in history. … I, for one, don't think there's been a fielded force that has demonstrated such poise under fire as our combat folks have, ever."
Mr. Rumsfeld made fun of others and himself.
"Gen. Myers and I had to talk Torie Clarke into it for weeks," he said to laughter about the decision by his public affairs chief, Victoria Clarke, to embed reporters. Military commanders are historically skeptical of reporters on the battlefield.
"That's not quite the way it was," he said. "But it was a roll of the dice. The outcome of it, however, I think is pretty clear. There's no question but that the American people were able to see slices of what took place."
For a Washington press corps that sometimes sees a Vietnam lurking behind every combat mission, Mr. Rumsfeld saw another benefit in embedding.
"There's now a new generation of journalists who have had a chance to see firsthand what kind of people volunteer to put their lives at risk, and that's a good thing," he said.
When it was Gen. Myers' turn to take the last question and the question turned out to be a touchy one on the possibility of war with Syria, the general tried to punt.
"I think we've we've said it on the podium down there in the pressroom," he began.
"Speak for yourself, Dick," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Don't give me that royal 'we.'"

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