Thursday, April 27, 2006

Rummy’s friends

Sen. Jeff Sessions, a wily ex-prosecutor from the Deep South, knows when a man is in trouble, and that man is Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. So Mr. Sessions organized a pep rally/war briefing where Republicans could express support for Mr. Rumsfeld, who seven retired generals have said must go.

The setting was breakfast in the Russell Senate Office Building. Mr. Sessions invited “defense-minded” Republican senators, and 17 showed up to talk with the defense secretary.

“There were spontaneous and supportive comments for Secretary Rumsfeld and an affirmation of his leadership,” said Sessions spokesman Mike Brumas.

He said the senator from Alabama organized the get-together because “we’re in a time of war. Senator Sessions admires Secretary Rumsfeld and invited a group of defense-minded senators to talk with the secretary about a number of topics.”

During the one-hour chat, Mr. Rumsfeld discussed the new government in Iraq and the need for another wartime supplemental budget bill.

Mr. Brumas declined to say which senators attended. But it is known that two heavyweights, Senate Armed Services Chairman John W. Warner of Virginia, and his planned successor, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, did not attend.

Mr. McCain has expressed a lack of confidence in Mr. Rumsfeld. The two butted heads over the senator’s “hold” on several Defense Department nominees.

Mr. Warner wrote Mr. Sessions a note saying he had another engagement.

Keane’s view

Retired Gen. John Keane, former Army vice chief of staff who has been to Iraq several times, thinks that Iraqi hearts and minds are the path to winning the war.

He talked about the insurgency in the aftermath of four retired Army major generals’ demanding the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

“If this protracted insurgency, which we’re now in the fourth year of, was reaching its culmination point in terms of defeat of the insurgency and a government seated, we would not be having this conversation,” Gen. Keane told us.

“Much of the underlining frustration deals with the very nature of the war we are fighting and the fact we are four years into it and we are still losing American lives and having soldiers maimed in this conflict. But the reality is … an urban insurgency neutralizes the United States’ military power. The premium is placed on gaining support of the Iraqi people and only secondary to that is killing and capturing of the insurgency. Even when a counterinsurgency is successful, history tells us it takes about seven to eight years to achieve that end.

“I think the insurgency is considerably weaker in one very large respect and its the most important respect. It doesn’t enjoy the same support of the people it once had. The people are reaching for democracy and they do not support the insurgents. The majority of the Sunnis is what I’m talking about.”

Get tough

Princeton historian Bernard Lewis, a pre-eminent Middle East scholar and authority on Islam and its conflict with the Western world, said the Bush administration needs to do more against the insurgents in Iraq.

“In two simple words: Get tough,” Mr. Lewis told a lunch forum of reporters sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Mr. Lewis said defeating Iraqi insurgents, and Islamic terrorists there and elsewhere, will require much more aggressive action.

Despite negative press reports, Mr. Lewis said, things are going well in Iraq as far as developing democracy and advancing opportunities for women. But the Bush administration appears to be close to “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” there, he said.

“The best policy would be to deal with it by suppressing it,” Mr. Lewis said, instead of using “halfhearted” measures that involve compromising with insurgents.

On Iran, Mr. Lewis said, the current ruler in Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a dangerous radical who holds “apocalyptic” visions of Islam. The Iranian leader’s recent visit to Syria successfully suppressed a move toward democracy in the Arab fascist state that was not countered by the United States, he said.

Even more dangerous is an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. If the Iranians succeed in their quest, they will use nuclear weapons against their enemies “without an address” on the delivery. “It will come through terrorists,” Mr. Lewis said.

Mr. Lewis said one of the roots of current Islamic extremism lies in Saudi Arabian Wahhabism, which he described as an extremely violent and intolerant strain of Islam that is fueled by Saudi leaders and oil money.

“Wahhabism is to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity,” he said. Islamic extremism also has been driven by Salafist Sunni Muslims and by Iran’s revolutionary-style Shi’ism, he said.

Earth Day

The Air Force sent a memo to personnel reminding them to be respectful of Earth Day last week.

The memo said the Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the Air Force as “the number one purchaser of green power.”

It said the Air Force provides a “natural habitat for more than 70 threatened and endangered species” while “maintaining and enhancing ecological integrity on over 575,000 acres of forested landscapes.”

“The Air Force is making great strides in our priorities to win the global war on terror, take care of our airmen and recapitalize our forces,” the memo said. “Preserving our natural assets remain a key factor of success in these goals, and through our dedication to protecting and maintaining our planet, these assets will remain intact for generations to come.”

CIA and State

We asked Dan Gallington, who once was chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to discuss whether the CIA’s bureaucracy is working against President Bush’s policies in the war on al Qaeda.

“I wouldn’t say they are anti-Bush as much as to say they generally support the more conciliatory policy positions of the State Department bureaucracy,” Mr. Gallington said. “Even though CIA is not a policy organization, they actively participate in influencing national security policy.

“I would say it seems clear that the leaks out of the CIA in recent years are both substantively, and in timing, seem intended to embarrass the president.”

He said a “purge” is the answer for a leak-weary Bush administration. “It’s already under way,” he said.

• Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Mr. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Mr. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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