The US ambassador to Baghdad conceded yesterday that the Iraq invasion had opened a Pandora's box of sectarian conflicts which could lead to a regional war and the rise of religious extremists who "would make Taliban Afghanistan look like child's play".But Rumsfeld didn't get the memo:
Zalmay Khalilzad broke with the Bush administration's generally upbeat orthodoxy to present a stark profile of a volatile situation in danger of sliding into chaos.
Mr Khalilzad told the Los Angeles Times Iraq had been pulled back from the brink of civil war after the February 22 bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra. However, another similar incident would leave Iraq "really vulnerable" to that happening, he said. "We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?" He added that the best approach was to build bridges between religious and ethnic communities.
Hours after Mr Khalilzad made his remarks, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld accused Iran of dispatching elements of its Revolutionary Guard to stir trouble inside Iraq. Mr Rumsfeld said: "They are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq and we know it. And it is something that they, I think, will look back on as having been an error in judgment." Mr Khalilzad's intervention comes in a week when the two top US generals in Iraq, John Abizaid and George Casey, are in Washington talking to the Pentagon and the White House about how many troops they will need to maintain stability in Iraq. With his remarks, Mr Khalilzad may have been lobbying Washington to keep as many American soldiers there as possible. The Bush administration is anxious to reduce the US military presence for political and military reasons.And remember, kids: don't try this at home!
Mr Rumsfeld said sectarian violence had been exaggerated by the media. When asked how that squared with Mr Khalilzad's view, he replied: "Well, he's there. He's an expert. And he said what he said. I happen to have not read it, but I am not going to try to disagree with it."
Nevertheless, it was clear yesterday that the Pentagon was anxious to limit the impact of Mr Khalilzad's remarks. "If you take it from a year ago to now, month to month, the attacks now are down compared to last year," said General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.So let's recap: Rummy doesn't know what's going on on the ground, but he's quite sure it's not our fault for invading, it's Iran's fault for interfering in our interfering with Iraq's governance (hey, we started it, we get first dibs on chaos!). The Pentagon says the water's not pouring over the dam as fast is it was, so things are getting better.
And the U.S. Ambassador says we can't leave, because the region will implode; but we can't stay, because 80% of the Iraqis want us out, 45% support an insurgency that's trying to get rid of us, and a clear majority would feel safer if we just left, immediately.
Are we having fun yet?