The good news is that after all of the brou-ha-has for sending troops into combat without proper equipment and failing to lift a personal finger to acknowledge their resulting deaths, Donald Rumsfeld has learned his lesson. The bad news is that the lesson he has learned is never to allow an unscripted moment to exist.
First the AP version:
MOSUL, Iraq -- The questions from the troops for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were considerably more friendly on his Christmas Eve visit to Iraq than they were on his previous trip to the region a couple of weeks ago.
"How do we win the war in the media?" asked one soldier in Mosul. Another soldier in Tikrit wondered why there is not more coverage of reconstruction efforts going on in the country.
"I guess what's news has to be bad news to get on the press," Rumsfeld responded to the first question - after supposing, with a big grin, "that does not sound like a question that was planted by the press."
"We are a great country and we can benefit from having a free press," said Rumsfeld. "From time to time people can be concerned about it, but look where we've come as a country because we do have a free press."
The New York Times adds this:
"The purpose of the trip is to thank the troops and wish them a merry Christmas," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters during the 12-hour overnight flight to Iraq from Washington, a trip that aids went to unusual lengths to keep secret. Only a few reporters and one television crew accompanied him.*
According to Armando at Kos, the one television crew was Fox (I believe Armondo is deducing this from the fact that he saw the Q&A with the troops on Fox airport cable news). Let's assume Armondo is correct.
After his last appearance, where troops asked difficult questions, and the following poopstorm over his remarkable insensitivity to the safety of the troops and mourning of their survivors, Sec. Rumsfeld has made a show of talking about the pain he feels for their sacrifices and how sad he is that no one appreciates that. He has followed his public show of sensitive new age guy (SNEG)-ness with a surprise visit to the survivors of a unit decimated by Halliburton contract failures. There, filmed only by a friendly
Hmmm. In fact, the whole Q&A session sounds surprisingly like the staged "town hall" campaign events held for Bush all through this year. Okay, it's not surprising. Does anyone doubt that the troops and their questions were screened in advance? My only question is, how much was left to chance? Were they screened by their officers, in the expectation that careerist considerations would be enough to protect the administration from embarrassment, or was the whole thing scripted by the administration?
* This paragraph appears in my print copy of the New York Times story, but does not appear in the current online version.