By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 28, 2006
BAGHDAD, April 27 -- A full 10 seconds of silence passed after a reporter asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld what the intense secrecy and security surrounding their visit to Iraq signified about the stability of the country three years after the U.S.-led invasion. Rice turned to Rumsfeld to provide the answer. Rumsfeld glared at the reporter.
"I guess I don't think it says anything about it," he snapped. He went on to say that President Bush had directed him and Rice to go to Iraq to "meet with the new leadership, and it happens that they are located here," a reference to the heavily fortified Green Zone where U.S. officials -- and many Iraqi leaders -- live and work.
Rice broke in, calming the tension. "The security situation will continue to take our attention and the attention of the Iraqis," she said, adding, "The terrorists are ultimately going to be defeated by a political process here."
For the second time in a month, Rice traveled to Baghdad to jawbone Iraqi leaders with a high-powered male counterpart. Last time, her partner was British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The pairing with him was convivial, so filled with easygoing banter that it was quickly dubbed the "Condi and Jack Show."
This time around, Rice and Rumsfeld often seemed in separate orbits, and the visit had little of the warmth of the earlier one. One purpose of this joint trip was to get the sometimes conflicting military and political operations in sync for the transition to a permanent Iraqi government. But the contrast in the two secretaries' styles was sometimes jarring.
Even though her arrival here followed an exhausting sprint through Greece and Turkey, Rice appeared energized by the task at hand. Rumsfeld arrived directly from Washington -- after a recent Asian tour -- but he seemed disengaged and bored, both to reporters traveling with him and to some U.S. officials. Some said he seemed irritated by the whole exercise. He did not speak a word to reporters with him on the flight to Baghdad.
During a joint meeting with reporters traveling with the secretaries, Rumsfeld frequently doodled with a black felt-tip pen or stared absent-mindedly at the ceiling when Rice spoke. Rice would occasionally cast a nervous glance at Rumsfeld as he prepared to respond to a question. His answers were terse; hers were expansive.
Rice, in that briefing and a separate one with Iraqi journalists, eagerly cast the Iraqi transition as part of the administration's quest for democracy in the Middle East. She told the Iraqi journalists that differences were "being overcome by politics and compromise, not by violence and not by repression," making Iraq "a tremendous pillar of stability through the Middle East." She added, "It's wonderful to be here and to be a small part of that."
But the administration's mantra of freedom and democracy never passed Rumsfeld's lips. Asked how the Iraqi government should eliminate the militias that have terrorized the populace, Rumsfeld appeared to suggest it was a relatively easy task. "Other countries have dealt with these issues and done them in a reasonably orderly way and over a period of time in a manner that was, in many instances, without much violence," he said.
The two secretaries recently had a widely publicized dispute over a comment by Rice that the administration had probably made "thousands" of "tactical errors" in Iraq. Aides later said she had meant it figuratively, but it generated headlines around the world. In a radio interview, Rumsfeld dismissed it as a comment made by someone who didn't understand warfare.
Asked about the flap here in Baghdad, Rumsfeld replied, "I wasn't aware of what she meant." (The transcript shows that the radio interviewer described her remarks carefully and placed them in context.) Rumsfeld made no effort to smooth over the issue but pointed to Rice and said, "She's right here, and you can ask her." Rice noted that her comment about tactical errors had been made "not in the military sense."
Rice courted the news media, racing through five television interviews in 17 minutes. Rumsfeld gave no separate interviews. At one point, he arrived early for a meeting and saw an array of television cameras inside the room. He shook his head at the reporters and turned on his heel.
Before the two Cabinet members left Baghdad on Thursday, Rice dismissed any suggestions of tension. "Secretary Rumsfeld and I have an excellent relationship," she told Fox News. "We're working very hard together. We're actually having a great time here in Iraq."