Few people really pine for the opportunity to read an 815-page memoir of a former Secretary of Defense. But in Tuesday's Washington Post, the front of the Style section matches a book review of Donald Rumsfeld's new memoir Known and Unknown as equal with...a 110-page Rumsfeld torture fantasy concocted for the small magazine company McSweeney's. The title over both was "Two Shots of Rummy." In his review, novelist and former reporter Dan Fesperman suggested that the leftist "literary guerrilla action" is more authentic about Rumsfeld:
It is tempting at first to dismiss "Donald" as a mere literary guerrilla action, a publication-day ambush by two clever writers whose narrative voice, to their credit, may sound more authentically like Donald Rumsfeld than the former defense secretary's memoir.
If you were to cast this stunt as a war movie, co-authors Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott would be the wily tricksters who don fake uniforms to slip behind enemy lines, speaking the language like natives and clearing all checkpoints until they vanquish the opposing general with his own diabolical weaponry.
The premise of their novella is this: What if Rumsfeld, who oversaw the creation of America's most elaborate system of extralegal imprisonment and interrogation since, well, maybe forever, what if he were captured and hooded one night and thrown into the maw of this same system, and then subjected to its pains and indignities, from Bagram to Guantanamo Bay?
Yes, The Washington Post considers it fair to characterize Donald Rumsfeld as a devil, with "diabolical weaponry." There's no need to edit that for accuracy or sensitivity. Fesperman has worked as am "objective" reporter and foreign correspondent for major newspapers including the Miami Herald and The Baltimore Sun. To all these leftists, Rumsfeld and the terrorist suspects in military custody are moral equivalents:
In the opening pages, Rumsfeld snarks his way into our bad graces with the same bristly, self-justifying manner he often employed from the Pentagon lectern. We come upon His Crankiness in a library, doing research for his memoir. When an earnest young man approaches to ask questions, Martin and Elliott capture Rumsfeld's disdain:
"Down there in the kid's eyes, Donald sees broad leaves of intelligence but rooted in such soft soil that it might as well be sand. A zen garden. With a few green wisps that will blow flat at the first breath of wind. The world they live in is a blustery place. This is the son of a father who never went to war."
This is all great fun [!], at least for those who might be rubbing their hands together at the idea of his impending comeuppance, but when Rumsfeld meets his wife and some rather louche friends for dinner, love and nostalgia turn him into a bit of a softy. On a family level, at least, he's already eager to make amends.
Only after Rumsfeld is kidnapped from his waterfront estate on the Maryland Eastern Shore do the authors' deeper intentions become evident. It is also the moment when, in the wrong hands, the tone of this brief story might easily have become either too preachy (a Scrooge-like Donald seeing the error of his ways after his visitation of horrors) or too empty of humanity in its welter of detail (a chilly field report from Human Rights Watch).
Not that Rumsfeld doesn't get a full-frontal education on the idiocy and futility of the interrogation regime he helped create. He is questioned nonstop, teased with false hope, forced to stand for hours, shackled uncomfortably and besieged 24-7 by noise and harsh lighting. Interestingly, he is neither waterboarded nor sexually taunted, as some inmates have been. It is to the authors' credit that his softer treatment nonetheless comes across as debilitatingly hellish.
In this fable, Rumsfeld is made to realize that everyone in Guantanamo was also unfairly suspected of deadly conspiracies. Or, scratch that: Rumsfeld and the Bush team had a deadly conspiracy called the War on Terror. The detainees were only victims. These authors told the National Post in Canada: "We’re trying to get everybody, people on both sides, more in touch with their humanity than they might have been. You don’t want to be a person that wants to see someone getting tortured."
This is how the book came about: "Steve and I worked on this strange little book together called Where to Invade Next. So that was sort of our first collaboration; as fiction writers can do, we tried to take the point of view of a conservative think thank and map out the arguments to why we should invade all these other countries. And so in a weird way when Steve came up with this idea it was this [logical] next step."
The Post assigned PBS Washington Week moderator Gwen Ifill to review Rumsfeld's actual memoir, and unsurprisingly, this liberal pundit defends the media as painfully objective and perfectly accurate, and Rumsfeld as a fantasist. Rumsfeld thinks the liberal media distorts things. So clearly we're going to need a "brand new dictionary" to handle his propagandistic and euphemistic take on the world:
In his worldview, the news media and authors who recounted Bush's term in office have distorted almost everything - including the timing of the decision to go to war in Iraq after the 9/11 attacks; the responsibility for holding, interrogating and prosecuting detainees in Guantanamo Bay; and even the handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
History is determined by who gets to define it. So Rumsfeld patiently explains that the Bush administration did not practice "preemption," only "anticipatory self-defense." He provides hundreds of his own memos - archived on the Web - to back up his case. They may be exhaustive, but they are still Rumsfeld's interpretation of the world as he saw it. By the time every Bush administration veteran finishes defining and redefining history, surely someone is going to have to come up with a brand new dictionary.
Ifill's review is headlined "A defensive man faces the world as he knows it." The other review is titled "And in an alternative universe, tables are turned."