The New York Times Shies at the Jump
Robert Samuelson Is an Unhappy Camper

Were There Really That Many Vases?

Wonkette reminds us of the sacking of the Iraqi museums, and of the days when Donald Rumsfeld was busily turning the astounding operational victory of the 3rd Infantry Division into America's biggest strategic defeat since the days of General McClellan:

Iraq Finally Conquers Vase Overcrowding Crisis - Wonkette: The Washington Post today reports that Iraq's cultural treasures looted after the fall of Baghdad are unlikely to resurface. Of 14,000 lost items, 5,500 have been recovered. Antiquarians and other fusty, book-learning types despair at the loss of these objects, but we just recall the jocularity with which Donald Rumsfeld met the looting: "My goodness," he asked, "were there that many vases?" Well, not so much any more.

DoD News: DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers:

Q: Mr. Secretary, you spoke of the television pictures that went around the world earlier of Iraqis welcoming U.S. forces with open arms. But now television pictures are showing looting and other signs of lawlessness. Are you, sir, concerned that what's being reported from the region as anarchy in Baghdad and other cities might wash away the goodwill the United States has built? And, are U.S. troops capable of or inclined to be police forces in Iraq?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think the way to think about that is that if you go from a repressive regime that has -- it's a police state, where people are murdered and imprisoned by the tens of thousands -- and then you go to something other than that -- a liberated Iraq -- that you go through a transition period. And in every country, in my adult lifetime, that's had the wonderful opportunity to do that, to move from a repressed dictatorial regime to something that's freer, we've seen in that transition period there is untidiness, and there's no question but that that's not anyone's choice.

On the other hand, if you think of those pictures, very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime -- into the palaces, into the boats, and into the Ba'ath Party headquarters, and into the places that have been part of that repression. And, while no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.

With respect to the second part of your question, we do feel an obligation to assist in providing security, and the coalition forces are doing that. They're patrolling in various cities. Where they see looting, they're stopping it, and they will be doing so. The second step, of course, is to not do that on a permanent basis but, rather, to find Iraqis who can assist in providing police support in those cities and various types of stabilizing and security assistance, and we're in the process of doing that.

Q: How quickly do you hope to do that? Isn't that a pressing problem?

Rumsfeld: Wait. Wait. But in answer to your -- direct answer to your question are we concerned that this would offset it, the feeling of liberation -- suggests that, "Gee, maybe they were better off repressed." And I don't think there's anyone in any of those pictures, or any human being who's not free, who wouldn't prefer to be free, and recognize that you pass through a transition period like this and accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.

Myers: Charlie, another point, I think, to make is that it's uneven throughout the country. In the south, where we've been for some time, where the clerics have been speaking out against looting and for civil order, where some of the Iraqis citizens themselves are saying let's don't loot, and that sort of thing, that actually the situation is pretty good. In Umm Qasr it's in good shape. In Basra, looting has been going down over time as we track it. So as we go up from the south, it's getting better and better for obvious reasons. So --

Rumsfeld: Let me say one other thing. The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, "My goodness, were there that many vases?" (Laughter.) "Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?"