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Stepping down

Rumsfeld on a stairway to heaven

So, farewell then, Donald Rumsfeld, who is “stepping down”. Does that mean, to recall Bush’s 2004 campaign formula, that the Iraqis are stepping up? This kind of stepping must be performed in a carefully choreographed sequence, somewhat like synchronized swimming, in order to preserve the mean altitude of actors in the system, which is critical for our sense of geopolitical neatness. Perhaps Rumsfeld passed Robert Gates, coming in the opposite direction, exactly halfway down the stairway. If so, I hope the two men took the opportunity to perform an insouciant stair-based dance number, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time.

Presumably, after he has finished stepping down, it will be a relief to Rumsfeld that he no longer has to stand for eight to ten hours a day [pdf]. It must have been trying to remain erect for that long.

“Steps down” as a euphemism for “resigns” or “is fired” is part of the metaphor of verticality in talk about power. You reach “high office” and then “step down” from it afterwards, if you manage not to “fall” or get “pushed”. (I suppose the “corridors of power” must be steeply sloped.) If it were not from a high place, stepping down might have darker connotations, like Orpheus’s descent into Hades. At least Rumsfeld appears to have learned from that myth the importance of not looking back.

Stepping back (without turning around), of course, is a different matter. It is the mark of a strategist. Rumsfeld has liked to tell others, for instance, to “step back and look at it”, of a tricky situation. Journalists have their noses pressed up against the details and are in danger of becoming permanently cross-eyed. A certain distance is necessary for a full appreciation of the truth.

Happily, now that some distance has been imposed on Rumsfeld himself, he will be in a position to improve his viewpoint further by adding a horizontal component to his vertical displacement, as per his recent advice:

You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it’s complicated, it’s difficult.

After stepping down and backing off, travelling down and away to a far vantage point, Rumsfeld might this time be unable to resist one last glance back. Perhaps it will be a cause of some comfort, or even relaxation. Espying Bush, Cheney and Rice huddled atop the distant peak, Rumsfeld will be able to blot them out with one raised thumb.

  1. 1  Graham Giblin  November 9, 2006, 11:26 am 

    Speaking of “views”, he said, drawing his long bow, Rumsfeld said in 2003:

    Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.

    Vale the unvalorous Don. And with such back-slapping. Bush told the press that “under his leadership, U.S. and coalition forces launched one of the most innovative military campaigns in the history of modern warfare.” Now mass killing is more justified if it is “innovative”. How exciting to see people killed in innovative ways.

    According to Fox News, “Rumsfeld said many people have not given Bush the credit he’s due for leading the charge into Iraq.” Which put me in mind of the Duke of Plaza Toro:

    He led his regiment from behind –
    He found it less exciting.
    But when away his regiment ran
    His place was at the fore, O.
    ~W.S. Gilbert The Gondoliers

    It was cute to see that Rummy invoked the ghost of Churchill (whose bust he must have seen numerous times as he left the Oval Office, until now always expecting to return):

    “I have benefited greatly from criticism, and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof.”

    Is this the merest bit of self-pity, or does he hope to salvage his “legacy” by associating himself with the old codger? Churchill gave a two-fingered salute. Rumpy-pumpy in his innovative and efficient way tended to reduce it to one finger.

    His real legacy is the tens or hundreds of thousands of dead and innocent human beings.

  2. 2  Chicken Yoghurt » Bin Rummy  November 9, 2006, 11:31 am 

    […] Update updated: Steven Poole is his customary dry self: ‘Steps down’ as a euphemism for ‘resigns’ or ‘is fired’ is part of the metaphor of verticality in talk about power. You reach ‘high office’ and then ’step down’ from it afterwards, if you manage not to ‘fall’ or get ‘pushed’. (I suppose the ‘corridors of power’ must be steeply sloped.) Filed under US Politics See also None permalink • trackback • print this • leave a comment […]

  3. 3  Mike  November 9, 2006, 1:45 pm 

    I can only wish that when he does look back, he turns into a pillar of salt, so we can gather around it, kick the shit out of it, and grind it into the dirt, the sorry, bloody, mendacious, evil sonofabitch.

  4. 4  WIIIAI  November 9, 2006, 4:43 pm 

    From those Olympian heights from which he has now stepped down (my metaphor assumes Mt. Olympus has steps, which I suppose is unlikely), the dead in Iraq looked just like ants to Rummy. As did the wounded, who could not get their wheelchairs up those steps.

  5. 5  Steven  November 10, 2006, 9:25 am 

    Perhaps he can step down from Mt Olympus in a single stride, because he has enormous legs?

    Rumsfeld said yesterday:

    ‘I will say this — it is very clear that the major combat operations were an enormous success,’ he said, of the March 2003 invasion in which Baghdad fell within weeks. ‘It’s clear that in Phase 2 of this, it has not been going well enough or fast enough.’

    Faster pussycat, kill, kill!

  6. 6  Tom the Peeper  November 10, 2006, 10:34 am 

    Ding dong. The witch is dead.
    Although the buck ultimately has to stop with Dubya, Rumsfeld is vastly responsible for the never-ending carnage that persists in Iraq. Thomas E Ricks excellent Fiasco details Rummy’s bludering in fine detail – the simple-minded belief that it would all kind of work out, with no actual strategy in place to manage the country following the occupation.

    So farewell and good riddance to the Grand Old Duke of Washington:

    “and then there were knowns that were known
    and then there were knowns that were unknown
    but sometimes there were unknowns that were half known
    and unknowns that remained unknown.”
    It’s no wonder that the US administration is in the mess it’s in – the garbled gibberish of Bush and Rumsfeld meant that they probably found it difficult to understand each other…

  7. 7  Graham Giblin  November 13, 2006, 6:54 am 

    You might enjoy this clip on Youtube: “Remembering Rummy

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