Apocalypse Don: The Final Briefing

(As we await the inevitable resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, the four-star fool who allowed himself and his goons to be overheard talking smack about the President, the Vice-President, and various other of their civilian controllers—and overheard by a reporter for Rolling Stone, no less—it seems an opportune time to reprint this rare, complete transcript of the final briefing to the press of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, another loose-lipped dunderhead who arrogantly blundered eyes wide shut into the War on Terra. )

*   *   *

(This has been verified as Sec. Rumsfeld’s voice. Transmission 11; December 5; Sector Zulu King Zulu.)

Good afternoon, folks. Although that term—”good”—is relative. Is the afternoon “good” for me? Yes. Why? It’s good for me because I own it. I summoned this afternoon. I am here because I choose to be. But you are forced to be here. It’s your job. If I convene a briefing, you must attend. You are not free to stay away. Since you are not free, your afternoon can hardly be “good.”

Have you ever considered any real freedom? Freedom from the opinions of others? Even from the opinions of yourself?

Of course you haven’t. That is why you see a leek around my neck. “Uh, the secretary—Rumsfeld—is that a leek, hanging round his neck?” That’s what you ask the man next to you. “Yes, yes, I believe it is,” the man next to you responds. But never do you consider the fact that the Secretary of Defense would never convene a press briefing with a leek hanging around his neck.

So, in truth, the leek is not there. It can’t be. The leek does not exist. Put it out of your mind.

That guillotine to the right of me, however—that is there.

But why, you might wonder, would the secretary bring a guillotine to a press briefing? The answer is simple. It is here to chop leeks. Is it necessary that I chop leeks at a press briefing? Yes. Why? So that you will understand torture.

There has been a lot of silly talk, over the past months, among you people of the press, about torture. Because we make people stand up, or listen to music, or because we pour water up somebody’s nose, or forget to turn the heat on—you think that we’re torturing them.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

But you, you can’t see that truth. That is why the guillotine is here. The guillotine, and the leeks. They will make you see.

When the guillotine was introduced, it was considered the most humane method extant by which to execute a man. Or—the French at that time behaving as equal-opportunity executioners—woman. Previously, heads were struck off by burly, hooded men wielding axes. But these headsmen did not always strike blows that were clean and true. As a consequence, the condemned sometimes suffered. It sometimes required several awkward blows to completely sever the condemned man’s head from his body. Or woman.

A demonstration is at this time appropriate. I will now take from around my neck this leek, which I at this time choose to bring from the theoretically inconceivable, into concrete existence.

From a concealed shelf in this podium, I draw an axe.

Now: your attention please.


You see? The cut in the leek, with the headsman’s axe, was not straight and true. There are still some fibrous shreds connecting the two parts of the leek.

That is what used to happen to people’s heads.

I will now draw from the depths of my trousers a second leek.

Just a moment.

Yes. This leek I will place beneath the blade of the guillotine. Watch.


You see? The leek cut sharply in two, quickly and cleanly.

That is how the guillotine removed the head from the body—quickly, sharply, cleanly. Considered quite humane at the time.

Of course, soon some nosy doctors had to get in on the act. They observed the guillotined heads as they rolled into the basket. They noted that for some seconds the eyelids fluttered, the cheeks spasmed, the mouth moved: some of the condemned seemed to be trying to speak, after their lips had been cut off from their lungs.

Too, occasionally, the guillotine, as is true of all mechanical contraptions, did not perform to its full potential. The blade fell awkwardly, failed to completely sever the head of the condemned. Sometimes the proceedings had to be interrupted, occasionally for quite some while, while a hurried search was conducted to find a man experienced in the wielding of an axe.

Eventually it was determined that the guillotine was not, after all, the most humane method extant by which to execute a man.

But the important point is this: for a time it was. And that is the time we are in now, with those methods of ours that you would condemn as “torture.”

We do not use electrodes on the genitals of prisoners. We do not snip off pieces of limbs, of skin. We do not burn people with torches, or cigarettes. Even when we beat prisoners, we place them in sleeping bags, as with that Iraqi general, so that the blows might fall more gently.

Those old, discredited methods—those are torture. But the methods we use—and we have many reasoned legal opinions supporting us on this—are not torture. In this time, in this place, they do not constitute torture—not at all. That we engage in torture—that is not a fact. It is illusion. The truth of it does not exist. It is like that leek that was not around my neck. Not there. So put it out of your minds.

You see, our methods of interrogation are equivalent to the use of the guillotine in 1792—the most humane methods extant. The fact that 5, 10, 20 years down the road, our methods may then be considered torture—that is not relevant. Times change. People change. Opinions change. In twenty years making a man stand for twelve hours may be considered torture—just as the guillotine, some years after its introduction, came to be considered a barbarous device. But “stress positions” are not now torture.

How could they be? I myself, as I noted in the margin of one memo, stand for twelve hours each day. Are you saying that the Secretary of Defense is tortured? Of course not. It is true that I stand at a desk, and the prisoners are not afforded desks. But then I am the Secretary of Defense, and they are terrorists.

I hope that I have made myself clear. With logic—and leeks—it is quite easy to understand this. Even for members of the press.

I will now take questions.

Yes. You. You there—the errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.

What was my reaction when the president said I was to be replaced? It is true that at first I fretted and fumed and took to arguing with myself; but before I could come to any conclusion it occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility. What did it matter what any one knew or ignored? What did it matter who was manager? One gets sometimes such a flash of insight. The essentials of this affair lay deep under the surface, beyond my reach, and beyond my power of meddling.

And there is something that you must understand about the president. The man has enlarged my mind. He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean, sometimes he’ll—well, you say “hello” to him, right? And he’ll just walk right by you, and he won’t even notice you. And then suddenly he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say, “Do you know that ‘if’ is the middle word in ‘life’? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you . . . ”

I’m a little man, I’m a little man; he’s a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across floors of silent seas . . .

The president . . . he can be terrible, he can be mean, and he can be right. He’s fighting the war. He’s a great man. I mean—I wish I had words, you know? I wish I had words. I could tell you something, like, the other day he wanted to kill me. Because I took his picture. He said, “If you take my picture again, I’m going to kill you.”

And he meant it.

See: just lay cool, lay cool. Lay back, dig it. He gets friendly again, he really does. But you don’t judge the president. You don’t judge the president like ordinary men.

And Mr. Gates—he’s a fine choice. Iraq—it’s an intelligence, a tough intelligence war, now. Has been for some time. That’s something you people in the press just don’t understand. The troops are not where the war is. The war is with people like Mr. Negroponte, who has helped bring to the country those tough, necessary tactics and actions, that some misportray as “death squads.”

Then there are all those intelligence agencies overseen by the Defense Department. You people of the press, like your friends the Democrats, are still back in the 1960s, when you howl about “the dastardly doings” of the CIA. The people of the CIA, when they are very rarely called upon to commit some act you people might consider “dastardly” . . . well, they whine, they complain, they wring their hands. In the end, inevitably, they go to the press. Where do you think all those leaks about the so-called misuse of WMD intelligence, overseas detention facilities, renditions, interrogation tactics, came from? From the soft-hearted, soft-pated, weeping grandmothers of the CIA.

The people in the CIA of today are the creampuffs of the intelligence world. The real action, the real operators, they’re in the alphabet soup of agencies controlled by the Defense Secretary, which receive more than eighty percent of this nation’s intelligence monies, agencies the names of which many of you don’t even know, the actions of which I am allowed to shield from so-called oversight by those blabbermouths in Congress.

Anyway, this is where the real war in Iraq is being fought. And Mr. Gates, as an intelligence veteran, is quite capable of seeing that it continues.

Next question. Yes—you. You’re from Ohio, aren’t you?

I went down the Ohio River once, when I was a kid. There’s a place on the river . . . I can’t remember . . . must have been a gardenia plantation . . . or a flower plantation, at one time. It’s all wild and overgrown now. But for about five miles, you’d think that heaven just fell on the earth, in the form of gardenias.

Ye. Yes, I heard you. “Defeat in Iraq.” Those are the words that are now beginning to be spoken. Recently, a magazine column was entitled “Would defeat in Iraq be so bad?” Well, the answer is: Yes, it would be.

But among the many, many, many things that you do not understand, is that it is not possible for us to lose in Iraq. No matter what may happen there, we win.

By “we,” do I mean the American people? Of course not. By “we,” do I mean the Iraq people? No. By “we,” do I mean the world as a whole? Perish the thought.

When I say that “we” cannot lose in Iraq, I mean this administration, and most, particularly, this president. Who is the administration. Who is the country.

The American people want a monarchy. And so they have given themselves one. Else they would not have elected to office the son of the father who held the office but eight years earlier. Else they would not now be seeking to elect to the office the wife of the man who held the office but eight years earlier.

Is it the seventeenth century in Europe, in America now? Yes.

Is that what the Founders intended? No.

But it is what the people want. And so we have given it to them. We, in this administration, have always given the American people exactly what they want. Even if they themselves did not know, or were unwilling to express, what it is that they wanted, we knew, and we have given it to them.

And never, ever have we been such cads, as to embarrass the people, by explicitly expressing their desires. We shroud those desires. We make them sound palatable.

Us? No. We require no shrouds. It is the people themselves who must be protected from explicit acknowledgement of what it is that they truly desire.

Leo Strauss? You know Leo Strauss? Of course not. And that is as it should be.

Remember when Speaker Pelosi announced that she would keep the new Congress in session after the members’ early January swearing-in? To fashion legislation, rather than await the legislative decrees of the president, as pronounced in his State of the Union address?

The reaction, in many quarters, portrayed Speaker Pelosi as if she were a bloodied Jacobin, all but erecting a guillotine. How dare she break precedent, trespass upon presidential prerogatives? The American people have become so accustomed to imaging their government as the fief of an elected sky-king—the president—that they no longer remember that their Constitution explicitly directs that all legislation originate in the Congress, not with the president. That the president should act only as a check upon legislative excesses, rather than the fount from which all legislation shall flow.

Where was I? Yes. How it is not possible for “us,” with “us” defined as the president, to lose in Iraq.

First, the president, as you may recall, sought to be a “war president.” With Iraq, he fulfilled his wish.

Second, and this is delicate—though not all unprecedented, when considering fathers and sons—the president sought to do in Iraq what his father had not. With the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the president achieved his goal. That was the true meaning of the “Mission Accomplished” banner. The president had brought down the man his father had not. He proved himself a bigger man than his father. Anything else that might occur in Iraq: that meant little to the president. As—or at least as some would say—has been clearly evident.

Third, the president was able to manipulate the situation in Iraq so as to secure Republican electoral gains in 2002, and his own re-election in 2004.

This continued control of the machinery of the federal government allowed the president to, fourthly, utilize Iraq as a screen behind which to run up the national deficit to such an extraordinary level that the Democrats will be powerless, for at least a generation, to utilize federal revenues for the good of the commons; and, fifthly, to use his continuing control of the federal government to place upon the federal bench, and even upon the Supreme Court, men not of law, but of a crabbed, pre-Enlightenment sensibility, men who may be expected to retard human and humane progress in this country for, possibly, two generations.

Sixthly, Iraq allowed the president to reward extensively the predatory capitalists that are, as he has at least once admitted, his “base.” Billions and billions of dollars have been allocated for Iraqi reconstruction, though nothing at all has been reconstructed. When the histories come to be written, this period will be regarded as the apogee of pure, unfettered capitalism.

Seventh, the president prevented, at least for a time, other nations from considering switching to trading for oil in euros, rather than dollars. The dollar retains its strength as a currency, these days, nearly solely from the fact that oil is traded in dollars. If oil were to be traded in euros, if oil-producing countries were to demand payment in euros—as Iraq did—rather than in dollars, the Great Depression would seem, in retrospect, to be a merry Teddy Bear’s Picnic indeed. One of the many messages of the president’s Operation Iraqi Fiefdom was that armed intervention is indeed an option in guaranteeing that the dollar remains king.

Number eight, the president, in twining together the War on Terra and the War on Iraq, and thereby keeping the American people for five years in a continuous state of panic and fear, forced the American populace to forever soil itself, by willingly permitting, becoming accomplices, unindicted co-conspirators to, the elimination of habeas corpus, the racially motivated roundup of innocent citizens, the establishment of secret prisons, torture. Though, as I said, it is not torture

Ninth, and this shows the subtlety and sublimity of our genius . . . well, I remember going up on the Hill and people saying to me, “Oh, what’s the October surprise going to be? You’re going to reduce a whole bunch of troops, or produce Osama, or something?” And well, the October surprise was . . .  that we let the Democrats win.

The Democrats now control Congress. But we, thank God, control the media. And so, we will let it be known, that Democratic control of Congress means Democratic control of Iraq. So that every disaster, that henceforth occurs in Iraq—and many disasters there will be—will be conveyed to the public mind as a disaster of the Democrats. Either through action, or inaction.

What might be the truth, will not matter.

Though you have been told this, again and again, you forget it, again and again. Again I will quote: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

What happens from January 2007 forward: none of it will be our fault. When the war is lost, as it surely will be, the Democrats will lose it, and all on their own. And the American people, they hate losers. We have successfully portrayed Vietnam as lost by the press, and the Democrats. Iraq will be portrayed the same.

Even if Iraq is split into three nations, as many Democrats now rashly propose, we win. The Kurds in the north: that oil will be ours. Let the Sunnis in the center do as they wilt. Go ahead and let the Shiites in the south—with oil, true—link to Iran: that is, after all, a next target, to be hit by and by.

Another truth, which you do not understand, is that we, the US, do not, really, need this oil—so long as we have access to the tap of Saudi Arabia. This oil is instead most needed by Europe, China, Japan. The more chaos in the region, the more it is felt by these “allies,” who are, in truth, competitors. Let them suffer, even if by our hand. We, we shall not suffer.

One final question. Yes. You—the known unknown.

Sure. Of course I have regrets. All of us have regrets. There is one thing, I think, that I wish I had done in Iraq, in the early days, when the people of America could have stood it. It can still be done, yes, but it will have to be done in the shadows. As, indeed, my successor, Mr. Gates, will no doubt ensure.

It is delicate. So I will put it to you like this.

In a war, there are many moments for compassion, and tender action. As there are many moments for ruthless action. What is often called “ruthless” may, in many circumstances, be only clarity. Seeing clearly what there is to be done . . . and doing it. Directly; quickly, awake.

When I was in the Air Force . . . seems a thousand centuries ago . . . we went into a camp, to inoculate children. We’d left the camp, after we had inoculated the children for polio. And this old man came running after us—and he was crying—he couldn’t say.

We went back there, and they had come, and hacked off, every inoculated arm. There they were, in a pile. A pile of—little arms.

And I remember I cried—I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out—I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it—I never want to forget it. I never want to forget it.

And then I realized—like I was shot, like I was shot, with a diamond bullet, through my forehead.

And I thought: “My God, the genius of that.” The genius. The will. The will . . . to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.

And then I realized: they, were stronger than we. Because they could stand it.

These were not monsters. These were men, trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who have families, who have children, who are filled with love.

But they had the strength . . . the strength . . . to do that.

If I’d had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would have been over very quickly.

You have to have men who are moral, and, at the same time, who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill . . . without feeling, without passion. Without . . . judgement. Without judgement. Because it is judgement, that defeats us.

It is impossible for words to describe, what is necessary, to those who do not know what “horror” means.

Horror. Horror has a face. And you must make a friend of horror. Horror, and moral terror, are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.

I’ve seen horror. Horrors that you have seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that. But you have no right to judge me.

They call me an assassin. What do you call it, when the assassins, accuse the assassin?

They lie. They lie, and we must be merciful, for those who lie. Those nabobs. I do hate them. I really do, hate them.

As for the charges against me: I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid, lying morality, and so I am beyond caring.

I will read, now, from my favorite anti-semitic poet. Some of you have, mockingly, called me a poet. What you do not understand is that I am a poet—I am the poet of this age. Like all poets, I am not understood in my own time. Only in the ages to come, will my worth, my poetry, be appreciated. This does not bother me. I am not affected. I am unconcerned. I am content. I know what the future will bring. Sleep: release: understanding.

we are the hollow men
we are the stuffed men
leaning together
headpiece filled with straw. alas!
our dried voices, when
we whisper together
are quiet and meaningless
as wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass
in our dry cellar

shape without form, shade without colour,
paralysed force, gesture without motion;

those who have crossed
with direct eyes . . . .

This is dialectics. It’s very simple dialectics. It’s one-through-nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, without like, you know, with fractions. What are you gonna land on? One quarter? Three-eighths? What are you gonna do, when you go from here to Venus? That’s dialectic physics, okay? Dialectic logic is: there’s only love and hate. You either love somebody—or you hate them.

This is the way the fucking world ends! Look at this fucking shit we’re in, man! Not with a bang! A whimper! And with a fucking whimper, I’m splitting, Jack.

I’m done with this goddam fucking shit! You can kiss my ass on the county square, because I’m fucking bugging out! I don’t fucking need it! I didn’t get on this goddam A-train for this kind of shit! All I wanted to do is fucking cook! I just wanted to learn to fucking cook, man!

All right. It’s gonna be all right. It’s gonna be all right.

Never get out of the boat.

Never get out of the boat.

Q. Are the people of Baghdad safer than they were six months ago?

(no audible response)


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