Rumsfeld fields questions from

Thursday, July 10, 2003 at 1:00am

In 1970, the late Vice President Spiro Agnew famously remarked, "In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who served alongside Agnew in the Nixon administration, might be inclined to agree with his one-time colleague, especially after his Pentagon press briefing this week.

"Can you remind us again why this is not a quagmire?" asked one wag. "And can you tell us why you're so reluctant to say that what's going on in Iraq now is a guerrilla war?" A fellow wag followed up.

Could it be that Rumsfeld is loath to concede that Iraq has disintegrated into a guerrilla war because it "begins to bring to mind the last one that the United States had, which was Vietnam"?

"Which," the wag added sarcastically, "I think most people can agree was not a resounding success."

A lay observer might conclude from the line of questioning that more than a few members of the media are almost hopeful that the transformation of Iraq into a peaceful democracy goes badly. Rumsfeld suffered the anti-war wags more gladly than they deserved. He explained that there is no organized insurgency in Iraq; the sporadic attacks against U.S. troops are being carried out by disparate groups with different agendas. Those disparate groups include looters, according to Rumsfeld, as well criminals who were freed from Iraqi prisons, "tens of thousands" put out on the street. There also are the remnants of Saddam's regime, said the defense secretary, including "the Ba'athists, the Fedayeen Saddam,

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