At his news conference yesterday, President Bush repeatedly mentioned “benchmarks” for progress in Iraq, using the word 13 times. “But he did not discuss the consequences of the Iraqi government missing those targets. Such a question, he said, was ‘hypothetical.'”
At the Pentagon press conference this afternoon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked what would happen if the Iraqi government failed to meet the “benchmarks.” Rumsfeld first responded that “it is not complicated,” but just seconds later said, “This is complicated stuff. It’s difficult. We’re looking out into the future. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty.” He added, “So you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it’s complicated, it’s difficult.” Watch it:
QUESTION: Sir, what I don’t understand about the benchmark plan — if we can call it that — is what happens if and when the Iraqi government fails to meet the timelines, projections, whatever you want to call them, for some of the major benchmarks?
I mean, we’ve been told that they’re not given ultimatums, but we’ve also been told by the president in recent days that U.S. patience is not unlimited.
But I don’t understand. There must be consequences or responses built into this plan. Can you address that at all?
RUMSFELD: Well, it’s a political season. And everyone’s trying to make a little mischief out of this, and make — turn it into a political football, and see if we can’t get it on the front page of every newspaper and find a little daylight between what the Iraqis say or someone in the United States says or somebody else in the United States says.
And it is not complicated. I’ve explained it two or three times. The president did an excellent job of explaining it yesterday.
And the situation is this. It is that the United States, in the persons of our ambassador and the Embassy and General Casey and his team, have been, over a period of time, in continuous discussions with the Iraqi government at various levels. And they’ve been discussing the way forward through the rest of this year and next year. That’s a perfectly logical thing for them to do.
Now, you’re looking for some sort of a guillotine to come falling down if some date isn’t met. That is not what this is about.
This is complicated stuff. It’s difficult. We’re looking out into the future. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty.
So you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it’s complicated, it’s difficult. Honorable people are working on these things together. There isn’t any daylight between them. They’ll be discussing this and discussing that. They may have a change there, a change here. But it’ll get worked out.