The Failing Foxtrot

A few weeks ago he was two-stepping around his dubious claims about the numbers of Iraqi security forces that have been trained, and now Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is trying to do a diplomatic dance with other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). And yet again he is showing that he has two left feet.

During remarks in Germany, one of the countries that he dismissively called “Old Europe” two years ago, Rumsfeld played the self-deprecating card early on, trying to make light of a comment that our transatlantic allies still have not fully gotten over. He reminisced. He referred to them as friends. Apparently fearful of a recent German appraisal that NATO was in need of review and reinvigoration, Rumsfeld even praised NATO and global alliances. But Rumsfeld had no new moves — particularly with regards to the continued European calls for the U.S. to join in diplomatic dialogue with Iran — but just continued to twirl and twirl.

Here’s an example:

Q: Mr. Secretary, you heard your German colleagues asking just a minute ago for active American support in the European negotiations with the Iranians, with the view to banning all Iranian nuclear fuel cycle activity. Would you care to comment on that call? A: Well, the President and Secretary Rice have commented on it. The last thing in the world I would want to do would be to step on their words. How’s that? (Laughter) I thought that pretty well covered it. Next question.

Secretary Rumsfeld is extremely precise in his wording and for good reason. Neither the president nor Secretary Rice has answered the call of the Europeans; they have essentially answered the question of United States involvement the same way that Rumsfeld did. For example, look at the response that Secretary Rice gave to a similar question:

Q: Madam Secretary, if I can just return for one second to Iran, there have been some grumblings in Europe that the EU-3 talks are not going to get anywhere unless the United States becomes much more directly involved. How do you respond to that, and will the United States at some point become more directly involved?

A: The Iranians know what they need to do. It’s not the absence of anybody’s involvement that is keeping the Iranians from knowing what they need to do. They need to live up to their obligations; they need to agree to verification inspection; they need to stop trying to hide activities under cover of civilian nuclear power. And it’s a pretty clear message. And, you know, the Iranians have been at this for a while, and they just need to do what’s being asked of them.

And the president has been equally as vague, talking about continued talks with European allies and what the free world is doing, without explicitly stating whether the United States will join our European allies. As the threat from nuclear powers looms, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Rice, and President Bush need to try a new routine.