It was one of those summer days in D.C. when people were ducking into steam baths to cool off. My feet were propped up on my desk, and just as I noticed that my shoes had started to sweat, the phone rang.
"How long has it been since you've heard a good 'My goodness'?" she asked in a voice that was all New York neo-con.
"Months," I answered. "What's it to you?"
"That's just it," she said. "Rumsfeld says 'My goodness' when he's good and steamed, or just every now and then. He's not said it in a while now. He's not really said anything. They've got to be shutting him up. Or worse," she added, and her voice started to tremble.
"Calm down," I told her. "Rummy was in the Rose Garden on Monday when Bush said he'd back an intelligence czar."
"That couldn't have been him," she said. "Rummy would never stand for that. He has his own boutique intelligence unit in the Pentagon, employing Leo Straussian analysis to find hidden truths."
"Like the weapons of mass destruction," I replied. "Like the chow-down in Prague between Mohamed Atta and the tooth fairy. Like we can occupy all of Iraq with a couple of brigades and the Woodcraft Rangers handling psy-ops. Like -- "
"Mr. Marlowe, I'm not hiring you for your jejune political rants," she said. "I want to know what's happened to Donald Rumsfeld. He's vanished. I'm concerned."
Turned out the dame was named Midge Decter, a neo-con who'd written a love letter of a book on Rumsfeld last year. And the dame had a point. Rummy had all but vanished in the past six weeks or so. All those Pentagon news conferences and Sunday morning shows were suddenly Rummy-less. Somebody was clamming him up, or jamming him -- or worse.
Could be the Abu Ghraib business. After a couple of days digging around, I discovered in the current issue of Newsweek a story that speculates that Rummy's own special committee to investigate how nice American boys and girls turned into a Junior Gestapo might actually finger Rummy himself.
But that couldn't be the whole story. Rummy's been under wraps for a while now. In fact, he disappeared around the time U.S. forces in Iraq disappeared.
I mean, what have we heard out of our guys since we transferred power, as we say, to the Iraqis at the end of June? The whole occupation is under wraps. In June, when we were running the joint, 42 American soldiers were killed. In July, when we'd reduced ourselves to a historical footnote, 54 American soldiers died, but who knew it? None of our guys is around to talk about the occupation anymore. L. Paul Bremer is gone. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is gone. Rummy is -- well, that's what I was trying to find out.
We've gone from Mission Accomplished to Mission Invisible. The fact that we still have men and women in harm's way doesn't play very well if the boss is going to get reelected. The fact that we never had a plan for Iraq after Saddam Hussein -- or, worse, that we had plans from the generals and from State and from the CIA, and that Rummy trashed them all and figured we could run the place with nothing more than Ahmed Chalabi and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo -- is not something the Bush boys want voters thinking about as the election draws near.
But Bush doesn't whack you if you're loyal. That would be admitting a mistake, and Bush is such a strong leader he can't do that. Yet somebody has Rummy walled up somewhere, and so I paid that somebody a call.
"So the neos are looking for him," Karl Rove chuckled. "Let 'em look. Don't they understand that their role at election time is to hide? Lay low? Scram? That we breed these compassionate-conservative cicadas that come out every four years at Republican conventions, that we've got gay marriage for the sticks, that the last thing we need to do is parade around the architects of the Iraq war?"
He rose, walked behind his desk and threw open a closet door. There they all were, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, the whole gang, poring over maps, planning the invasions of Old Europe, California, and the Democratic 527s. "Mum's the word," said Rove.
It was all pretty neat. Screw up a war and our foreign relations, go into hiding, and come right back after Election Day. A neo-con job if ever there was one.
Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect. This column originally appeared in the Washington Post.