It was light brown and had scurried to the edge of the plush carpet, a carpet that followed the contours of the Oval Office leaving an exposed border of oak flooring about two feet wide. President George W. Bush had been keeping his eye on the cockroach for the past two minutes, watching it move from one of the Presidential desk legs, then stopping for a brief moment to sniff Bush's black leather shoe, and then moving on to the edge of the carpet where it stopped, it's antennae searching out before it gathering information. Go forward? Pull back? President George W. Bush thought that the cockroach was doing intelligence, getting the best information to make an intelligent decision. The cockroach had no idea that it was in such a special place, in a room where earth shattering decisions were made, in one of the most powerful places on earth. The cockroach did not care. Indeed, the cockroach probably would have preferred a damper venue.
Bush admired the sense of sobriety of the cockroach. The human world, the concerns of people and nations, were of no concern to the cockroach. The cockroach, Bush figured, had only two concerns: eat food and not be food. The basics of life. Once the basics of life were taken care of, then the cockroach, if he had the mind, could concern himself with higher aspirations. But that was the thing. The cockroach had no higher aspirations. It was just eat and not be eaten. Basics. Sustenance and security.
"Things are not doing well," said Donald Rumsfeld, who had been sitting in the wood and upholstered chair in front of the Presidential desk, wondering what was distracting the President on the floor. They were alone, and it was their weekly early morning meeting. Usually several staff members were present, but Rumsfeld wanted this meeting to be private.
"What?" asked Bush as he remained fixated on the cockroach.
"I said things are not doing well," said Rumsfeld.
"It all depends on how you look at it," said Bush.
"Though I would never admit this in public, I fear that we are on the brink of a civil war," said Rumsfeld.
"I am going to guess that cockroaches are optimistic. That cockroaches do not see gloom and doom," said Bush.
"Excuse me?" said Rumsfeld.
Bush looked up at Donald Rumsfeld, who appeared perplexed.
"Cockroaches have a simple view of things. They want to eat, and they do not want to be eaten. That is a lesson for us," said Bush.
"In what way, sir," said Rumsfeld. Donald Rumsfeld had had conversations like this before with the President, where Bush would come up with some metaphor or perspective that reminded him at times like the utterances of the character Chauncey Gardiner played by Peter Sellers in the feature film Being There. The only difference is that Chauncey Gardiner had mesmerized the nation though a dimwit, whereas Bush mesmerized no one. But he was President, voted in by idiot Americans who believed that they had a leader to lead them. In fact, what America had was a man who surrounded himself with child care and it was the caregivers that were leading the nation. But this was a child with rich and powerful parents, and so the caregivers had to make nice so the child would not have a temper tantrum.
Bush was looking down again at the floor.
"Sir, in what way do cockroaches provide a lesson for us?" asked Rumsfeld again.
"Iraqis are like cockroaches. They want to eat and not be eaten," said Bush. The light brown cockroach was still at the edge of the Oval Office plush carpet sniffing the oak flooring. Bush knew that light brown cockroaches were German cockroaches. German cockroaches in the White House. Damn, how did that happen.
"Not be eaten?" said Rumsfeld.
"They want to be safe," said Bush.
"You state the obvious," said Rumsfeld. Whoops. Rumsfeld knew he betrayed a certain distain for the nearly romper room observations made by the President.
"The obvious is often ignored as too simple to be considered significant," said Bush.
Yeah. OK. Like that was supposed to be deep. Rumsfeld knew all along that feeling safe was more important than the right to vote in a democratic election, except when a nation spontaneously erupts in one major upheaval that demands democracy, an upheaval so fast that it overwhelms the power structure. The problem with Iraq is that it was not fast and the upheaval came from America, not from within. Before America’s invasion, the Iraqis had settled into some kind of Saddam Hussein status quo where everyone knew their place, kept to themselves and got through the day without being blown up. But Rumsfeld had thought that it was possible to jump start the upheaval, feed it and make it happen. But it didn't. That was the failure, and he had concluded that it was now too late. Too many people had power and arms, and there were too many factions. The most articulate way to describe it was anarchy.
"To perfectly honest with you, sir, I miss Saddam Hussein," said Rumsfeld.
"I did not hear you say that. I did not hear you say that," repeated President Bush.
"What I mean is that we need an organized iron fist in Iraq, and we cannot seem to get the Iraqi security forces, cobbled together from all the factions, to be an organized iron fist," said Rumsfeld.
"The Sunnis are more secular than the Shiites," said Bush.
"Yes, but they tend to be more ruthless and do not forget that Al Qaeda is Sunni, not Shia," said Rumsfeld.
"The Sunnis think of power and the Shia think of their religion. I appreciate both perspectives," said Bush.
Where was this going, wondered Rumsfeld.
"The meeting I had with Saddam Hussein, what, thirty years ago to see if we could assist in his war with Iran was very civil. A civil conversation. I could talk to Saddam. He was secular in nature, not religious," said Rumsfeld.
"I don't want to talk about Saddam Hussein. I want to talk about the Sunni. We need the Sunni to be that iron fist you referred to," said Bush.
"Yes, possibly," said Rumsfeld.
"I say we pull our forces back to northern Iraq, to Kurdistan, and let the Sunni and Shia go at it with each other. Like a cockfight," said Bush.
"That would certainly cause chaos," said Rumsfeld.
Bush looked back down at the German cockroach. Still there, waiting patiently. The cockroach lived in a world of chaos, thought Bush. There were no rules. Bush could easily raise his black leather shoe and slam it down on the cockroach, ending its life. Chaos. It is everywhere.
"What is wrong with chaos?" asked President George W. Bush.
"If Iraqis want security, then chaos will certainly not provide it," said Rumsfeld.
"Would you say that there is already chaos in Iraq?" asked Bush.
"No. Iraq has significant problems, but chaos is not one of them," said Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld knew this was a philosophical discussion. Afterall, a house full of kids can be chaotic. It is how you use the word. The word "chaos" was too general. Overused. And Rumsfeld was not about to admit that his military planning had led a nation into the chaos referred to by the President.
"Wrong. There is chaos in Iraq. Besides, the Iranians are starting to piss me off," said Bush.
"Mr. President, I do not feel we should abandon our mission simply because the Iranians are making trouble," said Rumsfeld. It is not like Rumsfeld had not had these very same thoughts. The Iranians were always annoying. A schizophrenic nation with modern-thinking people and religious fanatics. Unfortunately, the religious fanatics remained firmly in control of things. And now this nutcase Iranian president who was more of a nightmare than Hugo Chavez of Venezuela had grabbed the world stage with almost daily pronouncements. It was a sopa opera. Hugo Chavez was dismissible because his public remarks were so brazenly self-serving that he was mocked by most of the intelligentsia of Latin America. But the Iranian President spoke with some sense of sobriety with arguments that sometimes made sense. The guy even had the temerity to send out personal letters to Bush and Blair. Iran gave Rumsfeld a headache. Negotiating with the Iranians was like a Gordian knot, twisted with half logic and stalling tactics and then mixed with a recipe of hope to be dashed again with new demands. There was an old saying in the Middle East that the Israelis and the Iranians were the most difficult negotiators, and the Lebanese were the only ones who could mediate them. That was a very old saying given the current events. Though Rumsfeld admired Lebanese businessmen. They were smart and sensible and always hungered for finding common ground.
"Yoo hoo. Earth to Donald. Earth to Donald. Are you there?" asked Bush.
"Sorry. I was — I was thinking about what you were saying. Maybe you are right. Maybe chaos is like the power of a screaming baby. Everyone runs around trying to deal with the screaming baby. It motivates everyone. We let the Sunnis and the Shia go at it with each other like a cockfight, as you say, then that screaming baby will be dealt with soon enough," said Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld was sorry he said it. On some level, this was true. Maybe a nation had to go through a re-birth, and birth was painful, lethal at times.
"You agree?" asked Bush.
"Yes," said Rumsfeld.
Bush looked down at the cockroach and it was gone. He pushed the chair back to see if he could spot the German cockroach. If there is one thing that was troubling, it was a cockroach roaming around underfoot. It could crawl up your pant legs, get into drawers. They were ugly sons of bitches.
"Anything wrong, sir?" asked Rumsfeld.
"No. No. Just making sure it's safe," said Bush.
"Safe, sir?" said Rumsfeld.
"Nothing. Listen, talk to your guys about pulling back to Kurdistan. The more chaos there is at the doorstep of Iran, the more that makes me feel safe. And I want to feel safe, you understand me, Donald, my good man," said President George W. Bush.
"Yes. I got it," said Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld knew that the Pentagon would resist pulling back to Kurdistan. What the Pentagon wanted to do was pull out completely. Pulling back to Kurdistan would box the military into a northern province. But he would have meetings, and they would all talk, and the Iraqi question would remain unanswered. At least for the time being.
“The White House needs to be exterminated. We need an exterminator. There are cockroaches in the Oval Office, dammit,” said President George W. Bush as he was looking under the Presidential desk.
Donald Rumsfeld sat in his chair quietly waiting to be dismissed. He wanted to be dismissed. There were things to do. Or, more accurately, not do. It would be another day of not doing anything.