Given the widespread narrative from certain right-leaning pundits and media outlets regarding the unrest in the wake of Freddie Gray’s funeral, it’s a bit surprising that once upon a time, one of the most lucid observations of what provokes riots from a beleaguered community came from none other than Donald Rumsfeld.
In a now infamous Q&A session with Pentagon reporters back in 2003, Rumsfeld was increasingly on the defensive, having to address the rapid downward spiral of the Iraq invasion along with growing disapproval of the public.
Footage of Iraqis looting in their own neighborhoods was all over the news, and reporters wanted to know what the U.S. contingency plan was to restore order – or if the Bush Administration had simply failed to take into account this not-hard-to-foresee development.
Reporter: Mr. Secretary, you spoke of the television pictures that went around the world earlier of Iraqis welcoming U.S. forces with open arms. But now television pictures are showing looting and other signs of lawlessness. Are you, sir, concerned that what’s being reported from the region as anarchy in Baghdad and other cities might wash away the goodwill the United States has built?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think the way to think about that is that if you go from a repressive regime that has — it’s a police state, where people are murdered and imprisoned by the tens of thousands — and then you go to something other than that — a liberated Iraq — that you go through a transition period. And in every country, in my adult lifetime, that’s had the wonderful opportunity to do that, to move from a repressed dictatorial regime to something that’s freer, we’ve seen in that transition period there is untidiness, and there’s no question but that that’s not anyone’s choice.
On the other hand, if you think of those pictures, very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime — into the palaces, into the boats, and into the Ba’ath Party headquarters, and into the places that have been part of that repression. And, while no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.
Directly echoing many on the left have said in regards to the Baltimore riots, Rumsfeld made sure to point out that the media often doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to how it portrays citizen unrest:
Rumsfeld: Let me say one other thing. The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, “My goodness, were there that many vases?” (Laughter.) “Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?”
Well said, sir.
[h/t: Sam Biddle at Gawker]