When asked to verify a British account of meetings at a summer villa north of Baghdad between American officials and "some members of the insurgency," as NBC's Tim Russert fashionably put it, Donald Rumsfeld disputed only one assertion: the number of meetings said to have taken place. The Times of London counted two, but "there have probably been many more than that," the secretary of Defense replied, launching into a secretarial defense of "reaching out to the people who are not supporting the (Iraqi) government."
Can we take a roll call of these "people" who are "not supporting" the Iraqi government?
According to the Times report -- which, again, Rumsfeld let stand, correcting only that one small detail -- it seems that an American delegation, including senior military and intelligence officers, a congressional staffer and an employee of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, has met probably multiple times with non-supportive people, including representatives of Ansar al-Sunna, the Islamic Army in Iraq, the Iraqi Liberation Army, Jaish Mohammed, Thawarat al-Ishreen, the Shoura Council of Mujahideen and "other smaller factions." In other words, some number of U.S. officials have sat down to tea with some number of Islamic terrorists -- or, as they are now officially known, "people who are not supporting the government."
There are two absolutely mind-boggling aspects to this story. The first is that such meetings even took place. Aren't we the people who don't negotiate with terrorists? The ones who voted George W. "You're-Either-with-Us-or-Against-Us" Bush back into office? Apparently not. Or, if we are, something has changed to the point that such lines in the sand don't matter anymore. Additionally mind-boggling is the fact that practically no one in the world has noticed the change, or considered its disastrous ramifications.
After all, who are these groups we apparently had in for tea? They may not exactly register with the Chamber of Commerce, but Ansar al-Sunna, for example, is known to be either an offshoot of or an alias for Ansar al-Islam, a post-9/11 jihadist group believed to have ties with Iran and Al-Qaeda. Moreover, Ansar al-Sunna, which officially opened shop in 2003, is said to be linked to the Zarqawi network. Among the many bestial acts it is believed to have committed in the name of Allah are last year's murders of 12 Nepalese laborers -- one beheaded with a knife and 11 shot in the back of the head, with their point of death on perpetual Internet display -- as well as 22 American servicemen, Iraqi soldiers and civilian contractors, suicide-bombed to death as they sat down to lunch in a Mosul mess tent a few days before Christmas.
Islamic Army in Iraq has achieved its own measure of bloody infamy: the murder last August of Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni. It also claims the shoot-down of a civilian helicopter that killed 11 passengers earlier this year, including six Americans. The lone survivor, a Bulgarian pilot, emerged from the videotaped crash injured but alive before being shot dead to cries of "Allahu akbar" (Allah is great).
If "Jaish Mohammed" is the same as "Jaish-e-Mohammed," U.S. officials sat down with still another gang of thugs -- this one Pakistani-based -- with ties to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. As for the Shoura Council of Mujahideen, which the Times described as "lesser known," a Google search turned up a possible clue at ArabicNews.com. The Web site reported that the "Iraqi Mujahideen Shoura Council" was the group responsible for kidnapping Douglas Wood, the Australian engineer recently rescued by American and Iraqi forces. If these slightly different names stand for the same group, it could well be that while these mujahideen were holding an Australian captive, they were also dunking crumpets with American brass.
In other words, that was some tea party the United States of America threw. If this guest list is legit, it represents a ghastly capitulation to terrorists and a strategic victory for terrorism -- living proof that it's possible to kill and behead and hack and dismember and terrify your way to a peace parlay with the U.S.A. This suggests that we may now be seeking an accommodation with Islamic terror networks rather than their obliteration or even containment. And that suggests a sea change in strategy, vision and soul.
But maybe, after almost four years into this brutal war, that sea change is already behind us.
For what is also remarkable about these no-longer-secret talks is how unremarkable their revelation has been. Talking with terrorists is no longer taboo. Come Hamas, come Hezbollah, come Ansar al-Sunna: America is pouring tea.