(Mr. Cope is pleased to bring you a special holiday presentation of the immortal classic, A Christmas Carol. His only wish is that the descendants of Charlie Dickens forgive him for the liberties he has taken with their great-great-great-great-granpappy's story.)
Though a chill and sodden fog had fallen upon the city, obscuring the marble monuments, the Halls of Power, even the consulting dens of K Street, that immense and familiar five-pointed star aside the river Potomac blazed bright with industry in the gloom. "A good evening to you, Secretary Rumsfeld, sir. And may your holiday be a merry affair."
"Calling it a day so soon, Lt. Cratchit? If you examine your enlistment papers closely, you will find I can extend your service for as long as I deem suitable. Now, back to your cubicle, if you please. I want those PR-adjusted Fallujah casualty figures on my desk before you leave!"
"But, sir! It's Christmas Eve! My family trusts me to bring in a succulent bird, a few yams ... possibly a cranberry or two. And my little Timmy needs a bone marrow transplant, so I must stop at County Welfare and fill out the paperwork for medical assistance before they close, sir."
"Christmas Eve? Baloney! Horse Puckey! That's 'Old Europe' claptrap, Cratchit, and I'll have none of it in my Defense Department! And as to your Timmy, he should feel fortunate to sacrifice for the bigger picture. Are you entirely certain he's on our side, soldier?"
"When he's feeling up to it, sir. As a point of fact, if he weren't always playing "Blackhawk Down" with those depleted uranium shell casings you gave me as a Christmas bonus last year, I suspect he wouldn't need this dratted procedure."
"Ah, so you're a doctor now, is that what you're saying?"
"Not at all, sir. Oh, and sir, we have another request for more Humvee armor plating. How should I respond?"
"'How to respond,' that's what you're asking. 'Will I approve more armor plating?' you want to know. Cratchit, allow me to tune you in here. You go to war with the army you have, not the army we'd have if we had the army you army people think you're joining! You tell those National Guard blighters to sit on their dinner trays if it's more armor plating they want!"
"Yes, sir. Certainly, sir."
Much later, the clock in the hall chimed midnight as Rumsfield, settled into his bed, was shock and awed from slumber by the tinkle and jingle of innumerable medals, as though they dangled from the chest of an old soldier who had not entirely faded away.
"Who goes there?" he hissed. "What nightmare still prowls a Georgetown townhouse at this hour?" Rumsfeld pulls the down comforter over his nose so that only his chicken-wire spectacles and Brylcreemed scalp peek above the quilt.
"It is I, Donald. Colin. Your co-conspirator." The merest shadow of a man formed in a darkened corner, shimmering faintly like the dissipating smoke over a Baghdad car bomb.
"Powell? Can I believe you aren't an undigested bit of buffalo wing? A blot of Grey Poupon on a pretzel? A crumb of Monty Jack string cheese or a fragment of underdone pigs-in-a-blanket? Pooh! I should know better than to eat at any Condi Rice party!"
"Indeed, 'tis I, Rummy. This apparition before you spoke ruinous lies to the U.N. General Assembly, based upon faulty intelligence provided by rapacious neo-cons and scheming corporate thieves. Could any ill-prepared hors-d'-oeuvre say the same?"
"But ... Colin. You're gone. Kaput-ski! Ashcan of History-ized! I, myself, was present when Master Dick instructed Georgie to 'lose the spook'! I was given to understand you are haunting the ladies' luncheon circuit along with George Tenet and Paul O'Neill."
"You write me off too quickly, my old frien ... er ... fellow administration figure. Why, just today, I signed a book deal with St. Martin's Press. Seven figures and a lecture tour. Oooooooooooo. And wait 'til you read what I have to say about you, Donald. Scary!"
"May you boil in your own pudding, phantom! You frighten me not with your memoirs! There is only one man under Heaven whose graces I care to be in, and I happen to know the last book he cracked was My Pet Goat, several years hence! Now, scat! If this is the worst you can do, my future is as secure as the Green Zone!"
"Beware, Rumsfeld! Do not make light of my presence! I come to herald the appearance of Three Spirits. The Ghost of Quagmires Past ... he's due at oh-one-hundred. Then will come the Ghost of Endless Occupation ... and an uglier wraith there never was ... followed by the Ghost of Tattered Legacies! You can not ignore them, Don."
"Powell, have you forgotten so soon how adept I can be at ignoring people when I set my mind to it? I ignored Shinseki, didn't I? I ignored Richard Clarke. I ignored more CIA situation papers than you can imagine, and I ignored you! Don't tell me I can't ignore your piddling oogey boogeys"
"Remember this, Donald. We wear the chains we forge in public life. It's known as the 'Pottery Barn Rule' ... you break it, you bought it. Ooooooooooo!"
And ignore them, he did. The Spirits came, each at its appointed hour, and the Spirits left, each more exasperated than the last. Even when the Ghost of Endless Occupation lifted its skirts to reveal the ragged and ravenous children, a boy and a girl, huddling in the rubble of an Iraqi crater, the fierce fires of revenge raging in their hollowed eyes, Rumsfeld was unmoved. "You blow the hell out of what you have," he told the specter. "Not what you might wish you had."
When sun broke, he scrambled out of bed, refreshed and untroubled without even a hint of conscience. The spirits of the previous night were entirely forgotten--though, for reasons he couldn't explain, he jotted down a memo to himself regarding an inexplicable desire to be installed on the board of directors of St. Martin's Press.
Almost as an afterthought, he called an old associate on the Halliburton team and asked that a precooked turkey portion, shrink-wrapped in brown gravy with a side of strained yams, be sent posthaste to the home of one Lt. Bob Cratchit. "Bill it to the Department of Homeland Security, good fellow. And don't scrimp on the overcharge!"
Then, with nog in hand and no regrets, he curled up before a crackling bowl game. "God bless Us, and not Them!"