In the News and On the Air: Great Unknowns

Getting to Know Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation caused NPR's John Hendren to recall what is perhaps the secretary's most famous public statement:

"As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know."

This is one of the Rumsfeld quotes that the writer Hart Seelye turned into poetry.

Rumsfeld was suggesting that Iraq was dangerous to the United States, even if we didn't know of specific evidence.

After the U.S. invaded, Rumsfeld's job turned into an effort to know what he could know about the lengthening war.

In a 2005 interview, he told NPR about an "Iraq room" where people collected statistics about the conflict, though Rumsfeld acknowledged there was a limit to what could be known.

A Knowing Stand. We do know that Rumsfeld's departure was welcome news to Republican Congressman Chris Shays.

Shays wants a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq.

In our interview this morning, he says, "It was crazy for us, by July and August, to say staying the course made sense." That's what he knows, and it resonated with voters. Unlike so many Republicans, Shays won re-election Tuesday.

Bipartisanship? Who knows! How do we know if there will be bipartisanship in Washington?

Democratic Senator Harry Reid, who's on the verge of becoming the Senate Majority Leader, told us he spoke by phone with President Bush yesterday.

He characterized his remarks to the President this way: "The Republicans were so ideologically bent that they wouldn't allow a moderate to survive in their own party. And I know that the only way we can make progress is on a bi-partisan basis."

Translation: We can be bi-partisan if the other side would only try harder.

At a news conference, President Bush declined to repeat his partisan attacks on Democrats as soft on security.

But he did say, "I thought they were wrong not making sure our professionals had the tools."

Translation: We can be bipartisan if the other side would only agree with me.

Both men listed items where they can, indeed, work together.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden says one of those issues is immigration, on which the President is closer to Democrats than to some in his own party.

As Rumsfeld might say, their prospects for success are a "known unknown."

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