DAVID Dimbleby's half-hour interview of Donald Rumsfeld on BBC television at a peak hour on Tuesday night was put on as an Iraq Special at such short notice that even the daily listings in some British newspapers did not include it. Given Mr Rumsfeld's importance it would be interesting to know why the BBC made so little of its scoop - and fascinating to know why the US Defense Secretary agreed to give the interview at this particular moment. Viewers who tuned in saw a low-key Rumsfeld, very much on his guard and offering almost none of the indiscreet or incomprehensible sound-bites which have been such a feature of his press conferences. In fact Mr Rumsfeld almost managed to convey the impression that he was not such an important person as Mr Dimbleby thought: That's out of my lane was his reponse to one question about Iraq; Not for me, for the President was another; and at one point he said, You're asking me whether I agree with the President's policies. I do. Mr Dimbleby restrained from responding, as he might have done, But weren't they your policies in the first place?
It was all rather odd. One got the impression that the interview was designed to soften Mr Rumsfeld's image at a time that he has become the unacceptable face of America's arrogance. He even managed to smile when Dimbleby quoted Jose Maria Aznar's advice to President Bush that Europe needs A lot of Colin Powell and very little of Donald Rumsfeld.