Why Not the Coalition of the Shilling?

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

December 16, 2004

Duke Rummy the Domineering is not used to being challenged, so he's probably still smarting from his bruising brush with reality in Kuwait.

He has surrounded himself with so many sycophantic generals that it took a grunt from Tennessee to point out that the defense secretary has no clothes - or armor for his troops. He has taken the greatest military in the history of the world and pushed it to the breaking point.

Some people think he's toast, now that conservatives like John McCain, Chuck Hagel and Bill Kristol have turned on him - and now that the grumbles are getting louder in the military, from Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf and the TV generals to the rank-and-file reservists who have other jobs to go back to.

(Besides, what can Rummy do to punish reservists who push back - send them to Iraq?)

But, hey, it's Christmas. Overcome with the spirit of giving, I'd like to give Rummy a lifeline to escape the flak over armor.

It's amazing that President Bush, who planned to run his administration like a business, and Rummy, who was a chief executive himself, haven't already come up with this brainstorm. They're always touting the private sector, even for fixing Social Security.

They should take a lesson from their own playbook and reach out to corporate America. If Rummy can't adequately supply the Army, maybe I.B.M. and Xerox can.

Why should it just be parents of kids in Iraq who send them compasses and Kevlar vests? Everybody wants to support our troops.

If the Olympics can attract top corporate sponsors, why can't Rummy's Global War on Terrorism? Bring it on, Bank One!

Picture this: a truck rumbling across the desert on the evening news, completely armored and emblazoned with golden arches. Or a fleet of Visa Humvees. You know Donald Trump would love to slap his name on a few Chinooks. The 82nd Trumpborne.

And what about product placement? When soldiers give their Christmas greetings on Fox News or MSNBC, they could be holding cans of Pepsi or calling home on Samsung phones. Why merely send their love when they could be writing love letters in the sand on Apple computers?

Like athletes or Nascar drivers, they could sell every inch of their body: STP helmets, Nike boots, Staples "Yeah, we got that" dog tags, Starbucks M.R.E.'s, CamelBak canteens by Camels, Sony laser target designators.

All those old, out-of-shape reservists being dragged back by Rummy would be great pitchmen for arthritis medication. And Celebrex night vision goggles.

The really big corporate sponsors might set up some hospitality yurts dispensing Wellbutrin in the desert. Sure, security's so bad that Rummy was afraid to go any farther than Kuwait last week, but Michael Eisner might want to visit with some Disney imagineers and check out a different kind of Fantasyland: the neocon variety. Mr. Eisner could use some good publicity.

In this day and age, when every sports arena has been hideously renamed for some corporate entity - like Minute Maid Park in Houston, Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland, Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and FedEx Field in D.C. - Rummy could easily think big.

How about the American Express Green Zone? Instead of those four huge facsimiles of Saddam's head that adorned the Iraqi Republican Palace, why not put up big heads (and necks) of Geoffrey, the Toys "R" Us giraffe?

Whole units could begin shopping themselves on eBay and trolling for corporate sponsors, just as the Dartmouth swimming team did in 2002 with the pitch, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a piece of N.C.A.A. Division I collegiate memorabilia."

What's a measly swimming team compared with the thrill of ponying up for the Third Infantry Division of Fort Stewart, Ga., the Army unit that conducted the famous "thunder run" and took Baghdad - and is now about to be redeployed in Iraq?

Rummy's a little distracted trying to get his silly space shield, which fizzled yet again in a test yesterday, and fighting hard for his job, so it may take him awhile to focus on privatizing. Meanwhile, we still have that pesky armor shortage.

So how about Tommy "Stop Writing Books and Finish the War" Franks, Paul "You Disbanded the Iraqi Army, Dummy" Bremer and George "Slam-Dunk" Tenet taking off those preposterous Medals of Freedom and contributing them. Just as Scarlett and Melanie took off their gold wedding rings for the Confederate cause, those medals can be melted down for a little Humvee armor.

With help like that and some corporate support - maybe Levitra could even sponsor his next trip to Iraq - Rummy could get the Army he wants and wishes to have sooner rather than later. Like, while we're actually fighting a war.

The sponsors could help a lot in keeping the Army in top shape. After all, our troops could be stuck there for years, perhaps decades. And could even wind up defending an Iraqi ayatollah.

With all the foreign companies investing, we could finally have a real coalition. The coalition of the shilling. No German troops, but why not a Passat partnership?

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com