On April 11th–the day of the most widespread and uncontrolled looting in Iraq–Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld produced one of the more sour notes of the nascent postwar period. As CNN aired scenes of frantic mobs hauling off or smashing anything not nailed down, Rumsfeld, on the other side of a split screen, testily implied that the chaos was to be expected. “Stuff happens,” he huffed, explaining that “free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.” After all, he noted, national transitions are generally accompanied by “untidiness.” And the situation in Iraq, Rumsfeld added, is “untidy. And freedom’s untidy.”

Untidy? Crowds ransacking hospitals, banks and the national museum? It wasn’t neat, sure, but “untidy” seemed an understatement. Yet it turns out that Rumsfeld finds much in the world “untidy.”

§ On fighting terrorism: “I think we’re unlikely to be successful in changing the nature of human beings. That’s for others. What we need to do is to recognize that we live in a world that’s a dangerous world, it’s an untidy world.” (September 20, 2001)

§ On violent confrontations between US allies in Afghanistan: “It’s an untidy situation, but I’m not staying up at night worrying about it.” (November 30, 2001)

§ On a botched Special Forces operation in which dozens of Afghan troop loyal to the pro-US government were either killed or detained for days: “I don’t think it is an error. I think it’s just a fact that circumstances on the ground in Afghanistan are difficult. It’s untidy.” (February 21, 2002)

§ On why much of the “war on terror” has not received press coverage: “This is a most unusual conflict. It is not a set of battle lines…. It’s terribly untidy.” (March 4, 2002)

§ On whether other world events distract the Administration from its war on terrorism: “It’s a big world. It’s a complicated world. It’s a dangerous world. It’s an untidy world.” (June 3, 2002)

§ On justifying military spending increases: “I hate to, you know, fuss at folks–well, I really don’t. We live in a dangerous and untidy world.” (June 5, 2002)

§ On reports of warlord-sponsored violence against aid workers in Afghanistan, including the gang-rape of an American: “I hope there was nothing I said that suggested that Afghanistan was a perfectly peaceful, placid place. It isn’t. It’s untidy.” (June 26, 2002)

§ On why Americans should not be judged by the International Criminal Court: “The world is a more peaceful and stable place, as dangerous and untidy as it may be, because of the United States of America.” (July 2, 2002)

§ On the lack of security in Afghanistan: “It’s an untidy place. But–and it’s not unique to that country. There are plenty of countries where people get shot at. I mean, I’m from Chicago.” (July 29, 2002)

§ On why Iraq was targeted for “regime change,” not other nations posing an arguably greater threat: “The policy of the United States has been regime change for Iraq…. It has not been that for some other countries. And I guess life’s just untidy.” (July 30, 2002)

§ On the continuing lack of security in Afghanistan: “And because it’s reasonably democratic, it’s kind of untidy. And one looks at the untidiness and says, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s untidy.’ Well, my goodness, democracy is untidy. Freedom is untidy. Liberation is untidy.” (August 9, 2002)

§ On the number of Iraqi POWs taken early in the war: “It’s untidy. We get mixed reports from different places, and I wouldn’t want to start adding them up.” (March 21, 2003)

§ On continuing resistance in southern Iraq: “Most of the resistance has ended in the Basra area, but there will, I suspect, continue to be some dead-enders who will continue to fire at coalition forces. The oil wells in the south have been secured, quote-unquote, but there again, there could be some untidiness as we go forward.” (March 23, 2003)

Rumsfeld’s obsession with “untidiness”–rather than with “tidiness”–appears to have rubbed off on Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who often stands at the podium shoulder-to-shoulder with Rumsfeld during Pentagon briefings. At an April 17 “town hall” meeting at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld was asked what “could be done to turn around the media’s overwhelming negative coverage of the war.” Rumsfeld replied, “I think there’s not anything you can do, with our Constitution, which is a good one, that allows for free speech and free press, about it except to-you know, penalize the papers and the television and the newspapers that don’t give good advice and reward those people that do.” He then asked Myers if he had anything to add. “It’s untidy at times,” Myers said, “but we have a great Constitution.”