Thursday, December 14, 2006

Rumsfeld Speaks

Donald Rumsfeld took a lot of abuse during his time as Sec Def but I always had a bit of a soft spot for him. Perhaps it was because of the work he did before 9/11 to better the quality of life of the troops. Way back then the military stories in the press seemed to consist of tales of troops having to resort to food stamps to support their families. I can remember reading about Rummy and the effort he put in then to improve the lot of the American soldier. Now that we have a possible replacement in "we won't attack Iran" Gates I'm feeling Rumsfeld's loss more acutely. And he seems to have a had a better grasp of the situation than his critics have given him credit. Here are some excerpts from an interview he gave recently. I'm going to include quite a bit because I think that the message he's putting out is one the administration needs to keep repeating.

--The fact that it's the first war of the 21st century and notably different from World War I or World War II is also a problem in a sense that it is unfamiliar ground. There are not big armies, navies or air forces contesting, going against another with visible results and unambiguous outcomes.

We have, without question, the finest military on the face of the Earth and indeed in the history of the world. We can't lose a battle, and we haven't, and we won't. But the military alone, given the nature of this struggle, this conflict, can't win alone. There is no way the military can prevail because what we're engaged in is, in a very real sense, a battle of ideas, a struggle within the Muslim faith between the overwhelming majority of mainstream Muslims and a relatively small minority of violent extremists that have access to all the modern technology, off-the-shelf stuff, very lethal weapons -- increasingly lethal and dangerous weapons -- and all the technologies of wire transfers and e-mails and the Internet to communicate with each other. So the absence of a good, clear, readily understandable and indeed preferably visible -- through photographs and images -- of a conflict, of a war, of a struggle that is understandable -- the absence of that creates a notably different environment.

--I personally believe that the consequences of allowing the situation in Iraq to be turned over to terrorists would be so severe and not simply because Iraq with its water and oil and wealth and geographic position and population size and history as a haven to plan attacks on the rest of the world, the moderate regimes in the region, the United States would be so consequential; but because the -- I don't -- the effect in Iraq is one thing, the effect in the region is a second thing, but the implications worldwide in terms of the U.S. ability to provide security for the American people and work effectively with our friends, partners and allies would be diminished.

--But if you asked me what my view would be, it would be that the military can't lose, but the military can't win alone, it simply requires political solutions. They've got to have reconciliation in their country. They simply have to take a series of steps, that they've not yet sufficiently taken.

And that it would be like trying -- set aside World War I, set aside World War II and major air, sea and land battles, think more of the Cold War. At any given moment in the Cold War -- which lasted 50 years -- you couldn't say if you're winning or losing, it's very difficult.

--They aren't straight, smooth paths, they're bumpy roads. They're difficult. The enemy has a brain; they're constantly making adjustments. Here -- I mean if you think of the phases of the Cold War when Eurocommunism was in vogue and when people were demonstrating by the millions against the United States, not against the Soviet Union, and the -- and yet, over time, people found the will to -- both political parties, our country, Western European countries, to persist in a way that ultimately led to victory.

The circumstance we're in today is more like that than it is World War II. And people are going to have to get more familiar with that idea. It's not a happy prospect. But there are people in the world who are determined to destabilize moderate Muslim regimes and reestablish a caliphate across this globe, as they are. And anyone who wants to know about it can go on the Internet and read their own words, what their intent is. They are serious, they are deadly. They are not going to surrender. They're going to have be captured or killed. They're going to have to be dissuaded. People are going to have to be dissuaded from supporting them, from financing them, from assisting in the recruitment, from providing havens for them.

And we're in an environment where we have to fight and win a war where the enemy is in countries that we're not at war with. That is a very complicated thing to do. It doesn't happen fast. It means you've got to invest the time and the effort and the ability, which we -- we don't have the institutions, we don't have the organization, we haven't had the training as a society to rapidly develop the skill sets so that the countries that are cooperative with us develop the capacity and the ability to govern their own real estate, which they don't have.

Asked about what he might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight-

--I guess I don't think I would have called it the war on terror. I don't mean to be critical of those who have or did or -- and certainly I've used the phrase frequently. Why do I say that? I say it because the word "war" conjures up World War II more than it does the Cold War, and it creates a level of expectation of victory and an ending within the 30 or 60 minutes of a soap opera. And it isn't going to happen that way.

Furthermore, it's not a war on terror. Terror is a weapon of choice for extremists who are trying to destabilize regimes and impose their -- in the hands of a small group of clerics, their dark vision on all the people that they can control.

So "war on terror" has a problem for me, and I've worked to try to reduce the extent to which that's used, and increase the extent to which we understand it more as a long war or a struggle or a conflict, not against terrorism but against a relatively small number, but terribly dangerous and lethal, violent extremists. I say "violent extremists" because an extremist that goes off in a closet and is extreme is not bothering people. But an extremist who has those views and insists on imposing them on free people strikes at the very heart of what free people are. They're people who want to be able to get up in the morning and go where they want and say what they want and do what they want, and that is exactly the opposite of the vision of violent extremists.

And the -- I guess the second thing I'd say is that maybe there would be a better way to familiarize and help people better understand the tension that exists between too many or too few troops. The people who argue for more troops often, I think, are thinking World War II, and they're thinking the Weinberger Doctrine, which is valid in a conflict between armies and navies and air forces. The problem with it in the context of a struggle against extremists is that the greater your presence, the more it plays into extremists' lives that you're there to take their oil, that you're there to occupy their nation, that you're there to stay and not leave; that you're basically against Islam as opposed to against extremists, violent extremists. And so there's a tension that people who argue for more, more, more -- as I would be in a conventional conflict -- that they fail to recognize that it can have exactly the opposite effect. It can increase recruiting for extremism, it can increase financing for extremists, it can make more persuasive the lies of the extremists that we're there for their oil or for their water or to take over their countries.

And that tension is -- there's no rule book for it. There's no guide book, there's no map that says to General Casey or General Abizaid what they should recommend to the secretary of Defense and the president as to numbers. The fact of the matter is that it is a fact, whether it happens to fly in the face of the popular media or not, but it is a fact that the level of forces that we have had going into Iraq and every month thereafter, including today, are the number of troops that the commanding generals have recommended. I have not increased them or decreased them over the objections of any general who is in a position of authority with respect to that decision.

Is it the right number? I don't know. Do I have a heck of a lot of confidence in those two folks? Yes. Do I think it's probably right? You bet, or I would have overruled it or made a different recommendation to the president.

But I think they have to walk that line, they have to find that balance so that they do not -- there are two centers of gravity. One is in Iraq and the region, the other is here. The more troops you have, the greater the risk that you will be seen as an occupier and that you will feed an insurgency. The more troops you have, particularly American troops -- who are so darn good at what they do -- the more you have, the more they will do things, and the more dependent the Iraqis will become, and the less independent they will become.

If there is a ditch to be dug, an American does not want to sit down and teach an Iraqi how to dig that ditch. He will -- he'll go dig the dad-burned ditch. It'll be a beautiful ditch. But that is not what the task is. The task is get the Iraqis to dig the ditches. And I use it figuratively, obviously.

So you -- on the one hand, you don't want to feed the insurgency. On the other hand, you don't want to create a dependency. So at some point, you've got to take your hand off the bicycle seat. You get the bicycle running down the middle of the street with your youngster on it, and you're pushing and you're holding it up, and you know if you let go -- you go from a full hand to three fingers to two fingers to one finger, and you know if you let go, they might fall. You also know if you don't let go, you're going to end up with a 40-year-old that can't ride a bike. Now, that's not a happy prospect.

Simultaneously, you have the problem here at home. The more troops you have there, the more force protection you need, the more food you need, the more water you need, the more convoys you need, the more airplanes you need, and the more people get killed, the more targets there are. And if -- part of the center of gravity's back here in the United States, and they constantly see more and more people getting killed, Americans getting killed, and they ask themselves, "Well, where are the victories? Where's the land warfare victory? Where's the sea victory? Where's the air victory? Where's the body count? How many of these people are we killing? How many of these people are we capturing? How do we know if we're winning or losing?" And the more people you put in, the more people you're going to get killed.

MR. THOMAS: Biggest disappointment?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I think is the inability to help the free people of the world understand that this new century and the struggle we're engaged in is real, is terribly dangerous to their safety, and regrettably, it is not going to be as easily seen in terms of pitched battles.

MR. THOMAS: Think it'll take another 9/11 to make people wake up?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there are people who have written that this administration is the victim of its success and the fact that there hasn't been another attack in the United States.

I remember when I was -- shortly after September 11th, I met with the Sultan of Oman in a tent, and it must have been 150 degrees. We were just perspiring through everything on our bodies, every piece of clothing we had on. And he basically said, you know, this terrible, terrible thing that's happened may be a blessing in disguise, that it may be the thing that will wake up the world to the danger that these extremists pose before those people get their hands on chemical or biological or nuclear weapons and where they could kill many multiples of what they were able to kill on September 11th. This is a man sitting in a tent in a desert with that perspective and that understanding of extremism and the dangers of extremism. And it did for a short while, but that threat then diminished, in their minds, whereas it not only has not diminished in reality, it is growing because of the advances in technologies.

I mean, you look at the Johns Hopkins exercise with smallpox -- called Dark Winter -- put in, I don't know, three airports in America and something between 800,000 and a million people died within a matter of some number of months or a year from a disease that people are no longer vaccinated against.

So I mean, there are these things that can be done. And anyone who -- now, there's a tendency for a lot of people to be dismissive of all of that, and to do it not just once or twice but repeatedly and to ridicule the -- what was the -- Churchill's phrase, "The Gathering Storm" -- there was a storm gathering, but that there were people in Europe who didn't believe it, who didn't take the storm clouds, the periodic storm clouds and the squalls to constitute a real threat. They felt they were transitory, and, of course, paid the penalty, an enormous penalty in treasure, in life in Europe for that failure to understand the nature of that threat. And I worry that we are in a gathering storm and that we do not, as a society, accept it and that many of the -- particularly the elites of our society, the key opinion leaders, if you will, are -- I don't know -- try to find the right word -- are for whatever reason --

MR. THOMAS: Denial?

SEC. RUMSFELD: -- unwilling or unable to accept what an awful lot of people believe to be the case. And, of course, the penalty for being wrong can be enormous. There can be consequences.

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