Rumsfeld on the war
The following remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld were delivered at the American Spectator Annual Dinner on Nov. 16.
Throughout our history, there have always been spirited debates about what our country`s responsibilities are or should be — even back in the very early days of the Revolution. Indeed, there`s been a lively debate in every decade of my adult life — throughout the Cold War, before. And to be sure, there is heated debate today.
Many of you may be aware that I keep a photograph on my desk under glass. It`s a satellite image taken at night of the Korean peninsula. And I think they`re going to put one up, if they have one. It`s powerful. I often give it to foreign dignitaries when they visit my office. It`s evidence of [the late editor of the Wall Street Journal`s editorial pages] Bob Bartley`s vision.
And as you can see, in the south, below the Demilitarized Zone, the land is bright with energy and life. In the north, that one pinprick of light is the capital — of Pyongyang in North Korea. The same people in the north and south, the same resources in the North and the South — no difference. The difference is that in the south, they have a free political system and a free economic system — and that that freedom has unleashed the power of human ingenuity to the great benefit of the South Korean people.
In the North, with a repressive dictatorship, a command economy, the people suffer starvation. They are taking people into the North Korean military that are four feet, 10 inches high and less than a hundred pounds because of malnutrition in that country.
The transformation of South Korea — from a poor, war-torn, war-ravaged nation with no experience with democracy into the 10th-largest economy on the face of the Earth today was an effort that took a war, and it took decades. It required patience. It required perseverance — by both the United States and by the Korean people, who eventually built a thriving society from war-torn rubble — just as Germany and Japan did after World War II.
I can remember being in Seoul — oh, I don`t know, six, eight, 10, 12 months ago, and I was in the top of a tall building, and the Korean — maybe it was longer now, maybe 10 or 12 months — the Korean parliament was just voting on whether or not they should send any troops into Iraq to help the coalition. And I was on about the eighth or 10th floor, and there was a reception and people were milling around, having a drink and talking, and a woman reporter — I don`t know, 40, 45 years old — came up to me and said, `May I ask you some questions?` I said, `Sure.` And she said, `Why in the world should Korea — the Korean people send their young people halfway across the world to Iraq to get killed or wounded?` And I looked at her and thought to myself, `She obviously doesn`t know much about the Korean War.` And I thought — I had just come from laying a wreath at the Korean War Memorial there and seeing the name of a friend from high school who was killed there actually on the last day of the war — and I said to her, `Look out there. Look at what this country`s done. Look at the opportunity people have. Look at you. That would not have happened if people had asked that question in the United States and said, `Why in the world should we send American troops over to Korea, halfway around the world, to get killed or wounded?` And it`s important that she understand that. It`s important that we all understand that.
In the struggle we face, perseverance — may be even more important today. This is the first war of the 21st century. It`s different. And even after several years of this war, it`s not well understood. It`s unfamiliar to the American people and to most of the people of the world. There are no armies, no navies, no air forces for our military to go out and soundly defeat in pitched battles on land, sea or air, only rather shadowy networks of vicious extremists who kill other Muslims — for the most part — kill innocent men, women and children — who attack elected governments in an attempt to reestablish a caliphate, and who are increasingly successful at systematically manipulating the world media — with the goal, the hope, the expectation, and periodically the success, of weakening public will of free people.
The American people are still adjusting to the nature of this new struggle and the need eventually to adapt to a longer view. We live in an era — and a culture — that`s accustomed to relatively short conflicts, fast action, quick resolutions.
The relatively slow progress in a country like Afghanistan and Iraq is not easily described in a few minutes on an evening newscast. Conversely, the images of suicide bombers, violent attacks by extremists, are gripping and readily understood.
The idea of `war,` for many, is a vision of large armies and navies and air forces in direct combat, not a daily struggle to build local security forces and defend against unpredictable attacks by small pockets of extremists. This new reality — and this new century — will require that all of us better explain the importance of the conflict in which we`re engaged and work to adjust expectations to be more in keeping with the pace of the Cold War than of the more dramatic, World War II-type victories.
Our challenge is made more difficult by an enemy that is as cunning as it is deadly. They have media committees devoted to propaganda. They send out video teams to take film of attacks on our forces and get our networks to put them on the air. They use the Internet to recruit supporters and to turn any event — any misstep — to their favor.
But all the skillfulness of the enemy, their greatest vulnerability is the truth. That is where they are vulnerable. And the truth is that the vast majority of Muslims do not support them — or their violence. Indeed they strongly oppose the carnage that extremists are inflicting on other Muslims. Most mothers do not want their children to grow up to be suicide-bombers. Only a small minority support the cruel dictatorship — the radical Caliphate which would govern them and the world.
America, by contrast, is a force for good in this world. And if Americans persevere — (applause). It`s striking that that`s not said very often, is it? (Laughter.) It should be. And if Americans persevere and help mainstream Muslims succeed in building relatively free and relatively safe societies in the region of the world that incubates extremism, then extremists simply cannot and will not succeed.
Despite all the noise, all the efforts to blame America for the world`s troubles, America is not what`s wrong with this world.
Last week, President Bush named the second recipient of the Medal of Honor since the War on Terror began. Marine Corporal Jason Dunham joined Army Sergeant 1st Class Paul Ray Smith in receiving this highest honor. (Applause, cheers.) Both men sacrificed themselves to save their fellow soldiers. Jason Dunham and Paul Ray Smith — are the names that define valor on the battlefield.
Today America is the freest society on the face of the earth precisely because men and women in uniform have stood guard, stormed beaches, offered their lives for their comrades, for their country, and in defense of the truths that our founders believed were self-evident. Each time, the struggle was hard. We forget that, that it has been hard. Each time, many preferred that someone other than America take the lead — but when they searched, they found no takers.
Like the Cold War, this struggle against extremism will be long. But we owe it to the troops fighting abroad to recognize our responsibilities, to understand the consequences — the consequences of failure, and let there be no doubt, dire consequences of failure, of failing to defeat this enemy.
Many years ago, Ronald Reagan explained his strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union. He said, `My idea` — and he was criticized for it. He said — of course he was criticized for a lot of good things. He said, `My idea of American policy towards the Soviet Union is simple. It is this: We win, they lose.` (Applause.) And that thought is just as true today. We need to stop thinking about exit strategies and focus on success. (Applause.) Not only the success and the safety of American people is at stake, but so too is the cause of human freedom.
So as the wounded troops here — let me say again we thank you for your service. Please know that despite politics, despite debates, the great sweep of human history is for freedom, for free people and free markets, as Bob Bartley would say, and America is on the side of freedom. So thanks to you. Thanks to your courage. Thanks for your sacrifice. Freedom will prevail.
God bless you all. (Applause.)