Don­ald Rums­feld: The exit in­ter­view

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Cal Thomas

De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald Rums­feld left of­fice Dec. 15, af­ter six tur­bu­lent years of re­build­ing the mil­i­tary for a post-Cold War era, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously over­see­ing ser­vice mem­bers he calls, “the best led, the best-equipped, the best-trained, the most ca­pa­ble [. . .] in the world.” As we met in his of­fice on the 65th an­niver­sary of the at­tack on Pearl Har­bor, he was re­flec­tive about the past and wor­ried about the fu­ture.

Mr. Rums­feld re­grets us­ing the phrase “the war on ter­ror”: “I say that be­cause the word ‘war’ con­jures up World War II more than it does the Cold War. It cre­ates a level of ex­pec­ta­tion of vic­tory and an end­ing within 30 or 60 min­utes [like] a soap opera. It isn’t go­ing to hap­pen that way.”

It’s not a war on ter­ror, he adds, be­cause “Ter­ror is a weapon of choice for ex­trem­ists who are try­ing to desta­bi­lize regimes and [through] a small group of cler­ics, im­pose their dark vi­sion on all the peo­ple they can con­trol.”

Mr. Rums­feld be­lieves much of the pub­lic still does not un­der­stand the in­ten­sity of the strug­gle. He says he hasn’t read the en­tire Iraq Study Group Re­port, just the sum­mary and news ac­counts, but has this take on the con­flict: “I per­son­ally be­lieve that the con­se­quences of al­low­ing the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq to be turned over to ter­ror­ists would be so se­vere [. . .] be­cause Iraq would be­come a haven to plan at­tacks on the mod­er­ate coun­tries in the re­gion and the United States. [It would] di­min­ish the abil­ity of the United States to pro­vide pro­tec­tion for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Many com­men­ta­tors have tried to com­pare this war with World War II, or Viet­nam. Mr. Rums­feld, how­ever, prefers the Cold War com­par­i­son be­cause, like the Cold War “which lasted 50 years, you couldn’t say [in the mid­dle of it] whether you were win­ning or los­ing. There aren’t straight and smooth paths. There are bumpy roads. It’s dif­fi­cult. The en­emy has a brain. They’re con­stantly mak­ing ad­just­ments.”

About op­po­si­tion, Mr. Rums­feld re­called a time, “when Euro­com­mu­nism was in vogue and peo­ple were demon­strat­ing by the mil­lions against the United States, not against the Soviet Union. And yet, over time, peo­ple found the will — both po­lit­i­cal par­ties and West­ern Euro­pean coun­tries — to per­sist in a way that ul­ti­mately led to vic­tory.”

Mr. Rums­feld’s im­pli­ca­tion is clear: the same left­ists who op­posed U.S. strat­egy in stand­ing against com­mu­nism now stand in op­po­si­tion to Amer­ica’s po­si­tion against Is­lam­ofas­cism. If they were wrong about com­mu­nism, might they also be wrong about to­day’s en­emy?

Mr. Rums­feld re­flected upon World War II, which, as a boy, he re­mem­bers as a time when the en­tire coun­try got be­hind the ef­fort. To crit­ics, who have called for more troops in Iraq, he says, “[Such peo­ple] are of­ten think­ing World War II and the [for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Cas­par] Wein­berger Doc­trine, which is valid in a con­flict be­tween armies, 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 ex­trem­ist lies that you’re there to take their oil, to oc­cupy their na­tion, stay and not leave; that you’re against Is­lam, as op­posed to be­ing against vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists.”

His great­est con­cern is that the pub­lic is not suf­fi­ciently pre­pared men­tally for an­other do­mes­tic ter­ror at­tack. He says there are “two cen­ters of grav­ity. One is in Iraq and the re­gion; the other is here.” The “here” to him cen­ters on the way the me­dia re­port the story and fo­cus mainly on op­po­si­tion to ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies and not on the ob­jec­tives of the en­emy, who he de­scribes this way: “They’re deadly. They’re not go­ing to sur­ren­der. They’re go­ing to have to be cap­tured or killed. They’re go­ing to have to be dis­suaded [and] peo­ple are go­ing to have to be dis­suaded from sup­port­ing them, from fi­nanc­ing them and as­sist­ing in their re­cruit­ment, pro­vid­ing havens for them.”

“We’re in an en­vi­ron­ment where we have to fight and win a war where the en­emy is in coun­tries we are not at war with,” he says. “That is a very com­pli­cated thing to do. It doesn’t hap­pen fast. It means you have to in­vest the time, ef­fort and abil­ity.”

Mr. Rums­feld seems to agree with the Iraq Study Group’s con­clu­sion that Iraqis and their gov­ern­ment must ul­ti­mately run their own coun­try. He likens it to an adult hold­ing a child’s bi­cy­cle seat for fear the child will fall: “You know if you don’t [even­tu­ally] let go, you’ll end up with a 40-yearold who can’t ride a bike. Now that’s not a happy prospect.”

He’ll con­sider writ­ing a book about his ex­pe­ri­ences over many years in Wash­ing­ton, and adds about to­day’s vol­un­teer mil­i­tary: “When the uni­form per­son­nel look back five, 10, 15 years from now, they’re go­ing to know they’ve given th­ese folks an op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed in an en­vi­ron­ment that is not a re­pres­sive po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, but a free po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.”

That legacy has yet to be de­ter­mined. As with the Cold War, the end won’t come on the watch of those pres­i­dents and de­fense sec­re­taries who fought it. Don­ald Rums­feld, a cold and hot war­rior, un­der­stands the en­emy. His prin­ci­pled stand against them will be proved right.

Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist. The com­plete tran­script of the Rums­feld in­ter­view can be found on­line at wash­ing­ton­times.com/com­men­tary.

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