By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2006 – The innovative spirit is helping America win the war on terror, but it will remain a long, hard battle against a deadly, thinking foe, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told students at the Air University today. Rumsfeld spoke to the students at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. At the end of the Cold War, many accused the United States of "taking a holiday from history," he said. Americans were persuaded, he said, that emerging threats were exaggerated or were someone else's problem or "would eventually go away if we just left them alone." He said that sentiment was also popular just before World War II.
But with the ruthless enemy facing the West today, Americans, "cannot afford - and indeed could not survive - another holiday from history."
He said the world has seen the nature of this new enemy. "They target women and children and use them as human shields," he said.
The terror groups have murdered tens of thousands of people - mostly Muslims. "They train their supporters to claim torture when apprehended," Rumsfeld said. "They manipulate the media and doctor photos of casualties to inflame Western public opinion. They seek every opportunity to lie and distort the coalition's missions in Afghanistan in Iraq and elsewhere."
And they are good at these distortions, the secretary said. Al Qaeda and other affiliated groups have media committees that meet to decide how they can lie and stretch the truth to suit their ideology. "Their battlefield is not just Baghdad or Kabul, but American living rooms and television screens," Rumsfeld said. "The center of gravity of this war is very much in Washington, D.C., and it's in the capitals across the world."
The secretary said there is no way coalition forces can lose militarily against these terrorists. There is also no way to win against the terrorists solely using the military. "It takes more than military means," he said. "And it takes some time."
Rumsfeld noted that everyone in attendance for his remarks is a student of history. "You know better than many, that what is being undertaken in Afghanistan and Iraq has to be one of history's most difficult tasks," he said.
The kinds of changes the war on terror needs to create are not the kind that can happen overnight, the secretary said. The Afghan government has been in power for about three years, he pointed out, and the Iraqi government has been in office for around 150 days. "That's less than a baseball season," the secretary said. "Think of that. And yet we're impatient. I'm impatient. Everyone's impatient."
Decades of dictatorial rule held down the societal dynamics that Iraqis are now working to develop, the secretary said. "Saddam Hussein did not reward people for being entrepreneurs and making decisions on their own," he said. "Those people were put in jail or killed. They don't have the experience base that's needed yet, and it will take some time to develop that."
To bring those changes about, he explained, the coalition has to make it worthwhile for the people to side with democracy. "For each student who attends a new school that coalition forces build, there is a parent who sees potential for their child's future," Rumsfeld said. "For each house that receives clean, running water and electricity for the first time, there is a tangible incentive to keep that house free of extremists or weapons that would place it at risk."
As they see life getting better, Afghan and Iraqi citizens will want the progress to continue, Rumsfeld told the audience. "The more that Afghans and Iraqis take the lead in securing their countries from their nation's enemies, the more encouraged the people will become that the wave of violence in their country ultimately can be defeated - as it has been defeated in other nations over time in the past," he said.
Afghans and Iraqis "don't want to be turned over to the beheaders, the hostage-takers the terrorists and the 21st century fascists who seek to do them harm," Rumsfeld said. But the struggle is a long way from being over, he acknowledged.
"This is a global struggle against violent extremism," he said. "It will be long, and it will be hard. I wish it were otherwise."