By Jim Garamone
Dec. 10, 2006 – A soldier in Mosul told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld he was worried because the American people seemed to have lost the combined will they had immediately following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The secretary, who visited Iraq to thank the troops before he steps down from office, allowed that this is true. "In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the American people came together and were united in their concern about our country," he said.
But in the years since, there have been no big land, sea or air battles that grab the attention of the American people, Rumsfeld said. The battle against a shadowy enemy is much more complex and less familiar than any conflict America has been involved with before, he explained.
He said the United States has also been fortunate that there hasn't been another attack on the scale of Sept. 11 in the country. The farther removed some people get from the events of Sept. 11, the more the cohesion and solidarity the American people felt during that period dissipates, Rumsfeld said.
Part of the reason this feeling has dissipated is because there have been no more attacks in the United States. There have been terror attacks in other parts of the world - Madrid, London, Bali and Russia, to name just a few.
The war on terror, Rumsfeld said, is like the Cold War. During the Cold War, public opinion ebbed and flowed. "Millions of people demonstrated against the United States, not against the Soviet Union," he said. "They acted as if the Soviet Union wasn't one of the most repressive regimes in history. People were granting moral equivalence to the Soviet Union - a vicious dictatorship - in the free countries of Western Europe and the United States. People can drift off."
The same is true today, Rumsfeld said. There are many who believe that governments can negotiate with terrorists or who believe if just left alone, they will somehow leave freedom-loving people alone. But that is not possible, Rumsfeld said. "The dangers today, the lethality of the weapons today, the risks to our country, are real," he said.
A tabletop exercise a few years ago posited a release of smallpox in two airports in the United States. The simulation showed that inside of a year, almost 1 million people would die, Rumsfeld said.
"There are dangers, there are real people out there - as you well know - who will put in place a small number of clerics that will tell everyone how they will live and how they will behave," he said. "And that's not what we're about."
But overall, the United States and its allies weathered the Cold War. The countries stuck together and today the Soviet Union is no more. "Our country would not be here if we didn't have the ability to ride through some ups and downs in respect to opinion and come out the other end having made some right decisions," Rumsfeld said. "I expect the same today."
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