Rumsfeld Commentary: A Force for Good

By Donald H. Rumsfeld

Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2006 - We remember where we were that day.

At 9:38 a.m., the entire Pentagon shook. I went outside and saw the horrific face of war in the 21st century. Those present could feel the heat of the flames and smell the burning jet fuel -- all that remained of American Airlines flight 77.

Destruction surrounded us: smoldering rubble, twisted steel, victims in agony.

Last week, President Bush greeted the families of September 11 victims in the East Room of the White House and told them about the efforts to bring to justice those who attacked our nation -- and those who supported them. He said, "The families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice. ... They should have to wait no longer." He announced that 14 high-level terrorists, including the man referred to as the mastermind of the attacks, have been transferred to the Department of Defense and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. There they will be treated humanely -- though their victims were not -- and, if and when the necessary legislation is passed by the Congress, prosecuted for their crimes, in accordance with law.

President Bush has reminded us that this enemy is still seeking new ways to attack us. He told us about captured terrorists who provided key information about planned attacks on buildings here in the U.S., and about al Qaeda's efforts to obtain biological weapons. Information the interrogators received from these terrorists has led to the capture of other terrorists, who have in turn led us to still more.

Yet, even with these victories in the war, President Bush reminded us that it is important to understand the nature of this enemy, and what it is seeking to do. The extremist movement that threatens us is not a reactionary force -- it actively looks for opportunities to acquire new and deadlier weapons, to destabilize governments, and to create discord among our allies and within our own country.

This enemy has made its immediate strategy clear in public announcements and in captured documents: to undermine the Coalition effort in Iraq, drive our forces out, and then use that nation as a base from which to destabilize the surrounding nations. They seek to extend a hoped-for victory in Iraq to a broad part of the Middle East and even parts of Europe and Asia -- to restore an ancient caliphate.

Iraq is the linchpin in their effort. Osama bin Laden calls Iraq the "epicenter" of this war, and he believes that "America is prepared to wage easy wars but not prepared to fight long and bitter wars." When Gen. Abizaid, commander of Central Command, was asked what effect pulling out of Iraq would have, he said the extremists would become "emboldened, empowered, more aggressive." They will turn whatever part of Iraq they can control into a safe haven for terrorists, just as Afghanistan was before September 11. They likely will attract still more recruits, inspired by their "victory" over the West.

To stop them in Iraq, our country has sent our finest young people -- all volunteers -- to help the Iraqis defeat the terrorists seeking to control the region. And while our military tactics, techniques and procedures have adapted as the enemy has changed its tactics, the guiding principle of the overall military strategy remains constant -- namely, to empower the Iraqi people to defend, govern and rebuild their own country. Extremists know that war and anarchy are their friends -- peace and order their enemies.

There are many challenges ahead in this young century: Among others, Iran's nuclear aspirations, North Korea and the proliferation of dangerous weapons, and the need to build on recent progress in missile defense.

All this while fighting a war in the media on a global stage. As I recently mentioned in remarks to the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, everyone is watching: the enemies, their supporters, their potential supporters, our allies and our potential allies. In this very public battle for hearts and minds, we must be as confident in the rightness of our cause as the enemy is in its evil purpose. We cannot allow the world to forget that America, though imperfect, is a force for good in the world.

(This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 11, 2006.)