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"So far, so good"

Donald Rumsfeld reflects on the progress in Iraq and the war on terror.

12:00 AM, Sep 14, 2004 • By ERIN MONTGOMERY
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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE Donald Rumsfeld told an audience at the National Press Club last Friday afternoon that America must remain on the offensive and cannot be "faint-hearted" when it comes to the war on terrorism--a war he likened to the Cold War. He also spoke optimistically about the progress America has made in the global war on terror in the three years since 9/11:

"The Taliban regime is gone. Those still not killed or captured are on the run. Despite a campaign of violence and intimidation, over 10 million Afghans have registered to vote, including 4 million women . . . And they've registered to vote in what will be the first free election in that country's history. Saddam Hussein's regime is finished. His sons are dead. He's in a prison cell, where he awaits the justice of the Iraqi people, which he will soon face. Libya has said now that it is renouncing its illicit weapons programs, and it says it will cooperate with the efforts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction and that it's seeking to reenter the community of civilized nations. Time will tell, but so far, so good. . . ."

Rumsfeld's optimism was tempered by his need to speak realistically about terrorism--that we can never be fully immune from the possibility of it--and he cited the September 3 siege of a Russian elementary school by Chechen terrorists as an example. "I don't suppose there's a mother or father in America or anywhere in the world who dropped a child off for the first day of school who did not wonder, 'Could that happen to them?' The answer is it could, which is why it is so important that in the global war on terror we recognize that we have to fight this battle where the terrorists are rather than waiting for them to force us to fight, God forbid, in our own schools."

The crux of the speech came during the question-and-answer session, when an audience member posed the following: "The Financial Times today editorializes that it is 'time to consider Iraq withdrawal,' noting the protracted war is not winnable and it's creating more terrorists than enemies of the West. What is your response?" An irritated yet good-natured Rumsfeld responded, "Who put that question in? He ought to get a life. If he's got time to read that kind of stuff, he ought to get a life."

Another audience member asked the all-important, "How will we know that the mission in Iraq is accomplished and our forces can leave? Can that ever happen if our troops remain under attack?" Rumsfeld: "The answer is yes, it can happen and it will happen. We, the United States of America, [do] not put forces into a country to leave them there; we put them in there to help that country get on its feet and then leave."

He continued, "We are training Iraqis in the police, in the army, in the national guard, in the border patrol so that they can assume the responsibility for their own security. . . . And we have gone from zero to 95,000 Iraqis that are fully trained, fully equipped, providing their own security. They'll be up to about 145,000 Iraqis by the end of this year, fully trained, fully equipped. There are some another 50,000 of them that are not fully trained or fully equipped yet but that have been recruited . . ."

Rumsfeld remains hopeful that general elections in Iraq, scheduled to take place in January, will happen on time--though he anticipates heightened violence from Iraqi terrorists who don't want to see Iraq become a democratic nation. Rumsfeld asked the audience, in so many words, to put things in perspective when the discussion moved toward the Abu Ghraib scandal. Rumsfeld proclaimed, "Has [the prison abuse] been harmful to our country? Yes. Is it something that has to be corrected? Yes. Is it something that shouldn't have happened in the first place? Yes. Does it rank up there with chopping someone's head off on television?" "No," the audience responded.

Rumsfeld praised and thanked "the steady stream of talented, professional, dedicated, courageous young people" who have put their lives on the line in the fight for freedom and directed these words at the war skeptics: "There have always been people who say it's not worth it. And indeed, if you watch in any conflict in our history, there have always been people who said, 'Why? Why should we do that? Another loss of life. Another person wounded. Another limb off.' And, you can't go to the hospitals at Bethesda or Walter Reed and see those folks and not have your heart break for them and the fact that their lives are going to be lived differently; or tomorrow, when we go to Arlington and recall all those who died on September 11th and lives not lived. But it is worth it. It is worth it. And those who suggest to the contrary are not only wrong, but they will be proved wrong."

Erin Montgomery is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.