There are at least two presumptions some people make about the peace effort in Iraq (yes, I'm being semantically clever to make a point). One presumption is the falsehood that the United States can say "never mind," stop its effort to help bring freedom and self-determination to Iraq and, like magic, those who now hate and wish to destroy us will also say "never mind" and go back to killing each other instead of us.
The other false presumption is that those who tell opinion pollsters they now oppose the war and think it makes America more vulnerable to terrorist attacks know what they are talking about. Their conclusions have been reached largely through television, which doesn't always present a complete picture. Besides, how can a nation fixated on runaway brides, missing blondes and materialism be taken seriously when it comes to global matters of defeating terrorists and liberating nations?
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sees a gap between opinion polls and what he has observed from recent visits to Iraq. During an interview at the Pentagon on Tuesday, I asked Rumsfeld about the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll that shows that 56 percent say the war is going badly, while 57 percent say the war has made America more vulnerable to terrorism.
He said the soldiers in Iraq "see the progress they are making and they are absolutely dumbfounded by what they see and the impression that's left by America's media here in the United States." Rumsfeld also said the Pentagon keeps track of what the Iraqi people think and they are "increasingly optimistic about the future of their country and increasingly negative about the insurgency."
Does this sound like Vietnam when political and military leaders talked about "turning the corner" and "light at the end of the tunnel"?
"You haven't heard words like that from me," Rumsfeld answers. "What I see is a situation on the ground that is clearly a difficult one, let there be no doubt." He forecasts increasing violence between now and when a constitution is drafted later this month and scheduled elections in December.
Rumsfeld is deliberately vague in response to a question about Iran's decision to resume its nuclear program. Iran claims it only wants to produce energy from nuclear power, but the U.S. believes it will manufacture nuclear weapons.
At what moment, I asked, does this become a point of no return as it was for the Israelis who bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981? "I don't know," he says, leaving himself the widest possible latitude for diplomatic or military responses.