In his 1984 speech, Rumsfeld said terrorism cannot be eliminated, but it can be made to function at a "low level" that will allow governments to function. He repeated that thought at lunch and added that the United States is somewhat at a disadvantage because the terrorists don't have a media that challenges their policies, they have no hierarchy and they "get to lie every day with no accountability." Speculating again about the future, Rumsfeld said, "there will be no conventional wars in the near future and no way the military can win or lose a war."
I asked him what he meant. He replied, "We're socialized into believing the American military can go find somebody and kick the hell out of them, or find a battleship to sink, or an air force to shoot down. You can't do that in the 21st century."
Noting the length of the Cold War, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - who was also at the luncheon - agreed the terrorists can be deterred "if the American people will just give us the time."
Later that day, I spoke with Haley Barbour, Mississippi governor and former Republican National Committee chairman, about the apparently slim GOP prospects in the coming election. Noting how the polls show Iraq has hurt Republicans, Barbour said, "The public gets tired of long wars."
That is precisely what Osama bin Laden and his bloody associates are counting on. Their plan for victory is to exhaust the United States.
In 1984, Rumsfeld recalled Winston Churchill's lesson from World War II that weakness invites aggression. And he warned, "Ours is a dangerous world, a world in transition."
We have now transitioned from dangerous to even more dangerous. If we grow weary in this battle, we can be sure our enemies won't flag. They are prepared for a long war. We'd better be, for to be unprepared and to lack resolve means the war will come anyway, but with greater intensity and with more American (and European) casualties.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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