Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld leaves office Friday, Dec. 15 after six turbulent years of rebuilding the military for a post-Cold War era, while simultaneously overseeing service members he calls, "the best led, the best equipped, the best trained, the most capable -- in the world." As we met in his office on the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was reflective about the past and worried about the future.
Rumsfeld regrets using the phrase "the war on terror": "I say that because the word 'war' conjures up World War II more than it does the Cold War. It creates a level of expectation of victory and an ending within 30 or 60 minutes (like) a soap opera. It isn't going to happen that way."
It's not a war on terror, he adds, because "Terror is a weapon of choice for extremists who are trying to destabilize regimes and (through) a small group of clerics, impose their dark vision on all the people they can control."
Rumsfeld believes much of the public still does not understand the intensity of the struggle. He says he hasn't read the entire Iraq Study Group Report, just the summary and news accounts, but has this take on the conflict: "I personally believe that the consequences of allowing the situation in Iraq to be turned over to terrorists would be so severe -- because Iraq would become a haven to plan attacks on the moderate countries in the region and the United States. (It would) diminish the ability of the United States to provide protection for the American people."
Many commentators have tried to compare this war with World War II, or Vietnam. Rumsfeld, however, prefers the Cold War comparison because, like the Cold War "which lasted 50 years, you couldn't say (in the middle of it) whether you were winning or losing. There aren't straight and smooth paths. There are bumpy roads. It's difficult. The enemy has a brain. They're constantly making adjustments."
About opposition, Rumsfeld recalled a time, "when Euro-communism was in vogue and people were demonstrating by the millions against the United States, not against the Soviet Union. And yet, over time, people found the will - both political parties and Western European countries - to persist in a way that ultimately led to victory."
Rumsfeld's implication is clear: the same leftists who opposed U.S. strategy in standing against communism now stand in opposition to America's position against Islamofascism. If they were wrong about communism, might they also be wrong about today's enemy?