By Josh White and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 3, 2006
The United States is engaged in what could be a generational conflict akin to the Cold War, the kind of struggle that might last decades as allies work to root out terrorists across the globe and battle extremists who want to rule the world, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
Rumsfeld, who laid out broad strategies for what the military and the Bush administration are now calling the "long war," likened al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin while urging Americans not to give in on the battle of wills that could stretch for years. He said there is a tendency to underestimate the threats that terrorists pose to global security, and said liberty is at stake.
"Compelled by a militant ideology that celebrates murder and suicide with no territory to defend, with little to lose, they will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs," Rumsfeld said in a speech at the National Press Club.
The speech, which aides said was titled "The Long War," came on the eve of the Pentagon's release of its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which sets out plans for how the U.S. military will address major security challenges 20 years into the future. The plans to be released today include shifts to make the military more agile and capable of dealing with unconventional threats, something Rumsfeld has said is necessary to move from a military designed for the Cold War into one that is more flexible.
He said the nation must focus on three strategies in the ongoing war: preventing terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, defending the U.S. homeland and helping allies fight terrorism. He emphasized that these goals could take a long time to achieve.
Indeed, the QDR, mandated every four years by Congress, opens with the declaration: "The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war."
The review has been widely anticipated in Washington defense circles because of the dramatic changes in the U.S. military's global role since the last review in 2001. Adding to the high expectations is the fact that Rumsfeld and his team have now been in place for more than four years.
The QDR strategy draws heavily on lessons learned by the military from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worldwide campaign against terrorism, shifting the Pentagon's emphasis away from conventional warfare of the Cold War era toward three new areas.
First are "irregular" conflicts against insurgents, terrorists and other non-state enemies. Iraq and Afghanistan are the "early battles" in the campaign against Islamic extremists and terrorists, who are "profoundly more dangerous" than in the past because of technological advances that allow them to operate globally, said Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England in an address on Wednesday.
The QDR also focuses on defending the U.S. homeland against "catastrophic" attacks such as with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Finally, it sets out plans for deterring the rising military heft of major powers such as China.
The strategic vision outlined in the QDR has won high marks from defense analysts for diagnosing the problems the U.S. military will likely face. However, it is less successful in translating those concepts into concrete military capabilities, the analysts say.
The review does not dramatically change the "force construct" -- the set of world contingencies that the U.S. military is expected to be able to deal with. The most important change is the recognition that U.S. forces may have to carry out long-term stability operations, or surge suddenly to a world hot spot. There are not "huge tectonic shifts," said Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an address Wednesday.
The strategy does call for devoting resources to accelerate a long-range strike capability directed at hostile nations, and for new investments aimed at countering biological and nuclear weapons -- such as teams able to defuse a nuclear bomb. But it makes relatively minor adjustments in key weapons systems, with the biggest programs such as the Joint Strike Fighter and the Army's Future Combat Systems escaping virtually unscathed. This leaves less room for investments in innovative programs and forces to address the types of problems that the QDR identifies, analysts say.
"A lot of tough choices are kicked down the road," said Andrew F. Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
One of the toughest battles facing the United States, Rumsfeld said yesterday, is recognizing the seriousness of the terrorist threat and the immediacy of fighting the nation's enemies. He said the task facing Western nations could be arduous, as terrorists operate in numerous countries around the world, hidden, and with the willingness to wait long periods between attacks. Military leaders and officials in the Bush administration have taken to calling the global war on terrorism the "long war," which defense experts say is a recognition that there is no end in sight.
"Dealing with the issue of terrorism and extremism is going to take a long time," said Robert E. Hunter, senior adviser at Rand Corp. and a former ambassador to NATO. "But we have to define success. You're never going to get rid of all terrorism."
Rumsfeld said he does not believe the war will end with a bang but, instead, with a whimper, "fading down over a sustained period of time as more countries in the world are successful," much as how democracy outlasted communism in the Cold War. He added that the early decades of the Cold War also brought confusion and doubt.
"The only way that terrorists can win this struggle is if we lose our will and surrender the fight, or think it's not important enough, or in confusion or in disagreement among ourselves give them the time to regroup and reestablish themselves in Iraq or elsewhere," he said.