Rumsfeld Assails Critics of War Policy

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned yesterday that "moral and intellectual confusion" over the Iraq war and the broader anti-terrorism effort could sap American willpower and divide the country, and he urged renewed resolve to confront extremists waging "a new type of fascism."

Drawing parallels to efforts by some nations to appease Adolf Hitler before World War II, Rumsfeld said it would be "folly" for the United States to ignore the rising dangers posed by a new enemy that he called "serious, lethal and relentless."

In a pointed attack on the news media and critics of President Bush's war and national security policies, Rumsfeld declared: "Any kind of moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can severely weaken the ability of free societies to persevere."

Rumsfeld spoke at the American Legion's national convention in Salt Lake City as part of a coordinated defense of Bush leading up to the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Reviving images of the president's response to the strike on the World Trade Center in New York, Rumsfeld said, "He remains the same man who stood atop the rubble of Lower Manhattan, with a bullhorn, vowing to fight back."

With polls showing that a majority of Americans believe it was a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq and with many Democrats calling for a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops, Rumsfeld called the Iraq war the "epicenter" of the struggle against terrorism. Last week, Bush said that setting a timetable for a troop withdrawal would embolden the enemy and cause chaos in Iraq and throughout the region.

Congressional Democrats angrily responded to Rumsfeld's remarks. "There is no confusion among military experts, bipartisan members of Congress and the overwhelming majority of the American people about the need to change course in Iraq," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "The only person confused about how to best protect this country is Don Rumsfeld, which is why he must go."

Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he took exception to what he considered the implication that critics of the administration's military policies are unpatriotic. He noted that there are "scores of patriotic Americans of both parties who are highly critical" of Rumsfeld's handling of the Defense Department.

Rumsfeld obliquely acknowledged mistakes and setbacks in Iraq, quoting the French statesman Georges Clemenceau as calling all wars "a series of catastrophes that results in victory." Moreover, in a reference to recent charges of war crimes against U.S. troops in Iraq, Rumsfeld said that "in every army, there are occasionally bad actors -- the ones who dominate the headlines today -- who don't live up to the standards of their oath and of our country."

Rumsfeld stressed that it is misguided for Americans to fall into self-blame and to "return to the destructive view that America -- not the enemy -- is the real source of the world's trouble." He blamed the U.S. media for spreading "myths and distortions . . . about our troops and about our country."

He said a database search of U.S. newspapers produced 10 times as many mentions of a soldier punished for misconduct at Abu Ghraib prison than of Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, a Medal of Honor recipient.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, addressing the same audience later, sounded similar themes. "The dream of some, that we could avoid this conflict, that we did not have to take sides in this battle in the Middle East, that dream was demolished on September the 11th," Rice said.

Rice said in a radio interview that "we cannot fall prey to pessimism about how this will all come out," adding that "the really devastating problem for the world would be if America loses its will."

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