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Rumsfeld Calls for Substantive, Mindful Iraq Debate

By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2005 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged that a spirited debate about the Iraq War is justified; however, he urged that this debate be substantive, factually based and mindful of its real-world consequences.

Rumsfeld spoke on the Sunday morning shows.

"There have always been debates over wars; it's understandable," Rumsfeld told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. "We live in a free country and it's proper for people to raise questions and to have views ... that's fair enough."

"We had similar debates during World War II, during Korea, during Vietnam; it's always been so," he said on ABC News' This Week. But "we also have to understand that our words have effects."

These effects, he noted, could well mean demoralizing U.S. troops, discouraging the Iraqi people and emboldening the terrorists. "Put yourself in the shoes of a soldier ... . Put yourself in the shoes of the Iraqi people ... . Put yourself in the shoes of the enemy," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary spoke in response to widespread political and media speculation about a sudden or precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Discussion of such a withdrawal, Rumsfeld said, surely gives our servicemembers and the Iraqi people cause to doubt the wisdom of their sacrifice. It also gives the terrorists reason to believe that they can simply wait out the United States.

The House of Representatives last week defeated, by a vote of 403-3, a resolution calling on the United States to immediately withdraw its troops from Iraq. Moreover, President Bush has repeatedly declared that America will continue fighting in Iraq "until we have achieved the victory that our brave troops have fought for."

Nonetheless, political and media speculation to the contrary has continued unabated.

Rumsfeld said that debate about war is not new. He referenced a book by Winston Churchill in which Churchill said, in effect, "The problem is not winning the war, but persuading people to let you win it."

Toward that end, he detailed the steady progress that the U.S. military and Iraqi security forces are making every day in Iraq, even as the media and the politicians focus relentlessly - and negatively - on the problems and challenges that still lie ahead.

Rumsfeld said that Iraq now has 212,000 trained security forces and more than 100 engaged military and police battalions. These security forces are "well respected by the Iraqi people. They're doing a very good job; they're growing in numbers; and they're growing in competence," he said.

Consequently, he added, the number of tips from informants on terrorist activity and terrorists' whereabouts in Iraq has increased.

Some critics have suggested that because many Iraqi security forces require assistance and support, they are somehow illegitimate and sub-par. Rumsfeld said this is untrue and unfair.

The U.S. Army "provides support for our Marines," he noted. "We provide it [support] for our NATO allies in Afghanistan ... . Iraqi security forces are out [and] engaged in the fight. Some are in the lead; some are working with us in tandem; [and] others are working with us where we have the lead - and that is perfectly understandable ... . The idea that each unit can't do everything is, I think, a misunderstanding and somewhat mischievous."

In fact, Rumsfeld said, Iraqis are assuming increasing responsibility for their own security. For example, 17 bases recently have been turned over to the Iraqis; they also are in charge of one entire province and a large section of Baghdad. The secretary said that as Iraqis stand up, America will stand down.

There currently are 159,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Rumsfeld said the United States plans to reduce that number to 138,000 after the December 15 Iraqi elections. Additional U.S. troop reductions will depend on the situation in Iraq and the assessment of U.S. and Iraqi commanders on the ground.

U.S. military leaders have gotten every single troop they've requested, Rumsfeld said. The secretary also disputed widespread political and media assertions that the number of terrorist attacks in Iraq each week has increased.

In fact, "the number of attacks each week has not gone up," Rumsfeld said. "What we're seeing is increasing lethality in the attacks that have occurred ... the number of attacks, [meanwhile], has fluctuated." The secretary said that there actually were fewer terrorist incidents in Iraq during the run-up to the Oct. 15 Constitutional referendum than there were during last January's election.

Rumsfeld acknowledged that pre-war intelligence "clearly was wrong." But, he said that he still thinks the liberation of Iraq was justified.

"Our planes were being shot at everyday," he said. Saddam Hussein "was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide killers - murders... [Terrorist leader Abu Musab al-]Zarqawi was in that country during this period."

Moreover, Rumsfeld said, Hussein "used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors; and [he] invaded Kuwait. The world is vastly better off with Saddam Hussein gone," he said.

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