Rumsfeld: U.S. at ‘Time of Great Consequence’
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2006 The war on terrorism is a difficult task, but it is not hopeless or without purpose, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld addresses the audience during his farewell parade at the Pentagon on Dec. 15. Photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Breaking convention one final time in his farewell speech at the Pentagon ceremony in his honor, Rumsfeld spoke not about his accomplishments of the past, but the challenges of the future.
“This is a time of great consequence,” Rumsfeld said. “Our task is to make the right decisions today so that future generations will not have to make much harder decisions tomorrow.”
Speaking with the perspective of the only defense secretary to have served for two presidents in two different centuries, Rumsfeld warned that today, just as in the Cold War, weakness is provocative to America’s enemies. Today’s world is one of unstable dictators, weapons proliferators, rogue regimes, and friends and allies with declining defense investment and capabilities, he said. This environment creates vulnerabilities, he added, and requires even more U.S. dedication.
“Today it should be clear that not only is weakness provocative, but the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative as well,” he said. “A conclusion by our enemies that the United States lacks the will or the resolve to carry out missions that demand sacrifice and demand patience is every bit as dangerous as an imbalance of conventional military power.”
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, awakened Americans to the global extremist movement, Rumsfeld pointed out. This movement has tens of thousands of adherents who believe it is their calling to kill Americans and other free people, and it cannot be ignored, he said.
“It may well be comforting to some to consider graceful exits from the agonies and indeed the ugliness of combat, but the enemy thinks differently,” Rumsfeld said. “Under the president's leadership, this country made a decision to confront the extremist ideology of hatred that spawned a worldwide movement and to take the fight to the enemy. The alternative was inaction and defense, a pattern that history has shown only emboldens the enemy.”
The war on terror will be long, and even after five years, it is still complex and unfamiliar, Rumsfeld said. Though Americans have an understandable dislike for war, they also have a grit and determination that has carried them through all past conflicts, he said.
“It is with confidence that I say that America's enemies should not confuse the American people's distaste of war, which is real and which is understandable, with a reluctance to defend our way of life,” he said. “Enemy after enemy in our history have made that mistake to their regret.”
Addressing America’s servicemembers, Rumsfeld urged them not to forget that the U.S. example is a message of hope for people around the world. “America is not what's wrong with this world,” he said “Ours is a message that was heard and fought for in places like Berlin, Prague, Riga, Tokyo, Seoul, San Salvador, Vilnius, and Warsaw, and that message is even now being whispered in the coffee houses and the streets of Damascus and Tehran and Pyongyang. The great sweep of human history is for freedom, and America is on freedom's side.”
Rumsfeld leaves office Dec. 18, when defense secretary designee Robert Gates takes over.