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Myers Discusses the Danger of Extremism

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 25, 2005 – The danger of extremism may be the greatest threat the United States and its allies have faced, the top U.S. military officer told the World Affairs Council here today.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers pinch hit for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who couldn't make the trip due to illness.

Los Angelinos took time off from the upcoming Oscar presentations to discuss the threats facing the United States with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Myers outlined the nature of the conflict, and gave his reasons terrorism is such a grave threat. "Just read the statements of the senior extremists (Osama) bin Laden says 'It's the duty of all Muslims to kill Americans,' was one of his recent statements," Myers said.

Bin Laden does not speak for all Muslims and Muslims around the world reject his brand of Islam, but bin Laden doesn't need large numbers to achieve his goals. "If you think back to 9/11, it was 19 people that hijacked the airliners and caused the terrible tragedy,"" he said.

America can calculate the personal and economic losses that day, "but what did it do to our psyche?" Myers asked. "Did we lose a little bit of our confidence in our ability to lead a peaceful life in freedom?"

That element of fear is what extremists hope to instill. "When we're afraid, we act in not a totally rational way," he said.

And bin Laden, while on the run, has not given up his dream of attacking again. Myers said extremists have no boundaries. They will do anything to attack democracy and those who espouse it. If bin Laden and his allies could get weapons of mass destruction, they would use them and the casualty count of Sept. 11 would look small.

Myers said that while the military is having successes in the war on terror, the struggle against extremism is a lot more than the military. "The Department of the Treasury has $150 million on ice of terrorist assets," he said. "Every department and nations around the world must face this threat. This is an international issue and there are few parts of the world not touched by extremists."

The long-range goal is to create an environment that does not breed jihadists, he said. "How do you encourage governments to provide economic and political hope for their populations?" the chairman said.

A good start already exists, Myers pointed out. More than 40 nations are involved in Afghanistan, and 27 are helping in Iraq. NATO plays a central security role in Afghanistan and is supplying troops and money to train Iraqi security forces. The United States is working to strengthen other nations. U.S. trainers are working with Philippine forces and the Georgian government. American soldiers are helping make a difference in Colombia.

"Many American don't know it, but there are about 1,000 U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa in Djibouti," Myers said. "They bring a regional approach to the governments there, to make the governments more self-sufficient in providing for their own security, so some of these countries do not become (terrorist) safe havens in the future."

Myers returned to the subject of Iraq and discussed the effect Saddam Hussein had on the people. "Saddam Hussein and his regime absolutely sucked the spirit out of the Iraqi people," he said. "There was no premium for initiative. There was a sense of helplessness. Not only was the infrastructure of Iraq dilapidated, but so was the spirit of the Iraqi people. And that takes time to build up."

The Jan. 30 Iraqi elections brought some of the spirit back, he said, and the political jockeying among the various political groups is an example of that.

And, he said, there is no sign of a civil war. "The signs are that the Sunnis who didn't vote in large numbers, now want to be part of the political process," he said. "The Sunni leaders are saying, 'We missed that boat. We don't want to miss the next boat.'"

Another indicator is that Iraqis are volunteering to join the military. The Iraqi security forces performed very well during the elections and now many people want to be a part of them.

Myers said calling it the "war" on terrorism is a bit of a misnomer. "War connotes that this is going to have a finish like World War II, and there's going to be some sort of peace treaty," he said. "That's not true."

The war "is all about extremism," he said. "A victory for extremism in Iraq would have catastrophic implications not only for Iraq, but the region, the Middle East peace process and the world.

"It would be catastrophic for our own security as well, because then the extremists would say, 'OK, we can win this. Extremism works. If we just show a few more beheadings, we can drive those people out of here.' From my point of view, that's not going to happen," Myers said.

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Gen. Richard Myers, USAF

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