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Douglas J. Feith Remarks on Heritage Foundation

Presenters: Douglas J. Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
November 24, 2003
Feith:  Good afternoon.  I'm very pleased to have the chance to meet with you here at the Heritage Foundation.


            My association with Heritage goes back aways -- about 26 years, to 1977 when you were still located at Stanton Park, 5th and C Northeast. 


            That was a time when we neocons, of which I was a junior member, and the folks that we call paleocons made common cause to support beleaguered democracies, to beleaguer the Soviet empire, and to advocate a U.S. foreign policy of peace through strength.


            The Heritage Foundation helped created the alliance of the neocons -- those of us who started our political lives as Democrats -- and the old-fashioned conservatives.  It was an alliance of the profoundest type, anchored in philosophical principles.  It was not tactical, it was not a political marriage of convenience.


            The realignment of U.S. politics that joined William Buckley with Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, that bound together the supporters of Barry Goldwater with supporters of Scoop Jackson and Hubert Humphrey, that helped change our country and the world.  At home it made the conservative slice of the political spectrum a lively place -- intellectually scintillating, creative, ambitious to transform governments attractive to young people and decidedly non-starched.


            Abroad, the makers of the Reagan Revolution with the Heritage Foundation as a key node in the network elevated the status of ideas as weapons in the arsenal of democracy.  The Reaganites understood Realpolitik the grasped the importance of guns and money and other hard realities of world affairs, but they appreciated also the potency of the human desire for freedom. 


            They saw the Cold War not as a balance of power exercise between two superpowers, much less an arms race between two apes on a treadmill, but as a noble fight of Western liberal democracy against Soviet communist tyranny.  They abraded conventional sensibilities by speaking of an ‘evil empire’ and insisting that the truly representative voices in that empire were those of Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Andrei Sakharov, Anatoly Sharansky and their fellow dissidents.


            This engagement in philosophical warfare, I need hardly remind folks at the Heritage Foundation, created no small controversy in the politics and diplomacy of the Western world.  President Reagan's talk of democracy and good versus evil and his exhortation to tear down the Berlin Wall, though widely criticized, even ridiculed as unsophisticated and destabilizing. But it’s now widely understood as having contributed importantly to the greatest strategic victory in world history -- the collapse of Soviet communism and the liberation of the peoples of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe without war.


            As we develop and execute our strategy today in the war on terrorism there's much to be learned from the Reagan era about the power of ideas.  With President George W. Bush having just returned from Britain, I'd like to recall the remarkable speech that President Reagan gave on June 8, 1982 to the British Parliament. 


            In it he challenged the pessimism about the future of liberty that was common in the 1970s.  "Optimism is in order," he said, "because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a 'not at all' fragile flower.  The regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than 30 years to establish their legitimacy, but none, not one regime has yet been able to risk free elections."


            President Reagan recognized that democracy is not the preserve of one people or one cultural group.  He said that democracy "already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences.  It would be cultural condescension or worse to say that any people preferred dictatorship to democracy."


            Accordingly, President Reagan proposed a program "to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means."


            That program grew into the National Endowment for Democracy which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.  President Bush spoke at the celebration of that anniversary a few weeks ago recalling Ronald Reagan's words as courageous and optimistic and entirely correct.


            In the last few weeks in his National Endowment for Democracy speech and in his speech in London President Bush carried forward Ronald Reagan's ideas and applied them to the Middle East and the Muslim world generally.  In the President's words, "The good and capable people of the Middle East all deserve responsible leadership.  For too long many people in that region have been victims and subjects.  They deserve to be active citizens."


            As in the case of President Reagan's 1982 speech, George W. Bush's advocacy of democracy serves a number of purposes.  "The advance of freedom is," President Bush says, "not only the calling of our time, it is the calling of our country."


            But there's more at work here than just idealism.  All free people have a practical stake in the spread of democratic institutions and the rule of law.  Promoting freedom is fundamental to this Administration's policy in the Middle East, in the Muslim worked in general, and in the war on terrorism.  The Bush Administration’s strategy in the war on terrorism has three parts.


            First, disrupting and destroying terrorist networks and infrastructure.  Second, the protection of our homeland.   And third is the intellectual component of creating a global anti-terrorist environment.  We call this third part the battle of ideas.


            Our aim in that battle is to delegitimate terrorism as an instrument of politics.  This means working to change the way people think, making toleration of terrorism, let alone support for it, unacceptable for anyone who wishes to be regarded as respectable.


            As President Bush's national security strategy says, people everywhere should put terrorism in the same despised category as slave trading, piracy and genocide.


            President Bush alluded to this point in London last week when he noted that American “zeal” has been inspired by English examples and he cited the firm determination of the Royal Navy over the decades of the early 19th Century to find an end to trade in slaves.


            If the United States and coalition partners are to succeed in changing the way the world thinks about terrorism, we'll have to ensure that terrorism is punished rather than rewarded and that state sponsors of terrorism pay a price for their activities.  The Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes have paid an especially large price.


            But our efforts also have to target the recruitment and indoctrination of terrorists.  No matter how successful we are at killing and capturing terrorists or intercepting their weapons or funds, we can't win the war on terrorism unless we can reduce the supply of new terrorists. So what are the circumstances that create fertile ground for the recruitment of terrorists? 


            I see many of the usual answers as off the mark.


            Consider, for example, the phenomenon of suicide bombers -- terrorists who perform acts - attacks that they know they cannot survive.  Many commentators have asserted that such terrorists don't calculate the cost and benefits of their action.  Westerners commonly assume that only a person in deep despair could do such a thing. 


            This diagnosis implies its own solution, that the world should address what I call the root causes of terrorism -- the poverty and political hopelessness that many people imagine are the traits and motives of the suicide bombers. This diagnosis, however, doesn't correspond to our actual experience and it blinds us to the opportunities we have to confront terrorism strategically.


            When we look at the records of the suicide bombers we see that many aren't drawn from the poor.  Mohammed Atta, for instance, a key figure in executing the September 11 attacks, was a middle class Egyptian whose parents were able to send him to study abroad.  His education meant that he could look forward to a relatively privileged life in Egypt -- hardly grounds for extreme despair. 


            Rather, what characterizes terrorists seems to be a strange mixture of perverse hopes.  First of all, some bombers cherish a perverse form of religious hope.  The promise of eternity in paradise is a tenet of many faiths.  A noble incentive and consolation for millions of people.  It's as typical as it is sinister that leaders of al Qaeda, Ansar al Islam, Hezbollah, Hammas, and other groups convince young people that eternity in paradise is available as a reward for murder.


            Second, there is the hope of earthly glory and reward.  Praise as a hero from political leaders and honor for one's parents.


            Third there is the bomber's political hope.  Suicide bombing is what defense analysts categorize as a form of asymmetric warfare.  A means for the weak to fight against the strong.  Some terrorists are motivated by their hope that it's a winning strategy. 


            This suggests a strategic course for us: attack the sources of these malignant hopes. 


            Regarding the religious hopes, many Muslim religious leaders disapprove of suicide bombing, but many have been silenced or intimidated to voice support for the terrorists.  The civilized world can do more to support moderate clerics, defend them, and provide them with platforms on which to protect their religion from extremists who want to resort to hijacking.


            The civilized world should also deal with political leaders who heap honor and money on the suicide bombers and their families.  President Bush, speaking of suicide bombers, said "They're not martyrs.  They're murderers."  Other world leaders have the responsibility to reinforce this message.


            Finally, as to the suicide bombers' political hope, it's important that terrorism be seen as a losing strategy.  It's of strategic importance that neither in Iraq nor Afghanistan nor elsewhere will the terrorists achieve success.


            In addition to batting down the perverted hope, our mission is to create the conditions in which the people of the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world can cherish the aspirations of free people everywhere for liberty and an opportunity to use their talent to win a measure of prosperity for themselves and their families.


            As President Bush noted, 60 years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.  As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence, ready for export.


            We're now engaged in creating the conditions for freedom in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Although there's much to be said about Afghanistan, in my remaining time I will confine myself to a brief review of the situation in Iraq.


            Our work in that country is guided by President Bush's idea that a successful new Iraq could serve as a model for the Arab and Muslim world of moderation, modernization, democracy, and economic well-being.  A free and prosperous Iraq could provide tens of millions of people with an alternative way to think about the future, one that doesn't have to be dominated by fanaticism and tyranny.


            We want to give the Iraqi people an opportunity to create a new and thriving Iraq, but we can't create it for them.  The problems are many and large.  We shouldn't play Pollyanna.  But substantial progress has been achieved.


            Iraq's National Governing Council is the most representative government Iraq has ever had and it's gaining acceptance at home and abroad. It's appointed interim Ministers who run the ministries setting budgets and making policy.  Local councils and officials are beginning to exercise power, countering Iraq's history of extreme centralization.


            Last week the Governing Council, working with Ambassador Jerry Bremer, announced a process and a timetable for creating a transitional government electing the members of the Constitutional Convention, drafting and ratifying a new constitution and holding elections under it to elect a permanent government for Iraq.


            In addition to the National Governing Council there are over 250 Governing Councils functioning at the municipal and provincial levels throughout Iraq.  This is a development of high significance, though generally under-reported.


            The problem that dominates the news reports from Iraq is of course security.  It's a problem that's interwoven with political and economic developments in the country but I'll offer a few comments specifically about the military dimension which, as you know, is under the responsibility of General John Abizaid, the Commander of U.S. Central Command.


            General Abizaid is an intelligent and tough-minded commander who knows the region, has analyzed various elements that compose the enemy forces, and has devised an aggressive strategy to defeat them.  The strategy includes offensive pressure, precise, and relentless to capture or kill enemy leaders and fighters, to disrupt and defeat their operation, to cut off their sources of supply and support, and to extract and exploit intelligence.  We're applying new technology to counter the enemy's improvised bombs, mortars and other weapons.  Our forces are adapting continually to counter enemy tactics.


            Our enemies in Iraq are not numerous and not popular -- only a small portion of the Iraqi population has any desire to seek the return of Ba'athist tyranny or the establishment of a government of extremist Jihadists.  But our enemies are well financed, well armed, and motivated by the recognition that the success of Iraqi democratic political reconstruction will end or severely damage their several causes. No one should underestimate the difficulty of our mission but no one should doubt that the U.S.-led coalition will succeed. 


            Our strategy aims to put the Iraqis in a position to run their own lives, manage their own government, and provide for their own security and to leave as soon as they've done so. 


            Thus we have a dual message to convey to the Iraqi people.


            First, that we in the coalition will stay the course.  We'll see the job through until Iraq is well launched on the path to freedom and prosperity.


            Second, we have no ambition to rule the Iraqis and intend to hand their country back to them as soon as we can.


            Fundamental to our strategy is getting more Iraqis trained and equipped to provide the security for their own country.  We're creating a new force, the Civil Defense Corps, which will perform combined operations with U.S. and coalition forces.  We're also rebuilding the Iraqi police force which disintegrated as the old regime collapsed.  Retraining will also be necessary. The old Iraqi police force was not a capable institution.  The real work of law enforcement -- if one can call it that -- under the old regime was done by the now disbanded Internal Security Services using means that have no place in a free Iraq.


            Even as the new Iraqi security forces are being trained, they can take over some tasks such as fixed site security.  Highly skilled U.S. troops are not needed for such missions.  U.S. troops can more efficiently be kept in reserve to provide a quick reaction force that can deal with situations that go beyond the Iraqi forces' ability.


            As more Iraqis function in the various security forces they will improve the coalition's intelligence which is the key to dealing with former regime loyalists and terrorists.  Knowledge of the terrain, of the society and of the language are all advantages that an indigenous force will have over any outside force, no matter how well-trained or technologically advanced. 


            Although we're on the right tracks in Afghanistan and Iraq there is no doubt that we still face difficulties in both countries.  But it bears recalling that in 1982 when President Reagan gave the London speech from which I quoted earlier, we also faced difficult, even frightening national security problems and bitter controversy over the prudence of our policies and their chances for success.


            Now when we look back 20 years the Cold War's successful conclusion appears not just brilliant but inevitable.  Indeed many Americans across the political spectrum now recall the Cold War with nostalgia as a time when the nature of the enemy was clear and our key foreign policy choices were obvious.  But as this audience knows, it was nothing of the sort. There were intense debates and doubts about the course President Reagan took in those years, especially what was criticized as his moralistic approach in confronting the Soviet Empire.


            I believe that 20 years from now President Bush's strategy, the actions in the war on terrorism that I've been discussing and other issues that I haven't mentioned such as the transformation of our alliance structure, the transformation of our military forces, will also appear excellent, inevitable, and perhaps even obvious.  We'll look back at them with pride and satisfaction, knowing that the United States rose to the challenge of the defense of our freedom with skill, moral clarity, determination and success.


            Thank you.




            Q:  I'm Bob Hershey with District Society of Professional Engineers.  You noted the threat of suicide bombers.  I wonder what's being done to minimize the destruction caused by threats such as vehicles of having laminated tempered glass and appropriate structures as opposed to closing off streets which I think has been shown to have been the fact in Pakistan and [inaudible] infrastructures, so that nobody in the structures [inaudible] Pennsylvania Avenue where [inaudible]. [Inaudible] looking into this in areas and seeing where it is practical.


            Feith:  I'm not going to comment specifically on operational ideas that our forces have for dealing with the problem, but I can assure you that a great deal of thought is being given to technology and what our military calls the tactics, techniques and procedures for dealing with suicide bombers and the improvised explosive devices and the mortars, RPGs, the full range of weapons that we're coming up against in Iraq.


            Q:  [Inaudible] in Korea.  Several days ago Mr. Rumsfeld visited South Korea and he quoted that the South Korean government is only sending 3,000 soldiers to guard Iraq and that the United States is very disappointed with that, that the number is too small.  Today the Washington Times reported that the United States is planning to withdraw soldiers in Korea and send them to Iraq.  Is there any comment for that?


            Feith:  I haven't seen the Washington Times report that you mentioned.


            Our approach since the war on terrorism started has been to work with the numerous countries that have offered to assist and participate in the coalition on the basis on which they feel comfortable.  And we have a good and flexible set of coalitions because we respect the countries that are participating with us.


            Different countries have different circumstances, different constraints on them.  There are some countries that are comfortable contributing forces of different types. Some have limited their participation in various ways.  Some are providing funds rather than forces.  Some provided different types of help to us during the war, whether it was access basing and overflight or other types of assistance or intelligence-sharing.  We are not engaged in the practice of grading our allies and our friends.  And they do what they're comfortable doing.  We're happy for the support that they provide, and we have numerous and strong coalition, a better coalition as a result. 


            I think that's all I want to say on that subject.  But we have very good relations with the Republic of Korea and they will make the contribution that they feel comfortable with.


            Q:  Frances Johnson of International Property Rights Working Group.  Are you asking the Iraqi people outside the power structure who are under the rule of law, are we asking them what are their hopes and desires?  Do they have similar desires to our Americans who fought in our revolution?  American soldiers, patriots, that fought, they though they could have a piece of land in their name, and they could have power over that land.   Pioneers that went west wouldn't have gone out there to fight against the [inaudible] plantation owners.  They thought they would have the freedom over their little piece of property [inaudible] as a base for business.  Are we looking at property rights for individuals or all Iraqis – it takes a regime, it takes work, but are we looking at that part of the equation as a definition of economic freedom?


            Feith:  We are looking at the protection of private property rights.  It's why we understood now, around the world, that private property rights are one of the key protections of the freedom of people wherever they're living.  I think that's understood.


            At the same time, however, I would say that we have to be careful about analogies and careful about applying our own national experience in too automatic a fashion to people who have a different history and a different culture and different ideas.


            One of the interesting things I believe about President Bush's entire approach to promoting freedom is that he recognizes that human nature has certain universal attributes and the desire for freedom is one of them.  At the same time he has great respect for the differences that exist among countries and is not attempting a cookie-cutter approach to governance and believes that you really have to allow people to make their own decisions based on their own culture and their own views.


            That's a long answer to your question that I could have answered just by saying yes, but I want to be clear that there's a lot of careful thinking going on in our work in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere to make sure that we are showing due regard to both the universal aspects and the particular aspects of people's interests and programs for their own country.


            Q:  [Inaudible] recently Sir there have been some reports that read that the Department of Defense is looking at training a peacekeeping force or post-conflict operation force a brigade or even a division sized force [inaudible]. I'm wondering how far along are in that process and might that be a reality [inaudible]? I wonder if you’d care to comment on that?


            Feith:  The famous Donald Rumsfeld memorandum that was leaked some weeks ago asked questions about “Are we organized as a department and as a government to deal with the war on terrorism and the various challenges we face in the future?”


            One aspect of the answer to that question is that we need to address the question of how we handle what are called stability operations or peace operations.  There is a lot of thinking being done about the way we organize for that, the way we train people. A lot of the thinking is preliminary and I think some of the press reports that I've seen about it suggest that it's a lot more definite and a lot farther along than I think it is.  But it is a topic that is worth giving a lot of consideration to because the function is an important one.


            Q:            Peter Busey, National Defense University.  I had a conversation this morning with [inaudible] in which he said the reason he and others are so vociferous in their dislike of the Administration is that when you came into office you simply did not, and I’m quoting them, quoting, you simply did not care about terrorism.  [Inaudible] the 9-11 commission.  And if you look at Mr. [inaudible]'s web site [inaudible], it's filled with this kind of derogatory comments about this Administration.  Often charges are untrue, but when left out in the ether and not answered they take on the attributes of urban myth.


            I was wondering if you could address this.  It's a very serious issue and I think it's central to the criticisms of organizations such as his that are out there.


            Feith:  It's not true.  The Administration understood that terrorism represented a serious problem from the beginning, from before 9-11.  Our strategic documents in the Department of Defense, the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Defense Planning Guidance, dealt with the threat of terrorism, the dangers of asymmetric warfare as it's called, and I just don't think that one can make the case, I don't think one can prove the case that is being asserted.  I think in fact we could prove the contrary. So I think it's an unfair charge.


            Q:  Ghopal Ratnam, Defense News.  When President Bush was in London I think he was asked the question about future force strength of [inaudible] troops in Iraq and he suggests that maybe that's not [inaudible] yet.


            I'm wondering if you can say anything at all about it.  I think [inaudible] coming out of the Pentagon.  I'm wondering if there is any review of what the force structure will be beyond 2004?


            Feith:  That's an interesting question because implied in the question is the idea that we can sit here on whatever the date is, November 24th, and tell you what our force strength is going to be one month, three months, six months from now.  And this has nothing to do with events on the ground and how things might change.  And the fact is, we are looking at a security problem of certain dimensions and we have three categories of forces to deal with that problem.  We have the U.S. forces, we have the Iraqi forces, and we have the other coalition forces. 


            The number, the total number of forces and the types of forces that we need to deal with the problems will depend on how the problems evolves and there's no way that we can know that now.  We have the strategy, we have plans that build into them the flexibility to adapt and change, and what the President was saying was I really think simply the common sense point that we cannot say that what we're going to need to address the problem can be determined absent knowing exactly what the nature of the problem is and as it changes as it evolves over the months.


            That's true with the issue of troop level, it's true with every other aspect of our current work.  I think an enormous amount has been written about post-war planning that ignores the point that I'm making now.  Post-war planning is not about predicting specific things that are going to happen six months or a year from now and then building detailed plans based on your prediction.  Post-war planning is about setting up the general planning guidelines that will allow you to adapt and handle, adapt to and handle whatever circumstances arise.  And nobody can be confident that you can predict the future.  That's the essence of the exercise, is to recognize that you can't predict the future, and as I like to put it, you have to plan to be surprised.


            I'm glad you asked the question because it's really important that people see clearly how important setting up a strategy and a set of plans that are adaptable is to being able to handle real world situations.


            Q:  [Inaudible] a question on Taiwan. Oh, Jing Wei, Phoenix TV for Hong Kong. The plan for surprise part.  You might have noticed the heated up situation around the Taiwan Straights.  Does the Pentagon have a conflict prevention plan if Mr. [inaudible] once again goes down the road of promoting independence of Taiwan, and should there be a conflict, how much would the Pentagon intervene so it's not a big surprise?


            Feith:  The whole U.S. government has thoughts and plans to keep that part of the world stable and out of war.  And we have our established policies that are very well known and we think that there's no reason for anybody to be heading off in a direction that is going to be increasing the dangers of war.


            Moderator: I think we have time for one last question here.


            Q:  Pam Hess, UPI.  I was interested in your comments on discouraging, or encouraging the Muslim clerics.  One of the things that was in Secretary Rumsfeld's memo was you have to be able to provide the foundation to encourage moderate forms of Islam.  I'm wondering if you can tell us what's been done along that front.  And also could you talk in general about the problem with Saudi Arabia. That has been one of the places that has been identified as a hotbed or creation of terrorists.


            Feith: The Saudi question first. There have been as you know, some recent quite terrible terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. I think that many officials in the Saudi government are a heightened sensitivity to the terrorist problem. It’s an important basis for our cooperation on counter-terrorist work.


            On the issue of the moderate voices within the Arab world, we are frequently said by critics around the world to have put ourselves as Americans at odds with the Muslim world in the War on Terrorism. However many times we answer this I think it still bears repeating because it’s such an important point. The battle of ideas in the Global War on Terrorism is largely a fight within the world of Islam, between the extremists and people in the Muslim world who oppose them. We look at ourselves as being allied with millions of Muslims - who we believe are a clear, overwhelming majority – who do not want to come under the rule of fanatics and extremists.


            We have an interest in the voices of the moderates, the people who do not want their religion stolen away from them by extremists like Osama bin Laden. We have an interest in seeing amplified the voices of those moderates. It’s not necessarily for us to do, but there are people in the world of Islam who are unhappy with the situation and want to save their religion from extremism. It’s important that the many people who have a moderate view and have a way forward for their people that promises a lot more than self-destruction – that those people have the means to get their message out and to be effective and to help educate people properly rather than teaching young people to blow themselves up and kill innocent people while they’re doing it.

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