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Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld at the American Spectator Annual Dinner

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 16, 2006

ALFRED REGNERY (American Spectator publisher): Thank you, Grover.

I could have no greater honor than to introduce our speaker to you this evening. Don Rumsfeld is a patriot of the first order and an inspiration to all of us who love our country. He's a hard-charging, no-nonsense, pragmatic innovator. He could only be an American. He's as American as the flag that hangs behind me.

He's answered the call to duty many times. A quarter of a century ago, he answered that call and became Gerald Ford's secretary of Defense. In those days, we were engaged in a different war, a cold war against a different enemy. Eventually we won that war. When Rumsfeld returned to the secretary's office six years ago, the Department of Defense was still organized to fight the Cold War. Don Rumsfeld changed that.

Today the Pentagon is a revised institution prepared to fight the complex and unorthodox battles of the 21st century. He made major changes. He broke a good deal of china in the process and he made a lot of enemies, but the Department of Defense is a far better place because of what he did.

Mr. Rumsfeld also has a quick wit. I recall, and he probably does too, in 1999 having dinner one night in a restaurant in Beijing. It was one of those Chinese restaurants where they bring you 15 courses and every one is made out of some part of a duck. (Laughter.) When the soup arrived, Don took his spoon and he stirred it around, and what would arrive at the top but a duck's foot. What did Rumsfeld say? He looked at it. He said, "My goodness, this gives a new definition to the World Wide Web." (Laughter.)

Mr. Secretary, please know that if you have a lot of enemies around the world -- and frankly, I think you do -- that you also have a lot of friends, including virtually everybody in this room. Ronald Reagan once said that the will and moral courage of free men and women is more formidable than any weapon. That will and moral courage, Reagan continued, is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. Don Rumsfeld understood what Ronald Reagan said and made those words part of his strategy to fortify America against our new enemies.

The historians will write the final analysis, as they always do. Of this we can be sure: Don Rumsfeld will be remembered as a man who was always loyal to his country, to the truth and to his president. And he will be remembered as a great secretary of Defense.

Mr. Rumsfeld has asked me to tell you that nothing he has to say tonight is on the record -- is off the record, I'm sorry, is off the record. (Laughter.)

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Applause.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much. (Continued applause.) Thank you very much. (Continued applause.) My goodness. (Cheers, continued applause.) Thank you. (Continued applause.) Thank you, folks.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs, laughter.) Oh my. Thank you so very much. I appreciate that a great deal. It means a lot to me, and it's a delight to be here for this terrific evening and dinner. Father Rigdon and -- Al, thank you for those words. I appreciate them. And thank you so much for your many contributions to the cause. You're always there. We know that, and we appreciate it.

Governor and Mrs. Romney, nice to see you here. I also want to thank you, Mitt, for taking the time to go to Iraq and visit the troops. It means a lot to them and to us that you are willing to do that. We appreciate it. (Applause.)

Al said change is hard and it is. People don't like to change, and big institutions particularly don't. And he mentioned that we broke some china. I guess that's right. It recalls to mind that wonderful fable about the man and the boy and the donkey. They're walking down the road, and the man says to the boy, "Get up on the donkey." People are pointing and saying why doesn't someone ride the donkey. So the boy got up on the donkey, and they went a little farther and people down the road said, "Isn't that terrible? The young boy's riding the donkey, and the poor old man's walking beside the donkey. And it's terrible." So the man said, "Well, okay, let's change places," and people would go down there and they'd criticize for that. So they both got on the donkey, they come to the bridge, the donkey can't handle it. He falls in the water and drowns. And the moral of the story is if you try to please everybody, you're going to lose your donkey. (Laughter, applause.)

We have a couple of terrific senators in the room. Lamar Alexander, it's good to see you, and -- (applause). I met Lamar back in the Nixon administration, I think, in the 19 -- late `60s. He was working for Bryce Harlow down the hall. And Jeff Sessions who's here from Alabama is -- (applause). Jeff's a member of the Armed Services Committee, and he is a superb member of the Armed Services Committee. He is consistently strong, courageous and supportive of the department and the troops, and we appreciate it, Jeff.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes. (Applause.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Joyce and I, when we go out to the -- if we get down, we go out to Bethesda or Walter Reed and visit the troops, because they're an inspiration.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes. (Applause.)

And the folks that are here tonight, we're -- we appreciate your being here. We value your service. When you visit with their parents, some of whom are here also this evening, you can't help but come away feeling so encouraged and proud of this generation of young people and the support they get. (Applause.)

And a special thanks to our friend, that clear-headed, tough-minded Bob. But where in the dickens did you get that ridiculous photograph in that little red pamphlet? (Laughter.)

There's a picture of me in there, and it had to have been your first edition 40 years ago. (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (You’re young?)

SEC. RUMSFELD: (Chuckles.) But you know, I'm not -- I listen to Bob sometimes, and I have no idea whether what he's saying is a compliment or not. (Laughter.) A few months ago, he wrote a column about a speech I'd given, and he titled it "The Rumsfeld Horripilation." Now, where I came from in Chicago, we don't talk like that. (Laughter.) And so we looked it up, and it talks about a "bristling of the hair on the skin from cold or fear." (Laughter.) Now, Lamar, you didn't know that. (Laughter.)

(Chuckles.) And I didn't know that. And I'll bet you there's a few others in here who didn't know that. (Laughter.)

But Bob, a special thanks to you for the work you've done to build this fine, influential magazine.

I looked at the first edition the other day, and the -- they sent me the people who'd written in it, and Milton Friedman had a piece in there on the all- -- the case for the all-volunteer Army. And I think it was your very first edition. And Milton Friedman, God bless him, who's still going strong and is such a talent, he had piece in there, and the Spectator printed it. And here we are today, with the finest force on the face of the Earth, the best-led, the best-trained, the best-equipped. And there's never been a military like the military we have today, and it's all volunteers. (Applause.)

Every single person in it is a volunteer. They raised their hand and said, "Send me." And God bless them for it. (Applause.)

And to the staff of the Spectator -- (chuckling) -- God bless you folks. You've propped this guy up so beautifully -- (laughter) -- for so long and made him look so good, I congratulate all of you. (Applause.)

Now a special greeting to the recipient of the Barbara Olson Award, which happens later this evening, for -- an award for excellence and independence in journalism -- Michael Barone, sitting right over here. (Applause.) Michael is one of the deans -- indeed, I would say one of the greats of the Washington press corps. He's certainly one of the most influential journalists in town, in no small part, because of his commitment to fair-mindedness -- a trait to be greatly valued anywhere, anytime -- and in Washington, D.C., to be treasured. (Laughter.)

I am particularly honored to be joining you for this first Robert Bartley dinner, named for our friend -- that giant -- the legendary editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. For over the course of 30 years, Bob elevated and pressed the often unpopular ideas of supply-side economics and a robust -- some might even say an aggressive national defense. It's instructive to note that much of what we today consider to be reasonably self-evident was the source of such heated debate back in those years.

One might ask how in the world did Bob Bartley manage to push those ideas from the fringe into the center of the national dialogue. Not an easy thing to do. First, I would say it was perseverance. He was determined. And second, his abiding belief in the rightness of the cause. His guiding principle for the editorial page was: “free people and free markets.” That's a powerful statement -- and it made the Journal's editorial page, under its able new leadership, what it is today -- a powerful voice for reason that's still calling for “free people and free markets.”

If you think about it, that is what really rather concisely encapsulates what this country is all about -- a nation, when it was founded, that was small, encircled and weak -- but which lit the spark of liberty -- its embers finding their way all across the globe.

Throughout our history, there have always been spirited debates about what our country's responsibilities are or should be -- even back in the very early days of the Revolution. Indeed, there's been a lively debate in every decade of my adult life -- throughout the Cold War, before. And to be sure, there is heated debate today.

Many of you may be aware that I keep a photograph on my desk under glass. It's a satellite image taken at night of the Korean peninsula. And I think they're going to put one up, if they have one. It's powerful. I often give it to foreign dignitaries when they visit my office. It's evidence of Bob Bartley's vision.

And as you can see, in the south, below the Demilitarized Zone, the land is bright with energy and life. In the north, that one pinprick of light is the capital -- of Pyongyang in North Korea. The same people in the north and south, the same resources in the North and the South -- no difference. The difference is that in the south, they have a free political system and a free economic system -- and that that freedom has unleashed the power of human ingenuity to the great benefit of the South Korean people.

In the North, with a repressive dictatorship, a command economy, the people suffer starvation. They are taking people into the North Korean military that are four feet, 10 inches high and less than a hundred pounds because of malnutrition in that country.

The transformation of South Korea -- from a poor, war-torn, war-ravaged nation with no experience with democracy into the 10th-largest economy on the face of the Earth today was an effort that took a war, and it took decades. It required patience. It required perseverance -- by both the United States and by the Korean people, who eventually built a thriving society from war-torn rubble -- just as Germany and Japan did after World War II.

I can remember being in Seoul -- oh, I don't know, six, eight, 10, 12 months ago, and I was in the top of a tall building, and the Korean -- maybe it was longer now, maybe 10 or 12 months -- the Korean parliament was just voting on whether or not they should send any troops into Iraq to help the coalition. And I was on about the eighth or 10th floor, and there was a reception and people were milling around, having a drink and talking, and a woman reporter -- I don't know, 40, 45 years old -- came up to me and said, "May I ask you some questions?" I said, "Sure." And she said, "Why in the world should Korea -- the Korean people send their young people halfway across the world to Iraq to get killed or wounded?" And I looked at her and thought to myself, "She obviously doesn't know much about the Korean War." And I thought -- I had just come from laying a wreath at the Korean War Memorial there and seeing the name of a friend from high school who was killed there actually on the last day of the war -- and I said to her, "Look out there. Look at what this country's done. Look at the opportunity people have. Look at you. That would not have happened if people had asked that question in the United States and said, 'Why in the world should we send American troops over to Korea, halfway around the world, to get killed or wounded?'" And it's important that she understand that. It's important that we all understand that.

In the struggle we face, perseverance -- may be even more important today. This is the first war of the 21st century. It's different. And even after several years of this war, it's not well understood. It's unfamiliar to the American people and to most of the people of the world. There are no armies, no navies, no air forces for our military to go out and soundly defeat in pitched battles on land, sea or air, only rather shadowy networks of vicious extremists who kill other Muslims -- for the most part -- kill innocent men, women and children -- who attack elected governments in an attempt to reestablish a caliphate, and who are increasingly successful at systematically manipulating the world media -- with the goal, the hope, the expectation, and periodically the success, of weakening public will of free people.

The American people are still adjusting to the nature of this new struggle and the need eventually to adapt to a longer view. We live in an era -- and a culture -- that's accustomed to relatively short conflicts, fast action, quick resolutions.

The relatively slow progress in a country like Afghanistan and Iraq is not easily described in a few minutes on an evening newscast. Conversely, the images of suicide bombers, violent attacks by extremists, are gripping and readily understood.

The idea of “war,” for many, is a vision of large armies and navies and air forces in direct combat, not a daily struggle to build local security forces and defend against unpredictable attacks by small pockets of extremists. This new reality -- and this new century -- will require that all of us better explain the importance of the conflict in which we're engaged and work to adjust expectations to be more in keeping with the pace of the Cold War than of the more dramatic, World War II-type victories.

Our challenge is made more difficult by an enemy that is as cunning as it is deadly. They have media committees devoted to propaganda. They send out video teams to take film of attacks on our forces and get our networks to put them on the air. They use the Internet to recruit supporters and to turn any event -- any misstep -- to their favor.

But all the skillfulness of the enemy, their greatest vulnerability is the truth. That is where they are vulnerable. And the truth is that the vast majority of Muslims do not support them -- or their violence. Indeed they strongly oppose the carnage that extremists are inflicting on other Muslims. Most mothers do not want their children to grow up to be suicide-bombers. Only a small minority support the cruel dictatorship -- the radical Caliphate which would govern them and the world.

America, by contrast, is a force for good in this world. And if Americans persevere -- (applause). It's striking that that's not said very often, is it? (Laughter.) It should be. And if Americans persevere and help mainstream Muslims succeed in building relatively free and relatively safe societies in the region of the world that incubates extremism, then extremists simply cannot and will not succeed.

Despite all the noise, all the efforts to blame America for the world's troubles, America is not what's wrong with this world.

Last week, President Bush named the second recipient of the Medal of Honor since the War on Terror began. Marine Corporal Jason Dunham joined Army Sergeant 1st Class Paul Ray Smith in receiving this highest honor. (Applause, cheers.) Both men sacrificed themselves to save their fellow soldiers. Jason Dunham and Paul Ray Smith -- are the names that define valor on the battlefield.

Today America is the freest society on the face of the earth precisely because men and women in uniform have stood guard, stormed beaches, offered their lives for their comrades, for their country, and in defense of the truths that our founders believed were self-evident. Each time, the struggle was hard. We forget that, that it has been hard. Each time, many preferred that someone other than America take the lead -- but when they searched, they found no takers.

Like the Cold War, this struggle against extremism will be long. But we owe it to the troops fighting abroad to recognize our responsibilities, to understand the consequences -- the consequences of failure, and let there be no doubt, dire consequences of failure, of failing to defeat this enemy.

Many years ago, Ronald Reagan explained his strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union. He said, "My idea" -- and he was criticized for it. He said -- of course he was criticized for a lot of good things. He said, "My idea of American policy towards the Soviet Union is simple. It is this: We win, they lose." (Applause.) And that thought is just as true today. We need to stop thinking about exit strategies and focus on success. (Applause.) Not only the success and the safety of American people is at stake, but so too is the cause of human freedom.

So as the wounded troops here -- let me say again we thank you for your service. Please know that despite politics, despite debates, the great sweep of human history is for freedom, for free people and free markets, as Bob Bartley would say, and America is on the side of freedom. So thanks to you. Thanks to your courage. Thanks for your sacrifice. Freedom will prevail.

God bless you all. (Applause.)

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