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Rumsfeld Staunchly Defends Preemption to European Officials

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2004 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld mounted a heartfelt defense of the U.S. policy of preemption during a Feb. 7 speech at an international security conference in Munich, Germany.

He used several examples to demonstrate why U.S. leaders feel the best defense is a strong offense and why that justification goes up in direct relation to the potential threat.

Rumsfeld contrasted snowballs with weapons of mass destruction. If a country were going to be hit by something as innocuous as snowballs, he said, there's always the option of taking that hit and then deciding whether to respond. However, if an attack with biological weapons were in the cards and tens or hundreds of thousands of lives were at risk, "do you have an obligation in that case to act somewhat differently?" he asked the conference attendees.

Examples of preemption abound throughout history. The secretary used the example of quarantining people with infectious diseases as a type of preemption.

"If someone got smallpox, they were quarantined. They had not given that to anybody else yet, but they were stopped and they were not allowed to give it to anybody else," he explained.

"The state stepped in and said, 'We are going to preemptively stop you from hurting somebody else -- even though you don't want to, you have no intention to, and there's not any certainty you even would -- but we're going to stop you.'"

Rumsfeld said he understands that if a country is going to strike preemptively, strong intelligence is a vital piece of the puzzle. "If you're going to live in this world, you do have to have elegant intelligence," he said, adding that this is particularly difficult in a world with closed societies that know exactly what you're looking for.

He praised President Bush's decision to appoint an independent commission to look into intelligence failures and successes prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom and to formulate ways to improve such efforts in the future. A member of that commission, Arizona Sen. John McCain, was in attendance at the conference.

"I think it will be a constructive effort," the secretary said. "And I'm delighted the president made the decision, and we all have to figure out ways that we can better protect the people that we represent."

Rumsfeld also expressed an understanding that freedom comes with costs and sacrifices. He told of an episode at a Korean War memorial during a visit to Seoul, South Korea, in November.

There had been much debate in Korea about the prospect of sending South Korean troops to Iraq. "A woman journalist, clearly too young to have experienced the Korean War, said 'Why should young South Koreans go halfway around the world to Iraq to be killed or wounded?'" Rumsfeld recalled.

He said he told her it was a fair question. But then he told her of seeing the name of a close friend from high school on a wall at the memorial.

"He was killed the last day of the war, the very last day," Rumsfeld said of that long-ago friend. "And I said to this woman, 'You know, that would have been a fair question for an American journalist to ask 50 years ago. Why in the world should an American go halfway around the world to South Korea and get wounded or killed?'"

The secretary told that young woman to look out the window at the thriving city of Seoul and to compare life there to that in North Korea where people starve to death and the economy is in shambles.

What he said next led to strong applause.

"Korea was won at a terrible cost of lives," Rumsfeld said. "Thousands and thousands and thousands of people from the countries in this room.

"And was it worth it?" he asked quietly. "You bet."

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld


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