Defeating Insurgents in Iraq Will Take Lengthy Effort, Rumsfeld Says
Washington File Special Correspondent
Washington - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sees victory over insurgents in Iraq as requiring a long-term effort - but one that the Iraqis themselves rather than the United States and coalition allies will have to expend.
Speaking during a wide-ranging interview September 30 with the CNN television network's Frank Sesno that focused heavily on Middle East issues, Rumsfeld paraphrased questions with respect to the U.S. role as boiling down to, "Why is the United States not sufficiently successful against that insurgency?"
"I guess the short answer is that insurgencies are historically very difficult things," the secretary said. "They take time. They take anywhere from five, eight, 10, 12, 15 years. And go back to the Philippines or Algeria or any number of other countries."
But, he said, "in the last analysis that insurgency is going to be held within Iraq by the Iraqi people, by the success of that government, and over time. It isn't going to be dealt with by foreigners, in my view.”
Again, he said later in the interview, “the insurgency that's taking place inside Iraq is something that ultimately is going to be dealt with by the Iraqi government, by the Iraqi people, and by the Iraqi security forces, not by the United States of America, not by any foreign force that's in there fighting them."
The United States' own ultimate task is to see that the Iraqis themselves "have sufficient security forces that they can in fact achieve their goal of a reasonably stable environment so that they can move forward as a country," Rumsfeld said.
Asked by Sesno about the dangers posed by deepening divisions in the region and the influence of Iran and terrorist groups, Rumsfeld said, "The Shi'a effort that Iran represents is something that is of concern in the Sunni community, and we see that every day, one way or another."
"It certainly is not getting better, the split within that [Islamic] faith. And as weapons are increasingly lethal and available, you could say it's worse because the carnage can grow and more people can be killed. It doesn't take a genius to blow up people and to kill large numbers of innocent men, women and children," Rumsfeld added.
The secretary avoided giving a direct answer when asked whether the United States would "stay in the middle of that" if an all-out civil war were to develop in Iraq.
"I don't think we are in the middle of a civil war with our forces today," Rumsfeld replied. He said U.S. commanders see the possibility of the situation degenerating into civil war, "but at the moment they believe they're not in that circumstance."
Nor is the problem of combating today's terrorist threat simply a military one, Rumsfeld went on.
"It is in part military, to be sure, but it's political, it's economic and it's philosophical, ideological," he declared. "And the solution to it is not a purely military solution. As the president has said, it's going to take all elements of our country, working with many, many other countries, to see that we turn this in a way that's positive."
As to the current situation on the ground in Iraq, Rumsfeld acknowledged room for differing assessments. "You can look at the things that are on the plus side. You can look at the things that are on the minus side," he said.
But he indicated that, while "one robin does not a spring make," he was able to draw some encouragement from recent developments in Baghdad. "I guess it's probably close to a month of effort now with the increased forces, that progress is being made and that the numbers of killings are down and the number of assassinations are down and the violence is down," he said.
Rumsfeld minimized the importance of recent polls showing a majority of Americans opposed to the war in Iraq, and cited the volatility of polling data.
“What's important is what's right. What's important is what makes sense,” the secretary said. “And over time, the American people find their way to right decisions. If people believe today that the problem of terrorism in this world is a law enforcement problem, like somebody stealing their car or killing somebody in one of the metropolitan areas, that the task then is to punish them and put them in jail, they're wrong. And over time they see that,” he added.
See Iraq Update.
Turning to the role of Iran, Rumsfeld left no doubt as to his views when asked whether that nation was meddling in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. (See related article.)
"[O]f course they are - in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon," he said.
Rumsfeld said that widespread concern over the role of Iran is well-founded, given its status as "a large country, a country that's important historically, a country that has wealth, and is one of the principal sponsors of terrorism in the world, supporting Hezbollah among others, and is simultaneously announcing that the world would be better off without Israel and the United States, and simultaneously indicating a determination to have a nuclear capability of some sort."
"[T]hose are the ingredients that ought to cause people to be concerned," he said.
A transcript of Rumsfeld's interview is available on the Defense Department's Web site.