U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday strongly defended the contents of a Pentagon memo in which he asks his top aides whether the United States is actually winning its global war on terror. Rumsfeld says his questions in the memo were simply aimed at stimulating creative thinking in the government. But critics accuse Rumsfeld of seeking to deflect blame for mishaps in Iraq, where attacks on U.S. forces are on the rise.
Washington, 24 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Don't blame the Pentagon if the U.S. global war on terrorism isn't always smooth sailing. That was partly U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's message yesterday as the Pentagon chief again faced reporters to defend the contents of a leaked internal memo in which he asks his top aides whether America is winning its biggest battle.
In the memo, released by the Pentagon on 22 October after it had been leaked to the press, Rumsfeld appears to suggest that the United States may be fighting its war on terrorism in the wrong way, by focusing too much on military operations and not enough on diplomatic efforts and other forms of pressure. He also wonders if the Pentagon can be reshaped fast enough to meet the terrorist threat.
The leaked memo comes at a time when the Bush administration is being criticized over the cost in U.S. lives and dollars of the war in Iraq and whether that war has improved or perhaps worsened U.S. national security. Since the end of major combat in Iraq was declared on 1 May, 105 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire, while 100 U.S. soldiers have died in accidents and other noncombat situations.
In the latest attack, one soldier was killed and two wounded yesterday when their convoy was hit by an explosion near Baquba, north of the capital, Baghdad.
Yesterday, as the Pentagon confirmed that such attacks are increasing, Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing that the responsibility for the success of the war on terrorism does not reside solely with the Defense Department -- a message he said the administration has been consistent in delivering all along.
"First of all, it isn't the task of the Department of Defense to be successful in the global war on terror, it's the task of our country, all of our governmental agencies, public and private, as well as 90-plus other countries," he said. "So no one department of government can do it all. And the question that I raised is, are we organized?"
In his memo, Rumsfeld mentions the madrassah schools of Pakistan three times and wonders what can be done to stop them from teaching anti-American hatred and inciting terrorism.
Yesterday, he told reporters that starting up a new version of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) might help the war on terrorism. The Cold War agency that helped promote America abroad was shut down in 1999.
Ironically, critics of the war on terrorism say it has relied too heavily on the military and not focused enough resources on social projects, such as education in the Muslim world, or on public diplomacy efforts along the lines of the old USIA.
The memo surfaced after the management of post-Saddam Iraq was taken out of Rumsfeld's hands earlier this month and given to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. It also follows recent media reports that accused the Pentagon of ignoring a major yearlong study by the State Department that accurately predicated many of the country's postwar problems, including violence and resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.
Phyllis Bennis is a scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She told RFE/RL that the Rumsfeld of the memo is a far cry from the man Americans know -- a brash leader who confidently led the nation to war with Iraq over the objections of allies and some in the U.S. State Department.
Bennis believes the memo is clearly intended to deflect criticism. "The questions that are arising are leading Rumsfeld to be more nervous than he has been before about people's willingness to criticize what the Pentagon is doing and claiming that it's not really the Pentagon's responsibility to do the after-war side of things -- that it's not really the Pentagon's fault if they're failing, that it's up to the American people as a whole to win the war against terrorism," Bennis said. "All of these are very different kinds of sound bites, if you will, from what he's been saying up till now, which is, 'We're in charge, we know what we're doing, you don't need to worry about it, we're going to do it and we're going to win.' This is designed to head off his critics."
Meanwhile, Rumsfeld's top aide, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the U.S. war on terrorism, yesterday left on his second trip in four months to Iraq as the Bush administration seeks to keep a handle on its biggest foreign policy challenge.
With U.S. troops dying nearly every day at the hands of Hussein loyalists and anti-U.S. militants, Wolfowitz will be under tight security on a visit expected to include meetings with U.S. and international forces and Iraqi officials.
Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Pentagon's joint staff, told a briefing yesterday in Washington that the U.S. military is looking for ways to use new technologies to thwart rising attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, particularly in the so-called Sunni Triangle near Baghdad.
"The New York Times" reported yesterday that the new technologies are being developed in a classified project involving surveillance aircraft and other high-tech sensors, as well as intelligence on the ground, to try to detect and counter ambushes against American forces.
Schwartz said Wolfowitz has been studying those needs in Iraq. "The deputy secretary has undertaken an effort to scrutinize all the needs that might be required, and has, in fact, realigned several hundred million dollars to make that happen," he said. "This involves such things as up-armored Humvees, it involves such things as body armor, it involves things of a nature that would conduct surveillance on the borders and so on."
Schwartz added that attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq have risen to about 25 a day, up by six or seven a day compared to just a few weeks ago. He also said that Ansar al-Islam, an Iraqi extremist group whose main base was destroyed by U.S. and Kurdish forces last spring, has emerged as the key terrorist threat to U.S. forces in Iraq. But Schwartz said the U.S. has no concrete evidence tying the group to any specific attacks.