Rumsfeld talks about terrorism and military bases
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday the odds of South Carolina losing military bases likely are slim.
And in a presentation for The Citadel’s Conservative Intellectual Tradition in America series earlier in the day, he said the U.S. alone cannot fight Muslim extremists. It must support Muslims who attempt to restrain the small minority of extremists within their own faith.
Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense under both President Gerald Ford and President George W. Bush, said he has “no inside knowledge” about the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission process. But, he said, there will likely be more bases moving to the United States from outside the country than there will be bases moving overseas.
“And we always want to have our installations where they are wanted,” he said. Bases always have been wanted in South Carolina. So conditions are favorable for the state’s bases to remain and thrive.
Rumsfeld was serving as defense secretary during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And he was a central figure in planning the country’s response to the attacks, which included wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Political support for him waned when those wars dragged on. He resigned in 2006.
Rumsfeld commended Bush’s response to the terror attacks. He not only took decisive military action but also realized he had to go on the offensive to fight terrorism.
For instance, Rumsfeld said, Bush had to make communication harder for terrorists, and make it more difficult for them to find a country in which they could live and organize. He did that through efforts such as the Patriot Act.
The administration, however, had a problem with language, Rumsfeld said. The phrase “War on Terror” isn’t perfect. It implies it will be won with bullets, he said, but like the Cold War, the battles will be much more complex.
And during the Cold War, the United States could name the enemy. It was communism. “We pinned the tail on the donkey,” he said.
But in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. officials were reluctant to point to the extreme element of the Muslim faith for fear of being seen as “anti-religion,” he said. “We made a terrible mistake by not elevating it and calling it what it is.”
The majority of Muslims do not support terrorist acts, he said. And it’s those Muslims who have a chance at influencing extremists. “Non-Muslims will not persuade extremists not to be extremists,” Rumsfeld said. “We’ve got to support people within that faith.”
Rumsfeld also talked about the challenges for fighting a war in the “information age.” He cited an example of an incorrect report of a Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “There were riots in three countries and people dead” over the report, he said.
It was later reported that the information was incorrect, but it was too late for those who had lost their lives. “We have an eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week government,” he said, “but 24-hour news.”
Rumsfeld said he’s been out of government circles for six years, but he continues to worry about the perception that the United States is withdrawing from being an active participant in world affairs. “I worry about weakness on our part,” he said. “Weakness is provocative.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.