Donald Rumsfeld's ghastly speech.

Military analysis.
Aug. 30 2006 6:48 PM

Rumsfeld's Four Questions

The secretary's ghastly speech to the American Legion.

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2. "Can we really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?"

Again, it depends what he means by "terrorists." If he's talking about al-Qaida, who is advocating such a thing? If he's talking about, say, Syria or Iran, which are state sponsors of terrorism, it's sheer folly not to negotiate with them, at least on some issues. (Rumsfeld loads the deck by tossing in the phrase "a separate peace.") Several notable (and quite hawkish) Israelis, including a former director of Mossad, have advocated negotiating with Syria over its support of Hezbollah. Many Americans, of both parties and all persuasions, have urged George W. Bush to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program. It's worth recalling that, shortly after 9/11, the Bush administration quietly opened up a line of diplomacy and cooperation with Iran over its shared interest in toppling the Taliban regime of Afghanistan.

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Rumsfeld properly lionizes Winston Churchill and, implicitly, Franklin D. Roosevelt for recognizing the threat from Nazi Germany at a time when many dismissed his warnings. But it's a good thing that the Western leaders of World War II weren't as dogmatic as their wannabe-emulators of today. Otherwise, they might not have formed an alliance with the Soviet Union (out of a refusal to negotiate with evil Communists), and they might have therefore lost the war.

3. "Can we truly afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply 'law-enforcement' problems, rather than fundamentally different threats, requiring fundamentally different approaches?"

Once more, Rumsfeld loads the deck. Nobody claims that today's threats are "simply" matters of law enforcement. Obviously, terrorists are not "simply" criminals, and dealing with them requires a mix of approaches, including military. That said, techniques of law enforcement (including police surveillance, border patrol, and international intelligence sharing) have recently broken up more terrorist plots than any military operation.

As George Will (hardly an appeaser) wrote a few weeks ago: "The London plot against civil aviation confirmed … that better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg … and High Wycombe, England." Will, a stalwart Republican, went further: "Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement … has validated John Kerry's belief"—expressed in one of the 2004 presidential debates—"that although the war on terror will be 'occasionally military,' it is 'primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation."

4. "And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America—not the enemy—is the real source of the world's trouble?"

This is another red herring. Few Americans, and virtually no contenders in American politics, hold this view. However, a lot of people in other countries—including countries that are, or should be, our allies—do hold this view. Look at the Pew Research Center's most recent "global attitudes survey," released this past June. In only four of the 15 nations surveyed (Britain, India, Japan, and Nigeria) did a majority of citizens have a favorable view of the United States. In six countries (Spain, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan), Iran had a higher rating than did the United States. (In one more, Russia, the two countries' ratings were tied.) Most remarkable, in all but one country (Germany), America's presence in Iraq was seen as a bigger danger to world peace than either Iran or North Korea.

These views are widespread—and, by the way, they've grown steadily more prominent in the past few years—not because of "the media" or "blame-America-first" liberals, nor because Iran and North Korea have more skillful propagandists (or, if they do, it's time for Condoleezza Rice to hire a better public-diplomacy staff). No, a country's global image is usually formed not by what its leaders say but rather by what they do.

If the war on terror is "a battle for the future of civilization," as Cheney claimed in his speech (or even if it's merely a serious struggle), and if the United States needs allies to wage it, the president and his team would better spend their time luring allies than beating up on journalists and Democrats. If Rumsfeld is serious, he should revisit the questions he asked back in October 2003. Those—not the cleverly phrased debaters' points he muttered this past Monday—really are some "central questions of our time."