July 31, 2003

Rumsfeld Offers Fervent Defense of Iraq War

NY Times
February 8, 2004
Rumsfeld Offers Fervent Defense of Iraq War
By ERIC SCHMITT

MUNICH, Feb. 7 - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Saturday offered an
impassioned defense of the American-led war against Iraq to some of Europe's
fiercest critics of the conflict.

Mr. Rumsfeld placed the blame for the war squarely on Saddam Hussein for his
"deception and defiance," and refusal to abandon his illegal weapons
program, as Libya did recently.

"It was his choice," Mr. Rumsfeld said in a speech here to an audience of
250 government ministers, lawmakers and national security experts from 30
countries, most of them in Europe. "If the Iraqi regime had taken the same
steps Libya is now taking, there would have been no war."

Asked in a question-and-answer session afterward about apparent American
intelligence failures in Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged it was a question
of critical importance that would be examined by the commission appointed on
Friday by President Bush, but emphasized that the panel would look at
intelligence successes as well as shortcomings.

Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks drew several pointed questions from the audience
challenging how the administration could defend its doctrine of pre-emptive
strikes against perceived threats when the precise intelligence needed for
such a strategy apparently failed in the case of Iraq.

"If you're going to live in this world and it is a dangerous world, you do
have to have elegant intelligence," Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged.

But he repeatedly defended the get-them-before-they-get-us doctrine in an
age when terrorists are threatening to acquire and use biological, chemical
and nuclear weapons as "something that has to be weighed and considered by
all of us" given the possible catastrophic consequences.

A year ago at this same international security conference, the Munich
Conference on Security Policy, Mr. Rumsfeld sparred with European officials,
notably Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, over whether NATO
member countries should gird for war with Iraq or allow weapons inspectors
to continue their search. Thousands of antiwar demonstrators gathered then
in the streets of Munich.

This year, with the Bush administration needing European troops to help
stabilize and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington has sought to smooth
over the trans-Atlantic rift, including a major speech in Switzerland last
month by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Conference participants this week said they sensed that tensions had eased,
replaced by a desire to move beyond the dispute and to combat common
security problems, like terrorism and the spread of illicit arms. This year,
relatively few protesters turned out.

In this climate, many officials here expected a tempered, if not
conciliatory speech on Saturday from Mr. Rumsfeld, who is still regarded by
many Germans and French, in particular, as a villain for his dismissive
remarks about "old Europe." Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld, feisty and unyielding,
appeared eager to put a potential adversary on the defensive as he laid out
the administration's rationale for the war in the absence of any illegal
Iraqi weapons.

"Think about what was going on in Iraq a year ago with people being
tortured, rape rooms, mass graves, gross corruption, a country that has used
chemical weapons against its own people," he said in response to a question,
his voice rising, his hands chopping the air for emphasis.

He then turned the question back on the audience. "There were prominent
people from representative countries in this room that opined that they
really didn't think it made a hell of a lot of difference who won," he said,
nearly shouting. "Shocking. Absolutely shocking."

Asked whether America's stature in the world had been diminished since the
war, he acknowledged the Iraq war had taken its toll, but contended that it
was more because of biased reporting by Arab media like Al Jazeera than
anything the United States had done. "I know in my heart and my brain that
America ain't what's wrong in the world," he said.

Some European participants said they were stunned by what they called Mr.
Rumsfeld's arrogance, especially in light of the apparent intelligence
failures in Iraq. "His view is, `We're right, they're wrong, and we'll
continue to be right,' " said Christoph Bertram, director of the German
Institute for International Politics and Security in Berlin. "It was a
performance of `We know better.' "

Other participants said the speech illustrated a problem of Europeans and
Americans talking past each other on critical security issues.

Speaking to the conference before Mr. Rumsfeld's address, Mr. Fischer, the
German foreign minister, said of the Iraq war that "events have proven the
position we took at the time to be right." But he then repeatedly called for
both sides to set aside their views on the war and work closely to ensure
that Iraq does not fall victim to former members of Mr. Hussein's government
and foreign terrorists operating in Iraq.

"We have to win the peace together," said Mr. Fischer, adding that only
United Nations involvement could bring legitimacy to the process of
restoring Iraqi sovereignty. "We must develop a common strategy with which
to prevail over the jihadists."

Mr. Fischer proposed that the United States and Europe pool their resources
to save the Middle East from what he called a crisis of modernization that
was fostering terrorism and instability in the region.

He proposed a wide-ranging Middle East initiative to enhance security,
bolster local economies and strengthen democratic institutions in Middle
Eastern nations, like the rule of law and political freedoms. He urged that
NATO members pursue the initiative before the alliance's summit meeting in
Istanbul in June.

In a brief interview after Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks, Mr. Fischer declined to
comment on them except to say, "I think we have to look for the positive
aspects."