As evidenced by the difficulty in rooting out insurgents in Iraq and stopping terror attacks such as those in London last year, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday that the war on terror could last decades and resemble the Cold War's long battle against communism. In a speech to the National Press Club, Rumsfeld laid out strategies for the conflict the White House has dubbed "The Long War."
Mirroring the oft-repeated pleas by President Bush for patience in the Iraqi war, Rumsfeld said the task of flushing out terrorists and battling extremist ideologies is an arduous one, with no clear endpoint in sight. The Washington Post reported that Rumsfeld extended the Cold War analogy by comparing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Nazi mastermind Adolf Hitler and former communist leader Vladimir Lenin and urging Americans to not underestimate the threats that terrorists pose to global security.
"Compelled by a militant ideology that celebrates murder and suicide with no territory to defend, with little to lose, they will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs," Rumsfeld said in the speech titled "The Long War," according to the Post.
Rumsfeld's speech came days before the unveiling of President Bush's 2007 budget, which seeks a nearly 5 percent increase in Defense Department spending (to $439.5 billion) with a significant increase in weapons programs, according to The Associated Press, citing senior Pentagon officials. The increase, the fifth consecutive rise in defense spending after years of reductions, comes as the Pentagon is to release a long-range strategy to reshape the military into a more mobile force that is better equipped to fight terrorism as well as conventional wars.
The Bush administration said Thursday that they will ask for a $50 billion down payment to continue fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, an amount not included in the proposed increase. The total for fighting those wars in 2006 is expected to be around $120 billion.
Rumsfeld delivered his speech on the eve of the release of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which lays out plans for how the U.S. military will address major security challenges 20 years into the future. Rumsfeld said the military must employ three main strategies in the war on terror: preventing terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, defending the U.S. homeland and helping allies fight terrorism, according to the The Washington Post. He stressed that these goals could take a long time to achieve, as evidenced by the opening line of the QDR, "The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war."
The QDR report, heavily influenced by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shows a shift away from the conventional war scheme of the Cold War to three new modes of battle: "irregular" conflicts against terrorists and insurgents, defending the U.S. against "catastrophic" attacks with nuclear or chemical weapons and deterring the military rise of new world powers such as China.
Rumsfeld explained that one of the most difficult tasks facing the U.S. is recognizing the seriousness of the terrorist threat. He said the fight against terrorists could be a long, difficult one because they typically operate in the shadows in numerous countries around the world and are willing to wait long periods between attacks.
"Dealing with the issue of terrorism and extremism is going to take a long time," said Robert E. Hunter, senior adviser at Rand Corp. and a former ambassador to NATO, in the Post story. "But we have to define success. You're never going to get rid of all terrorism."
Rumsfeld seemed to mirror that thought, predicting that the long war would not end with the signing of a treaty or the dropping of a bomb, but with a "fading down over a sustained period of time as more countries in the world are successful," not unlike the fade of communism at the end of the Cold War.