Thanks to USA Today, the public now knows some of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld really thinks of the war of terrorism. And thanks to Rumsfeld, the public knows that Bush is spinning when he discusses the war on terrorism.
The newspaper obtained an October 16, 2003, memo Rumsfeld wrote to four senior aides, in which he asked, “Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror?” Rumsfeld also noted, “We are having mixed results with Al Qaida.” The much-discussed memo was clearly intended to goose his top people–General Richard Myers, General Peter Pace, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith–to think boldly and imaginatively about the war at hand. But Rumsfeld observed, “Today, we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror.” He wondered whether more terrorists are being produced on a daily basis than the number of terrorists being captured, killed, deterred or dissuaded by U.S. actions.
If Rumsfeld says there is no way to measure success or defeat in the campaign against terrorism, how can George W. Bush declare that he is winning the war? Yet while speaking on September 12 at Fort Stewart in Georgia, before soldiers and families of the Third Infantry Division, Bush said, “We’re rolling back the terrorist threat, not on the fringes of its influence but at the heart of its power.”
As Rumsfeld might put it, according to what metrics, Mr. President?
But the Rumsfeld memo is significant beyond its inadvertent truth-telling. Bush has repeatedly said that Iraq is “the central front” in the war on terrorism. Yet Rumsfeld’s memo barely mentioned Iraq. Instead, Rumsfeld focused on combating terrorism at its roots, and he asked his aides to bring him ideas to counter the radical Islamic schools–the madrassas–that instruct students to hate the West. As he noted, “Does the U.S. need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?” And he asked, “Should we create a private foundation to entice radical madrassas to a more moderate course?”
With these comments, Rumsfeld veered dangerously close to becoming one of those root-cause-symps who routinely are derided by hawks for arguing that the United States and other nations need to address the forces that fuel anti-Americanism overseas–in the Muslim world and elsewhere. The public disclosure of these views also made Rumsfeld’s refusal to criticize Lt. General William Boykin appear all the more curious.
Boykin, the newly appointed deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, was recently caught by NBC News and The Los Angeles Times making comments that indicate he believes that Islam is a false religion–he called Allah “an idol”–and that he sees the war on terrorism as a spiritual conflict between “a Christian nation” and heathens.
In various press briefings, Rumsfeld has dodged addressing Boykin’s remarks. At one point Rumsfeld said he had tried to watch a videotape of one of Boykin’s church speeches, but he was unable to make out the words. (Boykin made most of his controversial statements from various church pulpits.) Wait a minute. The Pentagon can analyze communications intercepts and satellite imagery, but it cannot provide the defense secretary a clear rendition of a broadcast videotape?
Social conservatives have predictably rallied behind Boykin, trotting out the to-be-expected argument that the poor general is being assailed for his religious views. Now what if he had said something like, “According to my religious views, Judaism is a false religion”? Or, “my religion teaches that black people are inferior to white people”? Would Rumsfeld and Boykin’s defenders have been as temperate in their response?
Writing in The Washington Times, conservative commentator Tony Blankley noted, “Whether or not American officials chose to call this a religious war, it is unambiguously clear that our enemy, bin Laden and the other terrorists, are motivated by Islamic religious fanaticism…..It shouldn’t be a firing offense for the occasional American general to return the compliment.” In other words, in this war (religious or not), the United States is entitled to be as extremist and intolerant as its murderous foes. Blankley fondly recounted that when Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met on a cruiser off the coast of Newfoundland on August 9, 1941, they sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers” with the assembled sailors. Does he suggest that Boykin lead the Pentagon masses in singing that same number? Perhaps Bush and Rumsfeld can provide back-up vocals.
Boykin’s prominent role in the administration’s war on terrorism is certainly an impediment to any effort to encourage fundamentalist Islamic institutions to become more moderate. Rumsfeld ended his memo with a wide-open question: “What else should we be considering?” Here’s a no-brainer: how about not appointing a Christian jihadist to be one of the leaders of an endeavor that aims to persuade Islamicists that the West is not so bad? Or is that too far outside the box?
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