- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Pentagon yesterday wrapped up a five-day public-relations offensive against critics of the Iraq war as a prelude to President Bush’s speech to the nation tonight on why Baghdad matters in the war on Islamic terrorists.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, flanked by Army Gen. George Casey, his top commander in Iraq, appeared in the Pentagon press room yesterday to repeat a message he began giving on Thursday before the Senate and House Armed Services committees.

“The suggestion of those who say we are losing,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, “or that we’re in a quagmire, seems to be that, as long as there’s violence in Iraq, that the conclusion must be that insurgents are winning. Not so.”

“I honestly believe that this insurgency is going to be defeated by the Iraqi people, and not by coalition countries and not by the United States,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “Our task is to give them, the Iraqi peoples, an environment within which they can do that.”

The Pentagon has been in overdrive to counter harsh attacks, especially from Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, who say America is losing in Iraq. Mr. Kennedy has dubbed it a Vietnam-like “quagmire.”

No fewer than three four-star generals — Gen. Casey; Gen. John Abizaid, the Middle East commander; and Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman — sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr. Rumsfeld during Thursday’s marathon on Capitol Hill.

The group then spread out over the next three days for briefings and TV appearances, including all the major Sunday talk shows. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who is in charge of training Iraqis to take over from Americans troops, was on leave in the United States. He took time out on Friday to brief lawmakers behind closed doors.

A senior administration official said the hope is that assurances from the top brass can stem sinking American support for the Iraq war, as U.S. casualty figures mount.

The White House “wanted all hands on deck for this effort,” said the official, noting that the generals’ schedules brought them all into Washington at the same time.

“They let some air out of the balloon. When you have the ground commanders say it is not a ‘quagmire’ it helps, especially with the fence sitters. They can face the people back home. It helped.”

Mr. Rumsfeld has handled questions on virtually every contested war issue, from his planning for postwar Iraq, to war costs, to U.S. battlefield deaths that exceed 1,700 and to whether Mr. Kennedy is right.

Meanwhile, the generals openly appealed for public support.

“Americans need to be patient,” Gen. Abizaid said Sunday on the CBS show “Face the Nation.” “They need to understand that as Iraqi security forces … become more capable, they’ll take on more of the burden. We don’t need to have the same numbers of troops in the region that we have now 10 years from now, five years from now, even two years from now.”

Gen. Casey urged “expressions of support” from Washington’s leadership “about what the troops are doing out there right now.”

Mr. Rumsfeld conceded little to his critics. He rebutted statistics put out by Democrats on the lack of battle-ready Iraqi battalions and that he had underestimated the insurgency.

He did acknowledge, however, that the Iraqi interior and defense ministries are still “weak” a year after the U.S. turned governance over to them.

“The biggest problems are not numbers,” Mr. Rumsfeld said on NBC’s “Face the Nation.” “The biggest problems are the ministries, which are weak, and the chains of command.”

The most spectacular attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign jihadists assigned to suicide bombing missions under the operational control of Abu Musab Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq.

Zarqawi has shifted his targeting from U.S. troops to Iraqis in mosques, open-air markets and restaurants.

Mr. Rumsfeld called the battlefield “a test of wills.”

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