- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld delivered harsh words to war critics yesterday, saying some view al Qaeda operatives as victims, not the enemy that has killed Americans repeatedly.

In a speech to military officers at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., he also criticized previous administrations — without naming them — for failing to take on Islamic terrorists despite a series of attacks, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

“Before September 11, 2001, there was somewhat of a misunderstanding in America about terrorists, and in some circles, I suppose, there really is today,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “Even today, some folks view terrorists as criminals, not as combatants. Some even consider them victims.”

He said that during the 1980s and ‘90s, “the West was ambivalent how to counter extremist ideology and that type of aggression, and as a result, terrorists became increasingly emboldened. We should have learned the timeless truth that weakness is provocative.”

Mr. Rumsfeld then listed the history of terrorist attacks on Americans, most occurring during the Clinton administration. The report submitted by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States chronicled deep disagreements among the CIA, White House and Pentagon on how to deal with al Qaeda.

The Clinton national security team never agreed on any attack plan, and not one military operation was initiated against al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the commission said. The Pentagon’s updated defense strategy paper, released a few weeks before Mr. Bush took office, did not list al Qaeda as a stand-alone threat. It lumped terrorism into a group of threats along with illegal drugs and piracy.

In President Bush’s first eight months in office before September 11, Mr. Rumsfeld focused on organizing his staff and transforming the armed forces. The administration had no immediate plan to attack al Qaeda. During Mr. Rumsfeld’s Senate confirmation hearing, neither al Qaeda nor Afghanistan was mentioned.

Without naming the Bush administration’s political critics, the defense secretary said some blame the United States for terrorists’ atrocities.

“From time to time, one hears the claim that terrorist acts are reactions to particular American policies. That’s not so,” he said. “Their violence preceded by many years’ operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their violence will not stop until their ideology is confronted.”

Filmmaker Michael Moore is among the more prominent critics on the Left who said al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks were the result of past U.S. actions around the world. Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated Marine war veteran who is the most prominent Democrat to call for an immediate troop pullout from Iraq, has said the U.S. presence there is “fueling terrorism, not eliminating it.”

Mr. Rumsfeld told the war college audience, “They say that a retreat from Iraq would provide an American escape from the violence. However, we know that any reprieve would be short-lived. … The war that the terrorists began would continue, and free people would continue to be their targets.”

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