Washington, Oct. 24 (Reuters): Armed with a dictionary and a gleam in his eye, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday he meant every word of a leaked memorandum to Pentagon leaders questioning progress in the US war on terrorism.
In a surprise visit to the Pentagon briefing room, Rumsfeld fenced verbally with reporters, defending his depiction of the US mission in Iraq and Afghanistan as “a long, hard slog.”
Rumsfeld denied charges from critics who say he and administration officials for months have tried to paint a rosy picture of the situation in Iraq while privately harbouring doubts, saying it was his job to raise questions about the war on terror, launched by President George W. Bush after the 2001 attacks on America.
The private memo, sent to four other top military and civilian defence officials last week, was released by the Pentagon on Wednesday after a leaked version appeared on the USA Today Internet site. The leak of the memo follows other leaks in Washington, where the state department and Pentagon have squabbled over who should run Iraq, as US forces there face unexpectedly vigorous resistance to their occupation.
It was not clear whether this latest leak was sanctioned by Rumsfeld, or whether it came from one of his many critics within the government, but his spirited defence of its contents appeared to be an attempt at disarming his critics.
“I re-read the memo in the paper, and I thought, ‘Not bad’,” the 71-year-old secretary said with a grin in a series of flinty exchanges that have become vintage Rumsfeld.
“I don’t think anyone who’s ever come into a position like secretary of defence is asked to cage their brain and stop thinking. That is what we’re here for, is to try to think in the best interests of the American people and to ask the kinds of questions that are important, and are probing,” he said.
Bush defended Rumsfeld on the memo, which some Democrats called a tacit admission the administration had been putting a good face on a very dangerous situation in Iraq.
“What we have done is we’ve put out a very straight forward, accurate, to the best of our ability, and balanced view of what we see happening, and what we believe to be the case,” Rumsfeld said. “From the very beginning we’ve said that this global war on terror is a tough one. It’s going to take a long time. It’s going to take the cooperation of a lot of countries.”
He cited a dictionary definition of the word “slog” as “to hit or strike hard, to drive with blows, to assail violently.” “And that’s precisely what the US has been doing and intends to continue to do,” he said. “It’s not only the Oxford dictionary’s preferred definition. It’s mine.”