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RUMSFELD'S MEMO SHOWS A GRIM OUTLOOK FOR IRAQ
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Defense Memo: A Grim Outlook

by Dave Moniz and Tom Squitieri

Published on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 by USA Today

 

WASHINGTON The United States has no yardstick for measuring progress in the war on terrorism, has not "yet made truly bold moves" in fighting al-Qaeda and other terror groups, and is in for a "long, hard slog" in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a memo that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent to top-ranking Defense officials last week.

Despite upbeat statements by the Bush administration, the memo to Rumsfeld's top staff reveals significant doubts about progress in the struggle against terrorists. Rumsfeld says that "it is not possible" to transform the Pentagon quickly enough to effectively fight the anti-terror war and that a "new institution" might be necessary to do that.

The memo, which diverges sharply from Rumsfeld's mostly positive public comments, offers one of the most candid and sobering assessments to date of how top administration officials view the 2-year-old war on terrorism. It suggests that significant work remains and raises a number of probing questions but few detailed proposals.

"Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror?" Rumsfeld asks in the Oct. 16 memo, which goes on to cite "mixed results" against al-Qaeda, "reasonable progress" tracking down top Iraqis and "somewhat slower progress" in apprehending Taliban leaders. "Is our current situation such that 'the harder we work, the behinder we get'? " he wrote.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita declined to comment specifically on the memo, but he said Rumsfeld's style is to "ask penetrating questions" to provoke candid discussion. "He's trying to keep a sense of urgency alive."

Among Rumsfeld's observations in the two-page memo:

The United States is "just getting started" in fighting the Iraq-based terror group Ansar Al-Islam.

The war is hugely expensive. "The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' cost of millions."

Postwar stabilization efforts are very difficult. "It is pretty clear the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog."

The memo was sent to Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of Defense for policy.

Rumsfeld asks whether the Defense Department is moving fast enough to adapt to fighting terrorists and whether the United States should create a private foundation to entice radical Islamic schools to a "more moderate course." Rumsfeld says the schools, known as madrassas, may be churning out new terrorists faster than the United States can kill or capture them.

The memo is not a policy statement, but a tool for shaping internal discussion. It highlights a Rumsfeld trait that supporters say is one of his greatest strengths: a willingness to challenge subordinates to constantly reassess problems. The memo prods Rumsfeld's most senior advisers to think in new ways about the war on terrorism at a time when many are preoccupied with the 7-month-old war in Iraq.

In public, the Bush administration has been upbeat in describing the war on terrorism. Attorney General John Ashcroft has noted that two-thirds of al-Qaeda's leadership has been captured or killed.

Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Jim Drinkard

Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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