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Rumsfeld Tries to Win World Opinion on Iraq


Since taking over at the Pentagon two years ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has talked about transforming the military to meet new security threats of the 21st century. Now, Mr. Rumsfeld also appears to have taken on the challenge of trying to transform global public opinion about the danger posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

For Donald Rumsfeld, transforming the military has meant changing it from a force designed to thwart a massive Soviet attack to one that is still lethal, but lighter and faster, and capable of confronting, not just organized armies, but terrorist networks.

His attempt to transform global public opinion has involved tackling widely-held views that he and the Bush administration consider inaccurate. In the words of one senior Pentagon official, it means Mr. Rumsfeld is now trying to "blow up conventional wisdom all the time."

For example, the defense secretary this week dismissed the notion that opposition to military action against Iraq by key European allies France and Germany is a significant roadblock.

"You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe," he said to foreign reporters in Washington. "If you look at the entire NATO, Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east. ...You're right, Germany has been a problem, and France has been a problem. ...But, you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe. They're not with France and Germany on this; they're with the United States."

A senior Pentagon official concedes that, if he had to do it again, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would probably not be so dismissive of the French and the Germans.

But this official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks were certainly not intended to be insulting.

Moreover, the official indicates, recent public statements by German and French authorities suggesting opposition to military action against Iraq may not reflect the reality of their government's actual positions. This official says, both countries have held discussions with the Pentagon indicating they are prepared to deploy their own troops to the Gulf in support of a confrontation with Baghdad.

In his exchange with foreign reporters, Mr. Rumsfeld also tackled what the Pentagon sees as another crucial misperception that the Muslim world is united in opposition to any possible U.S. action against Iraq.

He said Muslim populations are certainly not uniformly anti-American, and are themselves deeply divided.

"I think, there's a real struggle taking place in the Muslim faith," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "There are an awful lot of people who are unhappy that extremists and small groups of clerics are teaching young people things that aren't true; teaching people that the best thing they can do is not learn a language, not learn mathematics, not learn how they can provide for themselves in the world, instead, filling their heads with hate against the West and against progress, and encouraging them to conduct suicide campaigns. Now, that religion needs to take back its religion from people who are teaching that."

The senior official who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity admits that Mr. Rumsfeld is frustrated that not everyone sees the correctness of the U.S. position, that this is a defining moment in history, and it is urgent that the world deal with the threat posed by Baghdad and its weapons of mass destruction.

But that is why, the official says, Mr. Rumsfeld will repeat himself, trying again and again to make people recognize and acknowledge what the official calls simply "the truth."

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