On the eve of the second anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged that the past two years have been difficult, but he says the effort to bring democracy to Iraq will succeed, and is already having an impact throughout the Middle East.
In a "town meeting" with staff members here, Secretary Rumsfeld thanked his department's military and civilian personnel for their contribution to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and praised the sacrifices of those who died or were wounded in the conflicts.
"In the last two years, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Ukraine and now the streets of Lebanon we've seen again and again that the great sweep of human history is for freedom," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
The secretary said the war in Iraq, in particular, is helping to end tyranny, violence and extremism in the Middle East, and replace it with what he called a "future of tolerance."
"One day, an accurate history of Operation Iraqi Freedom will be written,” he added. “The early chapters of that history will properly tell of the great hardships. And it has been hard, and it still is hard. But the final chapters will record historic achievements - the demise of a leading terrorist state and the spread of freedom throughout that region."
Secretary Rumsfeld said it can be difficult to measure success in the war on terrorism on a global scale, but he said individual successes can be measured, and he counted Iraq among them.
The secretary said the future of the war in Iraq will depend on the ability of the new Iraqi security forces to fight the insurgency, and the willingness of the Iraqi people to help by providing information about insurgent operations. He said both are on the rise, and that will lead to a reduction in the number of U.S. forces in Iraq. But he could not say when significant reductions will begin.
The secretary also praised other countries in the U.S.-led coalition, and said pullouts and reductions by some countries are not a cause for concern.
"It varies from country to country, and it's fine,” he noted. “It's what you expect when you have a living coalition. It's 40 countries, I think, in Afghanistan and I don't know what it is in Iraq. It's got to be 28, I think, maybe 27. And they come and they go, and they've been terrific. And God bless them for it."
The secretary said most countries inform the United States well in advance if they want to reduce or change their operations in Iraq. But he singled out Spain for criticism for its abrupt departure when a new government came to power last year. He also mentioned that new countries are joining the coalition, including South Korea, and that others are helping to train the new Iraqi security forces outside the country.
Taking a broader view, Secretary Rumsfeld said U.S. forces sometimes try to do too much once the fighting is finished, and that Americans should be helping liberated countries do more for themselves.
"Our purpose is not to go to a country and stay there in perpetuity,” Mr. Rumsfeld explained. “Our purpose is to be helpful to countries, help put them on a path in the case of Afghanistan, a good example, where they're on a path toward democracy and where we continuously encourage them and assist them in developing the ability to sustain the kinds of political and economic and military capabilities that will enable them to have a peaceful and prosperous circumstance for their people."
Secretary Rumsfeld said that is what the United States is working to do now in Iraq.