U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the conflict in Iraq is in part a "test of wills," and the top U.S. commander in the country says he would appreciate some help from senior leaders in that regard.
Responding to new public opinion polls indicating a drop in support for the war in Iraq, and strong statements from some members of Congress calling for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, Secretary Rumsfeld told a news conference the American people will make the right decision about the war, given enough time and information. He said insurgent leaders are trying to wear down American public support for the war, like North Vietnam and the Viet Cong did 30 years ago.
"It's a test of wills. There's no question," he said. "They know that. We've seen indications that senior terrorists like Bin Laden and others make analogies to Vietnam and recognize that it's a test of wills. And it is."
In an apparent reference to the administration's critics, Secretary Rumsfeld said "it doesn't take a genius" to figure out that if the insurgents win that "test of wills" they will destabilize the Middle East and make Iraq a training ground for terrorists.
The commanding general of coalition forces in Iraq, General George Casey, also said the insurgents are trying to shake the will of the American people, and he predicted they will not succeed. He said his troops accept the intensified U.S. debate about the war, up to a point.
"I think the troops are savvy enough to understand that there needs to be debate on these things," said General Casey. "But I also think that expressions of support from the senior congressional and national leaders about what the troops are doing out there would help substantially."
That appeared to be a criticism of some Democratic and Republican members of Congress, who last week called for a firm timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, some of them indicating they believe that the coalition effort to help establish a democracy there will not succeed. General Casey said he recently discussed the progress of the war with all of his commanders, and came away with a very different view.
"We're kind of scratching our heads, and the troops are kind of scratching their heads, wondering why there is such a large disconnect between what they are seeing on the ground every day, and statements like that back here," added General Casey.
General Casey said he believes fewer than one-tenth of one percent of Iraqis are directly involved in the insurgency, and the government is working to reach out to people who are sympathetic to the insurgents and bring them into the political process.