Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought Wednesday to downplay the significance of an internal memorandum he wrote last week questioning U.S. progress in the global war on terrorism.
The memorandum to senior Pentagon officials, first reported by the newspaper USA Today, provoked immediate interest because it appeared to contrast sharply with the Bush administration's generally positive assessments of progress in the war on terrorism.
But speaking to reporters after a Congressional appearance, Mr. Rumsfeld said the document was intended not as a progress report itself, but rather as an effort to prompt fresh thinking within the Defense Department. "Sometimes one needs to say to a big institution, hey, wait a minute, let's lift our eyes up and look out across the horizon and say, are there questions we ought to be asking ourselves, are there things we ought to think about ways to do differently?"
The memorandum, released Wednesday to reporters, said the United States has had what it termed "mixed results" in fighting al-Qaida. It also predicted what was described as a "long, hard [struggle]" for U.S. led forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote that it was his impression "that we have not yet made any truly bold moves" in combating terrorism.
The document went on to raise several questions. In one, Mr. Rumsfeld asked if the Pentagon needed to come up with new ways to organize, train, equip and focus to deal with terrorists. In another, he questioned whether perhaps a new anti-terror institution was needed.
One of the recipients of the memo, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, also downplayed its significance. "What you're seeing in this memo, I think, is the way we do business. Our boss [Mr. Rumsfeld] is challenging us with a lot of questions on, you know, are we changing ourselves to deal with this 21st century threat environment we find ourselves in," he said.
On another matter, Mr. Rumsfeld rejected suggestions that a top military intelligence official should step down while authorities investigate his controversial comments suggesting the war on terrorism is a clash between Christianity and Islam, a notion repeatedly rejected by the Bush administration.
Mr. Rumsfeld had previously praised Army Lieutenant General William Boykin, who has apologized for his comments and promised not to speak to religious groups again.