A top U.S. defense official says Muslims must take the lead in battling religious extremism and totalitarian ideologies in the Islamic world. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also gave a spirited defense of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq before a sometimes skeptical university audience in Washington, Thursday. Mr. Wolfowitz made his remarks four days after unknown assailants launched a rocket attack against the Baghdad hotel where Mr. Wolfowitz was staying, while on a tour of Iraq. The attack killed one American military officer and injured 17 other people. The secretary, who was unharmed, told his audience events like this will in no way deter him from carrying out his duties.
After September 11, he was considered one of the most forceful advocates of U.S. intervention in Iraq, saying the removal of Saddam Hussein could help sow the seeds of a democratic political culture throughout the Arab world.
The central point of his speech was that Islamic terrorists and supporters of Saddam Hussein are waging war on what he called the Islamic mainstream because most Muslims share the same values as Westerners.
"These factors and more make moderate Muslims and the rest of the civilized world natural and necessary allies," he said. "Clearly, we face a struggle over modernity and secularism, pluralism and democracy, real economic development. Those ideas scare extremists."
Like President Bush earlier this week, Mr. Wolfowitz said that the United States will stay the course in Iraq, in spite of polls showing growing skepticism among the American people. But he insisted it is the involvement of Muslims and their ability to confront extremists that will ultimately decide whether the war on terrorism is won or lost.
"In fact, the fight against the killers who pervert and exploit a great world religion is most effectively fought by Muslims themselves," he said. "It is more appropriate for Muslims to refute the extremists' false arguments that Islam condones terrorism and suicide bombing, or the killing of innocent men, women and children."
A handful of anti-war protesters was on hand to state their disapproval of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, saying it its part of a plan by the Bush Administration to achieve economic and political domination over other peoples and countries.
During a question-and-answer session after the speech, one of the protesters told Mr. Wolfowitz the administration's policies will lead to President Bush's defeat in next year's presidential election.
Mr. Wolfowitz responded he hopes Iraqis will soon be able to determine their own future, regardless of who wins the 2004 U.S. presidential election.