Iraq on a Bicycle


Los Angeles Times

October 9, 2004

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke earlier this week at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. During the question-and-answer session, these comments were made:

QUESTIONER: Do you have a scenario in case there is a civil war [in Iraq]?

RUMSFELD: There is a risk of things happening in any country that one doesn't want to happen. And when a particularly repressive government is removed, the repression ends, freedom is there. People are then free to be rational, or to be vicious killers. I mean, once you're free, you are free to be a criminal, or you can be an anti-Semite; you can … go out and engage in ethnic cleansing, and do all kinds of things that are — that free people do in different parts of the globe.

Do I think it will happen? No. Do we worry about it? Anyone worries about all kinds of bad things happening, and thinks about them and what might be done…. And what one has to do is to keep doi ng everything humanly possible to see that the people in that country — all elements in that country — come to develop [a] conviction that they have a stake in the future of that country. And that means you can't carve out and leave some off to the side. You simply — you cannot allow retribution. You have to find ways for reconciliation…. Now, you know, people say: Well, what are you going to do about this and what are you going to do about that? I hate to even talk about it, because it sounds like we think it's going to happen, and I don't think it's going to happen.

But what has to be done in that country is what basically was done in Samarra over the last 48 hours. You have to first threaten the use of force if things — you cannot allow a series of safe havens, or a consistent pattern of misbehavior — antisocial behavior, violence against the government of Iraq — to go on over a sustained period of time. You can't allow that, or you don't have a cou ntry, or people won't feel they have a stake in it. So you have to do something about it.

Your first choice is diplomacy. Your first choice is to talk, and to gather people together. And that's what they tried in some areas, and it worked, and in some areas it didn't. And the next thing you have to do is have the threat of force.

And finally, you may have to use force. And that's what happened in Samarra. And my guess is that what you'll see in that country is the government of Iraq systematically deciding that they are not going to accept the idea of safe havens and foreign terrorists and former regime elements running around threatening and killing people.

Think of the number of Iraqis that are getting killed. We see every day the number of coalition people that are getting killed — we know that. It's the Iraqis that are getting killed in large numbers — civilians, innocent people — because these folks are running around, chopping off heads.

They are running around — the terrorists … and former regime elements, blowing up people willy-nilly to try to create chaos, and to try to force the coalition countries to leave, and to try to snuff out any aspect of success they see. If there's a governing council, they try to kill — they killed one of the women on the governing council some months back. If there's a police station that's recruiting people, they try to blow [it] up….

They're trying to — they're engaging in a test of wills. They're engaging in the management of perceptions, and they are determined to think from their standpoint, what if — just what if Iraq makes it. Think of where the extremists are. Their goal is to flip the governments in that part of the world, one after another, and to take them over and reestablish a caliphate. That's their hope, is to have a small handful of clerics determine how everybody lives. And if — if — if [we are] successful in Afghanistan, and [we] have a moderate regime, and if it is successful, as I believe it will be in Iraq, think what it does for them. It sets them back. And they're not going to go down easily. They're going to keep fighting, and it isn't going to be won by a coalition. It isn't going to be — it's going to be Iraqis over time that tip, and make a judgment that they'd rather have it one way than another way.

And ultimately — I mean, it sounds ridiculous to say it, but if you think of — you're running down the street with your hand on the back of the bicycle with your youngster on the seat, and they've never ridden, and you're running and you're running, and you're getting tired, and you know you've got to go from a full holding on to the seat to three fingers, and then to two fingers, and then to one finger, and then you let it go, and they might fall. But if you don't, you're going to have a 40-year-old that can't ride a bicycle. …