Terrorism is the greatest threat the United States has confronted, Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Lawrence audience Friday, and he urged the country to brace for a long-term struggle.
"I personally believe that this threat of global terrorism is a greater threat to our survival as a free and democratic nation than, in fact, we have ever faced," Myers told more than 500 people gathered for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce annual meeting at the Lawrence Holidome.
"We are, in fact, a nation at war. What's at stake here is our way of life," said Myers, a native Kansan and four-star general, who serves as the Bush administration's top military adviser.
Myers said terrorists used fear to paralyze and destabilize nations.
But, he said, the United States was making progress in the war in Iraq and he cautioned that the recent insurgency in Fallujah was not a popular uprising but violent remnants of Saddam Hussein's forces.
"For every bomb that goes off in Iraq or Afghanistan, there are many more that are defused by coalition soldiers," he said. "For every building damaged by the insurgents, there are many schools, hospitals and clinics that the coalition has helped rebuild."
Myers described the northern and southern parts of Iraq as stable, saying Iraqi officials have been able to contain demonstrations in the north.
"It's not the same throughout the whole country," he said. "It's in that same central area that we still have some issues, and we're going to have to deal with those for some time."
U.S. commanders on Friday repeated warnings that a renewed assault on the central city of Fallujah could come soon unless guerrillas there heed a call to surrender heavy weapons.
Myers told his Chamber of Commerce audience that the problem in Fallujah involves about 2,000 highly trained Saddam loyalists.
"Certainly, don't misinterpret the increased violence you've seen in Iraq recently as a popular uprising," he said. "This violence, in my opinion, is a desperate attempt by a frustrated, marginalized group to derail the progress that we've been making."
Earlier, in a brief news conference, Myers said, "There's some really tough challenges in Iraq, but it's actually going reasonably well."
He also defended the Pentagon's ban against releasing photographs of flag-draped coffins of American soldiers returning to the states.
"This is in respect for the families and their wishes," Myers said. He added that the military lists all casualties on the Department of Defense Web site.
"This is not an attempt to hide anything," he said.
Myers also said it was important to start allowing lower-tier members of Saddam's Baath party back into positions in Iraqi society. "Those who don't have blood on their hands have a chance to participate in this new Iraq," he said.
Back from a trip last week to Iraq and Afghanistan, Myers said troop morale was high.
Q and A
In a question-and-answer period, Myers said he believed North Korea had nuclear weapons, but that diplomacy was the best policy in dealing with that country at this point.
David Taylor, president of the Kansas Democratic Veteran's Assn., agreed with Myers that the U.S. military had performed admirably in a difficult situation in Iraq.
But, he said, President Bush has been hurting the effort through foreign policy blunders and a lack of foresight.
"We don't have the international involvement that we need because of the arrogant, short-sighted policies of the president," Taylor said.
But, Myers said, those who think more troops are needed are wrong, although he said that American forces would be "wanting to help them (Iraqis) for some time to come."
He also said there was no need to restart the military draft r to bolster forces.
Not a pretty picture
Myers was introduced to the audience by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who described Myers, a graduate of Kansas State, as "the right man at the right place at the right time."
Both Myers and Roberts said they were sure that terrorists were continuing to plan attacks on the United States. Myers said the terrorists were extremely patient, sometimes planning for years before they attacked.
"It's not a pretty picture," he said.
Earlier in the day, Myers spoke for 45 minutes to about 200 ROTC cadets and military officials at the Adams Alumni Center.
The meeting was closed to the media, but cadets left the event upbeat and impressed.
Freshman Air Force ROTC cadets Joshua Topliff, of Goodland, Arturo Febry, of New Orleans, and Matt Weilbacher, of Leavenworth, said Myers' talk was inspirational and that the general was at ease with the audience.
They also said they expected at some point in their careers to serve in Iraq, and they looked forward to it.
"That's what you sign up for," Febry said.
Air Force Capts. Keith Bland and Robb Johnson, both ROTC instructors at KU, praised the general for taking time to speak to the cadets.
"He said he was proud of the students that are willing to commit to what's going and trying to make the country better," Bland said.
Johnson said Myers talked about how troop morale was high.
"He mentioned that in the hospitals that he goes to, to talk to wounded, they wish they were actually back with their comrades," Johnson said.