Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday in Lawrence praised the new democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan but said both would face challenges in years ahead coming out of the major U.S. ground wars.
“Where’s it going to end? I don’t know where it’s going to end, but I have a heavy respect for the idea they’re going to have to figure it out over time, and it won’t be like us,” he told a capacity crowd Thursday afternoon at the Dole Institute of Politics.
“The template we have in this country is a good one for us now. It’s not what we had 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 150 years ago. It’s difficult.”
He said America itself has gone through struggles and has changed during its history. A key turning point for the country was on the issue of slavery, which fueled the buildup to the Civil War.
“We did not arrive here out of a cellophane package,” Rumsfeld said. “It was a tough, tough go, and bumpy and difficult, and then other countries are having a tough time.”
During the interview with Dole Institute Director Bill Lacy, Rumsfeld also outlined criticism for the plan to run Iraq once Saddam Hussein was overthrown. The country became embroiled in violence for several years.
“You’re right. Our military is capable, and they are able to go in and in major combat operations prevail,” he said. “It’s after that, what happens?”
As the popularity of the Iraq War plummeted, Rumsfeld ended up resigning in 2006 the day after Republicans lost both houses of Congress. On Thursday, however, he said he had offered to resign other times before he actually did.
Rumsfeld, 80, talked candidly about both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We were fighting the first war of the information age,” he said.
But he also defended the Bush administration’s actions post 9/11 and said President Barack Obama, who railed against Bush policies during his 2008 campaign, has largely kept the same policies in place.
“There is no more vulnerable group than free people because by our very nature we want to be able to get up in the morning and go where we want and say what we want,” he said. “The idea that we should be terrorized and alter our free way of life is exactly what the terrorist wants. They want to alter our behavior, so 9/11 was a wake-up call and a tough time for President Bush.”
He attributed the major challenges to using the military as a major player to combat terrorism.
“I guess the old Wyoming saying is dogs don’t bark at parked cars. If you’re doing something, somebody’s not going to like it. If you don’t do anything, no one will be unhappy, probably. But it was a tough eight years for him, and in my view he did a lot of things well.”
In response to a question from an audience member about Obama setting a deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said he disagreed with stating deadlines because it can give signals to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups about how long they need to remain in the country.
After the event, Rumsfeld signed copies of his new memoir, “Known and Unknown: A Memoir, The World According To Rummy,” proceeds from which he has promised to donate to veterans’ charities. He also planned to attend a fundraiser for Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder on Thursday evening in Johnson County. Yoder served as a law clerk at the Pentagon, and his grandparents also helped in Illinois for an early Rumsfeld congressional campaign.
A handful of anti-war protesters stood in the parking lot before and after the program.