Council on Foreign Relations (Transcript)

U.S. Department of Defense Speeches, May 28, 2003 | Go to article overview

Council on Foreign Relations (Transcript)


Remarks as delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, New York, NY, Tuesday, May 27, 2003.

Rumsfeld: I think the first time I met Pete Peterson--I think it was in the basement of Chuck Percy's house in my congressional district, and they were trying to show a 35-millimeter film. Pete had succeeded Chuck Percy, I believe, as the CEO of Bell and Howell, and neither one of them could get it to work. (Laughter.) Is that right? Oh, I think so.

Well, mentioning wage and price controls, I had no idea this would turn vicious immediately, but--(laughter)--hi, John. How are you?

I remember that day. George Shultz came to me, and he said, "Don, the president and I would like you to run the wage and price controls." And I said, "George, I don't believe in them." He said, "I know, Don. That's why we want you to do it." (Laughter.) (Chuckles.)

When it was over, I thought to myself: Hm. It was H.L. Mencken who said, "For every human problem, there's a solution that is simple, neat and wrong." (Laughter.) And we found it.

Well, I thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to talk a bit about the challenges that Pete mentioned in transition from tyranny to a free and civil society. The problems are real, to be sure--looting; crime; mobs storming buildings; breakdown of government structures and institutions that maintained civil order; rampant inflation caused by the lack of a stable currency; supporters of the former regime roaming the streets, countryside, whose fate has yet to be determined; regional tensions between the North and the South; delays, bickering, false starts in an effort to establish a new government.

If these problems sound familiar, they should. They are the historians' descriptions of the conditions here in America in 1783, in the period after our nation's War for Independence.

Those early years of our young republic were characterized by chaos and confusion. There was crime and looting, and a lack of organized police force. The issue of competing paper currencies by various states led to inflation and popular discontent. There were uprisings, such as the Shays Rebellion, with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings. There were regional tensions between the mercantile New England and the agrarian South. There were crown loyalists to deal with, many of whom had fought against the Continental Army.

And our first effort at a governing charter, the Articles of Confederation, failed, and it took eight years of contentious debate before we finally adopted a Constitution and inaugurated our first president.

And unlike the people of Iraq, we did not have to face the added challenge of trying to recover from the trauma of decades of denial and brutal rule by a dictator like Saddam Hussein.

The point is this: no nation in memory has made the transition from tyranny to a free society that's been immune to the difficulties and challenges of taking that path, not even our own. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed."

It's now seven weeks since the liberation of Iraq, and the challenges are there. Just as it took time and patience, trial and error and years of hard work before the founders got it right, so, too, it will take time and patience and trial and error and hard work for the Iraqi people to try to overcome the challenges that they face. This much is clear: We, the United States, has a stake in their success; for if Iraq, with its size and its capabilities, its resources and its history, is able to move towards a path of representative democracy, however bumpy the road may be, then the impact in the region and, indeed, in the world could be dramatic. Iraq could conceivably become a model; proof that a moderate Muslim state can succeed in the battle against extremism taking place in the Muslim world today.

The Iraqi people have a foundation on which to build the peace. …

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