Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he is deeply troubled by the success of terrorist groups in "manipulating the media" to influence Westerners.
"That's the thing that keeps me up at night," he said Monday during a question-and-answer session with about 200 naval aviators and other Navy personnel at this flight training base for Navy and Marine pilots.
Rumsfeld was asked whether the criticism he draws as Pentagon chief and a leading advocate of the war in Iraq is an impediment to performing his job. He said it was not and he knows from history that wars are normally unpopular with many Americans. "I expect that," he said. "I understand that."
"What bothers me the most is how clever the enemy is," he continued, launching an extensive broadside at Islamic extremist groups which he said are trying to undermine Western support for the war on terror.
"They can lie with impunity," he said, while U.S. troops are held to a high standard of conduct.
Later, in remarks prepared for delivery at a Reno, Nevada, convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Rumsfeld made similar points.
"The enemy lies constantly — almost totally without consequence," he told the veterans group, which was presenting him with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Distinguished Service Award. "They portray our cause as a war on Islam when in fact the overwhelming majority of victims of their terrorism have been thousands and thousands of innocent Muslims — men, women and children — they have killed."
In his prepared remarks at Reno he also said, "While some argue for tossing in the towel, the enemy is waiting and hoping for us to do just that."
Rumsfeld often complains about what he calls the terrorists' success in persuading Westerners that the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a crusade against Islam. In his remarks at Fallon he did not offer any new examples of media manipulation; he put unusual emphasis, however, on the negative impact it is having on Americans in an era of 24-hour news.
"The enemy is so much better at communicating," he added. "I wish we were better at countering that because the constant drumbeat of things they say — all of which are not true — is harmful. It's cumulative. And it does weaken people's will and lessen their determination, and raise questions in their minds as to whether the cost is worth it," he said alluding to Americans and other Westerners.
Rumsfeld flew to Fallon on Monday from Fairbanks, Alaska, where he spent the weekend meeting with families of soldiers deployed in Iraq. He also visited a missile defense site at Ft. Greely and met Sunday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to discuss Iraq and other issues.
Vice President Dick Cheney addressed the VFW convention in Reno on Monday morning. He asserted to the veterans that policies initiated by the Bush administration are the reason the United States hasn't been attacked since the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes five years ago.
Cheney defended the Iraq war as necessary in the overall battle against terrorism and reiterated the administration's position that U.S. troops would not withdraw until Iraqi forces were able to maintain order and stability.